Ghost Mountain

Visit poet/author/artist Marshal South’s adobe ruins on a desert mountaintop.

A mile off Highway S2 stand the ruins of artist Marshal South’s homestead.
  • A mile off Highway S2 stand the ruins of artist Marshal South’s homestead.

A rugged one-mile trail up the Ghost Mountain ridge leads to Yaquitepec (elev. 3215 feet), the ruins of an adobe home built by poet/author/artist Marshal South and his wife Tanya on top of waterless Ghost Mountain. Soon after the start of the Great Depression, the Souths began their 17-year homestead adventure that ended in 1947. They raised and homeschooled three children on the isolated desert mountaintop. South wrote his popular monthly columns about their experiment in primitive living for Desert Magazine for nine years. He chronicled how his family survived and thrived under the most primitive conditions. Water had to be hauled up to the adobe to supplement what was caught in catch basins when it occasionally rained. The catch basins are still there next to the adobe ruins. The old homestead is now part of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The steep schistose trail up Ghost Mountain is much the same as that used by the Souths to haul up water and supplies. It is well-marked, beginning at an interpretive sign found at the trailhead. Mojave yuccas, creosote, ocotillo, juniper, jojoba, cholla, beavertail cactus, and agave line the many switchbacks heading in a general southwest direction. As elevation increases with a widening view of Blair Valley and its playa, the yuccas gradually disappear as the trail wraps completely around the ridge turning to the northeast. A short climb over a boulder trail leads to the ruins and a spectacular view of the valley below and the Laguna Mountains to the west. A short walk southeast past the ruins of an adobe kiln, used by the Souths in pottery making, reveals the undulating Vallecito Badlands to the east. South described the view of the “old Vanished Sea” from his mountaintop as “rolling blue in its old bed” when the light is right at morning and night. Just below the ridge is Vallecito County Park and the old adobe Butterfield Vallecito stage station.

All cultural and natural features on Ghost Mountain are protected by the state park and cannot be collected. Old agave roasting pits used by both the Souths and the earlier Indians who once called this area home are visible along the trail and near the adobe ruins. Look for old Indian grinding morteros and slicks on the granitic rocks near the ruins. Some pottery shards may be visible. Also note the one Mojave yucca in front of the house that was originally carried up the trail by the Souths and transplanted on the mountaintop.

The Souths built Yaquitepec in this isolated area because they wanted solitude and the freedom to live their chosen lifestyle, unencumbered by clothing or civilization. South explained that in the desert silence, “we can spread freely the net of our minds to gather those priceless, fundamental stirrings of the infinite which are most easily come by when one is close to nature.”

A visit to the old South homestead is best during the desert season from November through April. A walking stick is helpful on the steep trail, as are good hiking boots. It can be windy on top, and there is no water on the trail. Ghost Mountain’s uplift is controlled by the Elsinore Fault Zone. Hwy S2 basically follows the trace of this fault through this area.

— San Diego Outdoors with the Canyoneers

Distance from downtown San Diego: Allow 2 hours’ driving time.

(Anza-Borrego Desert State Park) From Julian, drive east to junction of Hwy 78 and S2. Turn south on S2.

Drive 6 miles to the signed entrance of Blair Valley. Drive 2.7 miles around the east side of Blair Valley to the Marshal South trailhead. No facilities.

Hiking length: 2 miles round trip • Difficulty: Moderate; Elevation change up to 500 feet

*Canyoneers are San Diego Natural History Museum volunteers trained to lead interpretive nature walks that teach appreciation for the great outdoors.

For a schedule of free public hikes: http://www.sdnhm.org/canyoneers/index.html

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