Trail head: Off County Road S-2, six
miles southeast of state Route 78 at Scissors Crossing.
Drive about three miles on the dirt road to trail head.
Length: 2 miles
Standing atop Ghost Mountain, with a panoramic view of the
Anza-Borrego Desert, it's easy to understand why Marshal and Tanya
South chose the spot in their effort to escape from civilization.
Even now, 63 years after the Souths and their three children
abandoned their hilltop hideaway, there are few signs of modern
life. Little Blair Valley, a lake bed that's now a green meadow
after the winter rains, lies to the north. Steep, reddish mountains
rise out of the desert floor to the south.
A one-mile hike up Ghost Mountain leads to the ruins where the
South family lived for about 15 years in an effort to return to
nature and live like the Indians. Catching your breath while
avoiding the agave and barrel cactuses by the trail, think of
Marshal South lugging containers of water for his family as he
trudged up the mountain.
The remains of the house that the Souths built with rocks and
concrete still stand on the site. Rusted bedsprings, a primitive
sundial and the cistern the family used to collect rainwater give
hints about their life.
Larry McCaffery, an English professor at San Diego State
University and a Borrego Springs resident, recently led a group of
his students on a hike up Ghost Mountain. Carrying Diana Lindsay's
book “Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles,” he told the
fascinating story of the Souths.
South, who wrote pulp Western novels, and Tanya, a poet, headed
to the desert in 1930 and got a 160-acre homestead at Ghost
Mountain. Their three children were born in Oceanside but were
raised at their desert home.
A 1939 Saturday Evening Post article by South about his family's
primitive life led to monthly articles in Desert magazine. South's
articles from 1940 to 1946, accompanied with photos, were the most
popular feature in the magazine.
South presented a romantic vision of the family's life at
Yaquitepec, as he named the site. In the Saturday Evening Post
article, he described how he and his wife “longed for peace and the
whisper of the clean wind across unspoiled wilderness.” He wrote
about living off the land, wearing little more than a loincloth, and
his efforts to escape the corrupting influence of civilization.
The Souths twice had to leave Ghost Mountain. They first moved
because of a chronic shortage of water, but after a year of
traveling in their Model A Ford, returned in November 1943. Then in
October 1945, the Navy told the family to leave because they were in
the path of a gunnery range. They stayed with neighbors until they
could return in August 1946.
A few months later, Marshal and Tanya separated and later
divorced, creating a scandal. Some said the stress of the desert
lifestyle caused the bitter rift.
After the separation, Marshal South moved to Julian, where he
died Oct. 22, 1948, at age 62. Tanya South sold the property to
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for $950 in 1958. She died in 1997 at
age 99, having never spoken publicly about her life on the mountain.
One son, Rudyard, changed his name and refused all interview
requests. The two other children, Rider and Victoria, didn't talk
about their childhood for decades, but later said they had positive
memories of the experience.
Visitors to Ghost Mountain today can decide whether Marshal South
was an idealistic dreamer or a little crazy – or perhaps a bit of
Anne Krueger: (619) 542-4575;