Ghost Mountain/Marshal South Trail (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park)

Ghost Mountain is a small and unassuming promontory along the southern edge of Blair Valley. At first glance, the peak doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy, but for 16 years in the 1930’s and 40’s, it was the home of author Marshal South and his family.

During the Great Depression, South and his wife Tanya built their home atop Ghost Mountain. They called their homestead “Yaquitepec,” or “House of the Sun,” and lived there for nearly two decades. They raised three children in their desert sanctuary, making their living by writing articles for Desert Magazine and hauling everything they needed to survive up the nearly 1-mile trail we were about to ascend.

We had a much easier time of it, clamboring out of our air-conditioned car at the foot of the mountain and donning our lightweight daypacks.

This is one of three short, easy trails along the southern portion of Blair Valley. To make the most of your trip to this area, I highly recommend hitting the Morteros and Pictograph trails while you’re out here. While the road that winds through this part of the park is unpaved, narrow, and sandy, it was overall in decent condition and we didn’t run into any problems with our small passenger car. Your experience may vary, especially after recent rains.

The trail began climbing immediately, making its way up the flank of the small mountain. Even though we were far from wildflower season there was still lots of interesting vegetation to see along the trail. Desert agave, with its tall, protruding stalks sticking up, and fuzzy-looking cholla plants and dotted the hillside.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3700-Edit

It didn’t take much climbing before we started to get some sweeping views of the surrounding area. Blair Valley spread out before us, with the immense form of Granite Mountain rising in the distance. The red soil contrasted sharply with the dark greens of creosote and juniper bushes along the valley floor.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3708-Edit

The trail wrapped around the outer edge of the mountainside and then started a steeper ascent up the western edge.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3713-Edit

Around .5 mile we reached a level stretch, and paused to admire the boulder strewn mountain before us.

We reached the edge of the boulders, and followed the trail as it wound up and over the rocky slope.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3724-Edit

The trail leveled out again and from here it was just a short stroll to our destination.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3728-Edit

We wound through the boulders and juniper bushes until we came upon the ruins, just a short.7 miles from our start.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3734-Edit

The years had taken their toll on the old homestead. The walls had all but disappeared, leaving only a couple posts and an old door frame standing. The rusted remains of an old metal bed sagged in the middle of the former abode.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3735-Edit

A cistern for collecting water also still remained.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3736-Edit

Life atop this mountain clearly must have been challenging, but as we walked around the site taking in the breathtaking views and reveling in the still silence of the desert, we could see the appeal of such a remote homestead.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3740-Edit

The trail ended at the homestead site, but it looked like a short scramble up the rocks would bring one to the actual summit of Ghost Mountain. We contemplated this off-trail adventure for a moment, but eventually decided against it.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3741-Edit

Instead we worked our way to the mountain’s edge for another expansive view of Blair Valley stretching out into the distance, and headed back down to our air-conditioned car.20141109GhostMountainDSC_3742-Edit

The full story of the South family and their life in the desert can be found in the book Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living.

From Scissors Crossing (intersection of 78 and S2), head south on S2. At just under 6 miles you will see the dirt turnout for Blair Valley on your left. Follow the dirt road south for 3.2 miles then turn right, following signs for Ghost Mountain/Marshal South Trail. map

A note on road conditions:
Once you turn off S2 you will be driving on a dirt/sand road that becomes increasingly exciting as you go. We made this journey in a Scion xD and other than a lot of bouncing around, didn’t run into any problems. However, that was after endless dry months of no rain and conditions may vary based on weather. Its a good idea to contact the Anza-Borrego Visitor’s Center at 760-767-4205 to inquire about current road conditions before you head out.

Total Distance: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Total Ascent: 570 feet
Dog Friendly?: Dogs not allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
California State parks: Anza-Borrego State Park

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