The Anza-Borrego Desert is a beautiful place to visit, but a tough place to live. The areas inhabitants usually built homes near water, trees, and roads, but not Marshal South, who traded utility for scenery when he built a homestead in the 1930s atop Ghost Mountain (Yaquitepec) near Blair Valley in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The trail to the ruins of the South’s adobe cabin is 1.3 miles round trip with 450 feet of elevation gain. (Imagine having to walk that every time you needed to make a run for supplies.) The tough life caused Marshal’s wife Tanya to leave him and for the home to be abandoned. Explore the ruins and enjoy panoramic views from the top of this short but steep hike.
There are no junctions on the trail to the Marshal South Home (or the Marshal and Tanya South Home), so the hike is fairly straightforward. For starters you will ascend many switchbacks on the west side of Ghost Mountain. Looking down the mountainside, you will have views across Blair Valley, a flat desert expanse, toward Granite Mountain, a pyramid-shaped peak. There are views to the north into a mountain pass above Blair Valley where the nearby Pictograph Trail and Morteros Trail begin.
After 0.4 miles of switchbacks climbing south, you will come to the top of the ridge running along Ghost Mountain. The dirt and rock single track turns northeast up the ridge. Catch your breath as you cross a flatter spot on the mountain before making the final push to the Yaquitepec site.
The trail weaves up and over a slope of boulders to reach another landing on the mountain, below the actual summit, where you will find the ruins of the South Home. Much remains of the old homestead, including sections of adobe walls, a wooden door frame, oven, rusting metal objects, and a cement cistern. What you won’t see are important assets for desert survival like a spring for water and trees for firewood. Nevertheless, the South’s succeeded in emulating a primitive lifestyle on Ghost Mountain for more than a decade.
A sign at the trailhead entitled, “Yaquitepec… One family’s attempt to live off the land,” offers this history of the Marshal South Home:
In February 1932, while the country felt the grip of the Depression, Marshal and Tanya South came to this mountain to build their home and live off the land. They raised their children here, wrote magazine articles, grew vegetables, gathered native plants, and after 16 years decided to call it quits.
Yaquitepec, or Ghost Mountain, still carries the reminders of South’s homesteading adventure. The steep, mile long walk to the homesite will give you a breathtaking view of the land the South family called home. Look for signs of the ingenious water system with its cisterns and troughs. The adobe structure is quickly becoming a victim of the elements.
Living off the land proved difficult. Supplies had to be brought by Model T from Julian and carried up on foot. Tanya South tired of her eccentric mate’s lifestyle and the family split up, leaving Yaquitepec to the sun and the wind.
The stories of the South family fade from time in the pages of old copies of Desert Magazine but the melting adobe and garden terraces will remain atop Ghost Mountain for years to come.
What has truly stood the test of time are the views from the Yaquitepec site. Climb atop one of the boulders near the ruins and take in an expansive panorama of desert peaks and basins. The Vallecito Valley (Earthquake Valley) stretches to the south and east backed by the Sawtooth Mountains and the Laguna Mountains. Walk a few paces west of the ruins to the top of the steep mountainside and enjoy a grand view across Blair Valley toward the commanding 5,633-foot summit of Granite Mountain. The summit of Ghost Mountain is visible to the northeast, about 3/4 of a mile and 200 feet above the ruins of the Marshal South Home.
Unless you are so seduced that you decide to move in to the old Marshal South Home (the park would probably object to you making it a fixer-upper), simply return the way you came. The trail goes a lot faster on the way down. If you are game for more, check out the nearby Pictograph Trail and Morteros Trail, which explore the Native American desert lifestyle that Marshal South strove to emulate. There is ample nearby camping at Blair Valley Primitive Campground. Dogs and mountain bikes are not allowed for the trail to the Marshal South Home. No fee or permit is required for this hike, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, drive 5 miles southwest on Borrego Springs Road. Turn right on Route S3 (Yaqui Pass Road) and drive 7 miles south over the pass to Tamarisk Grove. Turn right on Route 78, heading west for another seven miles to Route S2. Turn left and drive six miles southeast to Blair Valley. Turn left off the pavement and head east through Blair Valley Campground. From here, it is 3.3 miles over well-maintained dirt roads to the trailhead. Take the main dirt road on the left side of the campground and drive 2.9 miles around the north edge of Blair Valley to a split in the road. Turn right, followed quickly by another right, following signs for Marshal South Home. There is a sign for Marshal South Home on the left side of the parking area at the end of the road.
Trailhead address: Blair Valley, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Julian, CA 92036
Trailhead coordinates: 33.003382, -116.389789 (33° 00′ 12.17″N 116° 23′ 23.24″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding California Desert trails and campgrounds.
|Morteros Trail |
This 0.6-mile hike visits a village of boulders once occupied by Kumeyaay Indians who left behind Morteros, grinding bowls carved into the rock.
|Pictograph Trail |
This 1.8-mile hike visits rock paintings drawn by Kumeyaay Indians who lived in the Anza-Borrego Desert thousands of years ago.
|Rainbow Canyon Trail |
This 2.2-mile adventure follows an undeveloped trail up a colorful canyon full of vibrant rock formations and desert plants.
|Narrows Earth Trail |
This 0.5-mile self-guided hike explores the geology of the park.
|The Slot |
This short hike descends through a narrow canyon beneath a natural rock span that is among the most photographed landmarks in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
|Hellhole Canyon Trail to Maidenhair Falls |
This 5.5-mile hike visits a 20-foot waterfall in a canyon near Borrego Springs, making it the perfect place to cool off on a hot day in the California Desert.
|Borrego Palm Canyon Trail |
This 3.25-mile loop visits a popular palm tree oasis in a canyon west of Borrego Springs.
|Calcite Mine Trail |
This 4.25-mile trek climbs 600 feet to a historic mine site, exploring exciting narrows along the way.
|Elephant Trees Trail |
This easy one-mile loop offers a lesson in desert botany including the rare elephant tree.
|Wind Caves Trail |
This 1.25-mile round trip hike climbs 250 feet to a sandstone formation that begs to be explored.
|Hikes in the California Desert |
Explore more trails in Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Mojave National Preserve.
|Anza-Borrego Desert Campgrounds |
There are four developed campgrounds, eight primitive campgrounds, and extensive roadside camping to accommodate your visit to California's largest state park.
|Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Wildflowers |
The desert bloom brings bursts of color to barrel cactus, beavertail cactus, ocotillo, and more.