Marshal House & Ghost Mountain
Distance: 14.7 miles, or 4 if your car can handle the dirt roads to the Ghost Mountain trailhead
Elevation Gain: 778 ft
Time: 7 hours, if hiking the entire route – closer to 2.5 if you drive in.
Season: Spring, Fall, Winter
From 1930-1947 Marshal South lived a rough, pioneer-lifestyle on the remote and waterless Ghost Mountain. For 9 of those years, South wrote for Desert Magazine about his family’s struggles and experiences while living an isolated lifestyle in the harsh desert. The articles that he wrote showed his love of the desert and deep respect for its early inhabitants. His sudden and acrimonious divorce though ended the “experiment in primitive living”, only drawing rumors and a surrounding mystery about who Marshal really was.
It took decades after his death before the stories started emerging thanks largely to his eldest son. Turns out South was far more talented than people realized. South had been recognized worlwide as a published author of over 50 poems, 35 short stories, 8 novels and 102 articles for Desert magazine. On top of that he was also a versatile artist which included painting, sculpting, leather work, weaving, wood-carving and even had his own printing press where he made greeting cards and newsletters.
South, born Roy Bennett Richards, moved from England to America when his mother left his father and took him and his brother to America. In 1911 they settled in Oceanside. At the time, Marshal was writing publications and out of fear that their father would find where they were staying, changed his name to Marshal South. South was always fascinated with the American West, often writing about it in his novels. It was probably these fascinations that lead him to the desert.
Today the home is nothing but a skeletal remain. There are stone foundations, a well and other small remnants of times long ago. Marshal called this region Ghost Mountain because of the thin, ghostly trails that lead to the ridge where they built their home. It turns out that there is nothing spooky about it.
How to Get There From the North: T ake CA-78 toward Scissors Crossing, the junction with S-2. From Scissors Junction, travel south on S-2 (The Great Southern Overland Route) through Earthquake Valley for 5.8 miles. Turn onto the dirt road toward Blair Valley, and either park near the outhouse to hike, or continue driving along the dirt road, following the signs toward the South Residence and Pictographs. From the South – From I-8, take exit 87 toward Ocotillo. Follow the Imperial Highway (as it becomes S-2 / Sweeny Pass Road) for 41.9 miles. Detailed driving directions »
Trail Condition: Excellent. Most of this hike is on a dirt road, which has very easy to read signs at the junctions. The trails themselves are well marked and well traveled, although it is easy to take a wrong turn while coming down from the Yaquitepec site. Just keep your eyes peeled for the climbing route and you should be fine.
Camping Info: You can camp for free in Anza-Borrego as long as your car is at least one car-length off the road, you don’t go off-road driving, you keep any fires in a metal container, and you pack out your ashes. Camping in this way is free. In addition to free camping, there are also several primitive and three developed campsites in the park. The closest developed site is Tamarisk Grove.
Photos & experience by Ian Townsend:
My daughter and I took a daytrip out to Blair Valley with some cousins who know the area. We set up home base here:
Great bouldering area and the pics don’t do the height I was at justice at all:
Drove south from base camp to the Marshal South Trailhead. Stay on main trail and follow the signs. Pretty hard to get lost out here.
Ghost Mounntain on approach to the trailhead:
Marshal South Trailhead:
This was a short but difficult hike to the summit of Ghost Mountain. Terrain was extremely loose and unstable, not to mention the freezing weather working against us.
The trail disappears from time to time so just stick to the general route and you should be fine. Also, you might have to do some minor rock scrambling at places to get through.
We were able to watch the rain coming towards us all day.
As you start to near the summit, you will see the man made stairs made by the former inhabitants. Careful on the way back – we got side tracked and ended up having to scramble our way back to the main trail. Super fun!
Just the remnants of a foundation, old bed frames, a dry well, cistern, and just basically ruins:
View from the house towards Agua Caliente. Trying to make it down before the rain gets us again:
The entire ruin. Not much there but very cool destination: