New Year’s Day at Yaquitepec

Bert and I have each been here before, but never at night.  So we packed our gear and took a late afternoon hike on New Year’s Day up Ghost Mountain in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to experience and photograph Yaquitepec and the night sky.

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Yaquitepec is the name Marshal South (poet, author and artist) gave to his adobe house that he built atop Ghost Mountain, where he and his family lived from 1930 to 1947 in an experiment in primitive living.  Some consider Marshal and his wife, Tanya, as the original hippie family.  It was the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s, when people were without money, jobs and houses and went back to the land to survive, some, including Marshal and Tanya, by homesteading.

Years earlier they enjoyed camping trips to this area and loved the peaceful beauty of this desert wilderness, which enabled them to be creative in their writings after establishing a home here.  Marshal wrote articles for Desert Magazine and monthly drove his 1929 Model A Ford 14 miles to the town of Julian to pick up mail and supplies.  Some in Julian considered him an outcast because of his lifestyle.  Even though he painted a frieze for the Julian library, he was buried in the Julian Cemetery in an unmarked grave in 1948 (it is now marked with a headstone placed by his son Rider in 2005).

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Along the way, Bert photographed this Agave plant, called Mescal by Marshal, who used it as a food and fuel source, among other things.

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We started photographing the deteriorating ruins under increasingly cloudy skies.

After four prior hikes up here, I finally found and photographed the Souths’ kiln where they fired their pottery.

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It is located about 500 feet east of the house and was built from the surrounding granite rocks.

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Although it was mostly cloudy, the night sky had pockets of clearing, revealing stars.  Bert lit up the opposite side of this structure with a strobe light and took the image seen in his article, “At Yaquitepec, Atop Ghost Mountain in Anza Borrego, January of 1940 Was a Very Good Year“.  Afterward, he reviewed his photos (below).  Tall agave stalks are seen against the night sky lit up by El Centro, fifty miles away and the largest U.S. city to lie entirely below sea level.

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Bert’s headlamp lit up the yard in front of Yaquitepec.

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Earlier during the magnificent sunset, I reflected on the ongoing return of Yaquitepec to the earth and, like Marshal, I celebrated the life, beauty and spirit of this special place.

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Marshal wrote in his first article for Desert Magazine, “Desert Diary 1 – January at Yaquitepec”, “And New Year is somehow a joyous finale of the glad season.  A wind-up and a beginning.  And it doesn’t matter much whether the wind is yelling down from the glittering, white-capped summits of the Laguna range and chasing snowflakes like clouds of ghostly moths across the bleak granite rocks of our mountain crest or whether the desert sun spreads a summer-like sparkle over all the stretching leagues of wilderness.  New Year’s day is a happy day just the same.”

And, all in all, for Bert and I, New Year’s Day at Yaquitepec was a happy day and a great way to start the new year.

(All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.)

Also see Diana Lindsay’s website, MarshalSouth.com, for additional information, articles, images and links.

And see the video trailer of John McDonald’s 76-minute documentary, The Ghost Mountain Experiment.