The desert is blooming

It might be snowing where you are, but it’s spring wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.  That’s how I started a similar post almost exactly one year ago when Larry and I rendezvoused with Rich Charpentier and Sadira for a celebration of the beginning of the wildflower season and the turning point in Rich’s fortune.  Two years ago Rich visited this area in Borrego Springs and immediately felt happy.  From here he went on to find his happy home base in Prescott, Arizona and establish his very successful career, R.L. Charpentier Photography, and gallery.

Last Saturday we received a report from the Anza-Borrego Foundation and Institute that the desert is blooming.  We were not disappointed, even our campsite was surrounded with wildflowers.

The blooms are just beginning and should be prolific this year due to our recent rain.



Since dogs are not allowed on the trails, we took turns going with Rich on day hikes.  Larry and Rich hiked up Palm Canyon with its many displays of the Brittlebush (big grayish-green dome-shaped bush covered with bright yellow flowers on thin stalks) and the Pink Sand Verbena.  Then on the same day, I joined Rich in his Titan on a drive to Ghost Mountain where we hiked one mile to see the pictographs in Smuggler Canyon.


Along the way Rich discovered a lizard on a rock.  And the lizard contemplated its options.

Rich came well equipped with two cameras, an assortment of lens, tripod and waterproof bag.  Rich is gaining quite a reputation for his spectacular HDR images.

We found the pictographs and my images will appear in my next post, along with more about Marshal South’s and his son’s visit here when they lived at nearby Yaquitepec.

The brief report comes to you from the field, as it did one year ago, complements of Rich’s WI-FI connection.


More desert trails and mysteries will continue after my next post, Desert blooms 2009.


Harbingers of spring

Punxsutawney Phil (1) may have seen his shadow, but here in San Diego we see harbingers of spring.  Even before we departed for the Ghost Mountain area in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, our lemon tree in our front yard was laden with lemons, which we shared with writer and photographer, Bert Gildart, who was out in Anza-Borrego photographing nesting hummingbirds.


Just before leaving for the desert we spotted a mother hummingbird sitting in her nest in our lemon tree.


Yesterday, I took these photos of our two baby hummingbirds:


 Marshal South also recorded harbingers of spring and wrote in his Desert Diary 3, April 1940 issue of Desert Magazine, “March at Yaquitepec”:

    Our personal Herald of spring has already made his call at Yaquitepec. No, not the traditional lion who is supposed to usher in the month of gales. Our March announcer is a Western Robin. He comes every year. We like to think that it is the same bird – and probably it is, for we have never seen more than the one each year. Oddly he seems out of place here in the desert among the frowning rocks and the cholla. But he has all the friendliness of the robin family.(2)

Marshal South and family created a home on Ghost Mountain and lived out an experiment in primitive living for about 17 years.  Poet, author, and artist Marshal South named his house and home Yaquitepec which comes from “Yaqui“, the freedom-loving Indians of Sonora, Mexico, and “tepec“, the classical Nahuatl (Aztec) word, meaning “on a hill; on a mountain”.  Yaqui sacred tradition centers around nature as a living university where spirits are acknowledged with love and respect as the living beings that they are.

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.  In the Forward, Diana Lindsay wrote:

  South wrote with a lyric quality, painting word pictures as only a poet or artist could. He wrote with passion about the desert – its silence, beauty, and natural history; its healthful qualities; its early inhabitants and their lifestyle.(2)

 Diana Lindsay has been a desert naturalist for over 25 years. The Anza-Borrego Desert became the subject of her master’s thesis from San Diego State University, which was subsequently published as Our Historic Desert by Copley Books in 1973. Diana has also written and edited several additional books including: Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things; Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles; and The Anza-Borrego Desert Region (which comes with a separate folded map). I have and treasure all four books and find them to be very informative and useful. Diana has served over 18 years on the board of the Anza-Borrego Foundation and Institute and owns Sunbelt Publications. Diana has given me permission to insert brief quotations from her book, Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles, in my ongoing articles here, which will help me to illustrate how one can fall in love with the desert, its beauty and natural history. For example, in Marshal South’s own words (after the title page of the above book):

  The Desert!  Either you will love it or you will hate it.  If you hate it you will fly from it and never wish to see its face again.  If you love it, it will hold you and draw you as will no other land on earth.(2)

  Diana wishes you to know that there is a new website currently under construction, which will be hopefully open in a few weeks: where she will be offering published and unpublished works by Marshal and Tanya South in addition to many unpublished photos of the family and Marshal’s artwork. Diana will also have a blog to carry on conversations about the Souths.

Meanwhile, back at our homestead in San Diego, more harbingers of spring are appearing such as the Cattleya:


 Just before our last trip to the desert, we planted a bare root Saturn Peach.  The peach is native to China.


 This week it bloomed:


 We toast to our 38th Anniversary… and to the harbingers of spring:


 Some of the symbolic images on the table include two (Chinese lucky number) whole fish (abundance, prosperity, long life), two flying seagulls and the red dragon.


1. Punxsutawny Phil is a groundhog resident of Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania.

2. 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.

Desert trails and mysteries, 2

Marshal South’s frieze in the former Julian Library is a mural on all four walls with myriad images and symbols depicting a variety of peoples, cultures and places, apropos for a library setting, and beckoning its viewers to further explore, read and learn.  A number of images show how the Native American Indians lived, including activities such as hunting, gathering, fire tending, and pottery making.  These are also activities that Marshal and his family did at Yaquitepec on Ghost Mountain during their experiment in primitive living for over 15 years.


My previous article showed Marshal’s depiction of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo‘s arrival in 1542 in what is now called San Diego.  Twenty years earlier, Cabrillo was assisting conquistador Hernan Cortes in destroying the ancient Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, which was rebuilt and became Mexico City, the capital of Mexico.  Marshal painted an Aztec temple in his frieze and also an image of an eagle holding a snake on a cactus, which is also the coat of arms of Mexico.


The coat of arms of Mexico appears to be based on the Aztec image on the first page of the Aztec Codex Mendoza, depicting the founding of Tenochtitlan.  Note that the Aztec image of the eagle does not contain a snake.  Wikipedia’s article, Coat of arms of Mexico, suggests that the element of the snake was added to conform with European heraldic tradition, and would represent the struggle between good and evil, and could be used by the missionaries in the conversion of native peoples.  Also note that Marshal South used the image of the cactus, eagle, and sun (but no snake) as a symbol of his House of the Sun philosophy (and his booklet of the same name) and his son Rider had this symbol placed on Marshal’s grave site marker.

History is replete with civilizations rising and falling.  In the image below, Marshal juxtapositions a pyramid next to a flaming city under attack.


Marshal’s son Rider mentioned at the end of John McDonald’s movie, The Ghost Mountain Experiment, “My father had mentioned in many of the articles, that the life out there was a great experiment… well it was… and like all experiments, there’s a beginning… and an end.”(1)

But questions and mysteries remain. Even though Marshal South was a noted author, writer, poet, artist and proponent for the creation of what became known as the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, why was he considered a useless oddball by some in the small town of Julian? Why was the curator of the Julian Museum told by the board that there is no file on Marshal South and there never will be, even though many visitors were asking for more information about Marshal? (1)


Was it because when he and his family came into town they looked different, wore different clothes, and had longer hair?  Was it because word had spread that Marshal and the kids ran around naked up on the mountain?  Was it because they thought the kids were not being educated in school and not going to church?

In John McDonald’s movie, The Ghost Mountain Experiment,  Julian residents can be heard saying: “I don’t remember anyone even speaking to him… he was just sort of an outcast in town”; “No one had to tell me that Marshal was in town… I could smell him coming (laughs)“; “He must have been something to see, walking into town… a loin cloth, a head band… I’m sure a lot of these people were shocked… and of course the people are gonna talk… I mean, my word… what else… they were little churchgoin’ people… I mean, here comes this man!” (1)

On a more positive note, one resident can be heard saying: “…when Rider was 12, the county became involved in their lives.  The Board of Education or school system decided he needed to be tested… and they put him through an academic test… and he tested out sophomore college level.” (1)

The children were home-schooled by their parents while living on Ghost Mountain.

Note 1: The Ghost Mountain Experiment,  Directed and produced by John McDonald, 76 min., 2008, and previewed here.

Note 2: For further reading: Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles – An Experiment in Primitive Living, Edited and with a forward by Diana Lindsay, Introduced by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, Inc., 2005, ISBN: 0-932653-66-9.

Chinese New Year in the desert

There was a wind advisory for Interstate 8 East travelers so we did a short hop over the mountains via Banner Grade and safely landed and set up camp under the brilliant evening “star” Venus.  Our landing day weather was clear with temperatures in the seventy’s.  It was an auspicious beginning.


Below Ghost Mountain in the Anza-Borrego Desert, we raised our Earth Flag and set out a pair of Chinese bamboo flutes.  According to Feng Shui, bamboo flutes are generally hung by red cord with tassels and represent qualities of power, safety, peace and endurance.


We celebrated the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Earth Ox, with decorations inside the trailer…


and hung Oriental lanterns from the nearby Mesquite tree.


Larry made deep-fried Chinese pork-shrimp dumplings, shaped like gold ingots for prosperity and served with plum sauce for a sweet new year.


After dinner, I enjoyed the ambiance of the Mesquite trees embracing our camping space while I continued further explorations of night photography.


I also continued to contemplate the mysteries surrounding Ghost Mountain, Yaquitepec, Marshal South and his trips to nearby Julian, and why some in Julian still refer to him as a “useless oddball”.  Last week writer, photographer Bert Gildart again hiked up Ghost Mountain to Yaquitepec and wrote why he is still fascinated with the Marshal South story in his post, “Nonconformist Marshall South and the Stubborn Fishhook Cactus“.  A few days later I joined him on a trip up Banner Grade to Julian where I showed him the gravesite of Marshal South and we went on to photograph the frieze that Marshal painted in the former Julian Library.  In my next article, “Desert trails and mysteries”, follow along as Bert and I visit Marshal’s gravesite and the library while we grapple with the mysteries surrounding the Souths’ and Julian.


Return to Ghost Mountain

We are preparing to revisit the area near Ghost Mountain where we enjoy the quietude of non-hook-up camping while savoring the yipping of  coyotes under the starry Anza-Borrego desert night skies.  As you may recall, this is the area where I saw strange lights in the sky last fall that I investigated with the help our our vertical thrusters. This is also the area where I spotted a possible UFO while on a hike up Ghost Mountain last spring with Rich and Sadira.


Although the above “UFO” is actually a lenticular cloud formation, what lies below the sky on this mountain is just as fascinating.  It is Yaquitepec, the home site of the Marshal South family experiment in primitive living from 1930 to 1947.


One year ago, writer and photographer,  Bert Gildart, and his wife, Janie, also hiked up here, explored the ruins of Yaquitepec, and he recounted Marshal South’s story, and reflected on the “Lessons From Yaquitepec“.  I also contemplated the story while sitting on Marshal South’s melting adobe walls…


and peering eastward out of the door that he and his family passed through for over 15 years.


In 1946 Marshal South’s wife, Tanya, took their three children and left the mountain and Marshal.  In 1948 Marshal died of heart failure in nearby Julian, CA, where he had obtained supplies to build Yaquitepec, collected his mail, and mailed in his 102 monthly articles to Desert Magazine (which were praised by Wally Byam and documented in the article, “Marshal South & Wally Byam – Parallel Roads, Different Destinations”, pages 36 to 39, in the Fall 2008 issue of Airstream Life).  Marshal had also painted a frieze on the walls of the Julian Library and befriended, the librarian, Myrtle Botts (who was at Marshal’s side when he died). The exact location of Marshal South’s unmarked grave on the hill in the Julian Cemetery had been lost for years.  David Lewis, a 4th generation Julian resident, civil engineering designer, and historian of the Julian Cemetery, determined the site of Marshal’s grave, based on information in a letter written by Myrtle Botts. (1)  (Last year David Lewis wrote, Last Known Address – The History of the Julian Cemetery, published by Headstone Publishing, and he curiously left out any mention of Marshal South in his book).


In 2005, Marshal’s son, Rider, placed a headstone on his father’s grave.


Marshal’s grave marker bears the sacred symbol of the House of the Sun – “that of a sun, an eagle and a cactus – carrying thus, in symbology, the truth of the upward passage of men’s souls from the thorny bitterness of earth to the higher realms of light.”(2)

Marshal wrote:

Let my House be a house of Love and Understanding.  Let the pillars thereof be the mountains and the trees and its pavement be the wide earth.  Let its roof be the arch of the sky, and its music the songs of the birds and of the wind and of the harps of the rain.  Let its lights be the lights of the sun and the moon, and of the glow of the everlasting stars.  Let Fellowship and Peace and Brotherhood dwell therein.  Of man and of every creature.  And I, the Spirit, shall dwell in that House, and walk beneath its arches, and bless it, from Everlasting to Everlasting. (3)

Note 1: Page 38,  “Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles – An Experiment in Primitive Living“, edited and with a forward by Diana Lindsay and with an introduction by Rider and Lucile South, 2005, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, California, ISBN: 0-932653-66-9.

Notes 2 & 3: The quotes in the above two paragraphs are provided with the kind permission of Diana Lindsay and Sunbelt Publications from pages 28, 29 and 30, “Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles – An Experiment in Primitive Living“, edited and with a forward by Diana Lindsay and with an introduction by Rider and Lucile South, 2005, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, California, ISBN: 0-932653-66-9.

Note 4:  The newly released DVD of John McDonald‘s full length and uncensored documentary, The Ghost Mountain Experiment, is now available and previewed here.