Yaquitepec spring

Yaquitepec (pronounced YAKeete-PECK and coined by Marshal South from “Yaqui”, the fierce freedom-loving Indians of Sonora, Mexico, and “tepec” referring to the hill) was Marshal South and family’s home from 1930 to 1946 on an obscure ridge they named Ghost Mountain, owned by the Bureau of Land Management before it became part of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  Yaquitepec, where Marshal and family lived close to nature in an experiment in primitive living, was bathed in spring flowers earlier this month.


A beavertail cactus greeted us as we approached Yaquitepec after trekking up the 1 mile trail.


Marshal South described a spring scene at Yaquitepec in his article, Desert Home 1, in the May 1941 issue of Desert Magazine:

The squaw-tea [Mormon tea or ephedra] bush in front of the house is sprinkled thickly with clustering chrome-yellow blossoms; and down by the yuccas the white and yellow headings of my tiny desert daisy bushes nod beside the budding beavertail cactus. The barrel cacti too are crowned with flower circlets and the lone creosote bush by the great rock is already dressed in its bright new covering of varnished green leaves and is sprinkled with yellow blossoms. New pink and cream heads nod on the buckwheat. The whole world of desert growth throbs to spring.


(Note: 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.)

Ephedra funerea, Mormon tea bush, has tiny leaves and most of the photosynthesis takes place in its green jointed stems. Most Native Americans in the Southwest and some of the Mormon pioneers brewed or boiled the Ephedra stems to make a tea that was considered refreshing and therapeutic.  Marshal’s ephedra, which he called squaw-tea, was just a few feet from his front door.

Encelia farinosa,  or Brittlebush, is prolific at Yaquitepec, and helps to soften the look of its dump of rusting cans a ways down on the southeast side.  (Marshal drove his 1929 Model A Ford 14 miles monthly up the Banner Grade to the nearest town, Julian, where he mailed in his articles to Desert Magazine, bought gasoline, and brought back library books, goods and supplies, including canned goods.)


Spring also brings warmer nights to Yaquitepec. Marshal South described one such night in his article, Desert Refuge 9, in the April 1942 issue of Desert Magazine:

Last night was warm and at midnight I went out to open another shutter of our screened sleeping porch… I did not at once go back into the house. Instead I sat down on the upper of the two rock steps that lead past the cisterns to where the woodpile is. Upon my bare body the chill of the night air struck with a tingling, electric glow that was almost warmth.


 Far off, through a mist-rift above the shadowy ridges, the North Star gleamed. Almost I seemed to hear the deep, measured breathing of the earth…



 The night air was like a garment of peace, and the overhead arch of the desert stars, appearing and disappearing through rifts in the canopy of haze, was a glorious procession of the Heavenly Hosts, streaming forward triumphantly across the fields of Paradise… One gets very close to the heart of things, sometimes, in the desert silence.


(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.)

Ghost Mountain spring hikes

Plans were already in place for us to spend four nights just below Ghost Mountain, so when Rich L. and family arrived in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with their friends Adam and Susan earlier in the week we were poised to go on a joint hike with them and celebrate their last full day in the desert with a sumptuous feast prepared by Larry.  We had already agreed on a hike to see the pictographs near Ghost Mountain and I was especially interested in seeing the nearby morteros for the first time. Adam and Susan had recently viewed the short film, Ghost Mountain – An Experiment in Primitive Living, shown in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Visitors’ Center, and they were interested in hiking up to see Marshal South’s former home site, Yaquitepec, on Ghost Mountain. So we decided to do all three hikes in one afternoon.


(Pictured above are Adam, Susan, Emma, Rich and Eleanor)

Zoe the cat enjoyed viewing the sites from the vantage point of Emma’s day bag while both Rich and Emma kept their eyes open for any curiosities along the trail.


Bright yellow flower mounds of  Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) are prolific here at Yaquitepec right now. (The Laguna Mountains are seen along with the Mason Valley below.)


The Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) and the Brittlebush brighten Marshal South’s dissolving adobe ruins.


Desert Agave (Agave deserti) is also very abundant here.  Standing below are two Agave flower stalks.  Native peoples (as illustrated in Marshal South’s frieze in the former Julian Library) once roasted young agave stalks in rock-lined roasting pits for two days which resulted in a sweet, molasses-flavored agave which was consumed.


Marshal South wrote in his article, Desert Refuge 35, in the June 1944 issue of Desert Magazine:

Mescal roasting is a family affair. Tanya and I find and bring in the sprouting plants that are ready for the baking.  Rider helps dig the pit and fetches stones to line it.  Rudyard and Victoria trot hither and thither, lugging in fuel…  you leave your mescals cooking in their primitive oven for two days… Take a knife or a hatchet and carefully trim off the outer crusting, and the prize lies before you.  Brown and golden and rich!

(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.)

After hiking the mile back down to Rich’s Armada, we piled back in and continued down a sandy road to our next stop, Morteros Trail.  This .25 mile walk leads to an area where Native Kumeyaay women used rock pestles to pound seeds in the bedrock mortar (mortero).


Along the way we spotted numerous lizards of various colors.  Emma wanted to see a large one so she performed her “Homage to the colored lizard” by repeated bowing with arms outstretched.


We then climbed back into the Armada and continued down the road to our next and final hike of one mile into Smuggler Canyon to see the pictographs.  Emma’s homage worked because the next lizard that we saw was the largest one of the day.


We found the rock art pictographs (pictures with applied color, as contrasted with petroglyphs which have pictures etched into rock) on a prominent boulder.  Manfred Knack says in his The Forgotten Artist – Indians of Anza-Borrego and Their Rock Art, 1968, Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, this rock art may have been associated with girls initiation ceremonies… The diamond chain or “rattlesnake” may have represented a messenger from the god Chinigehinish (or Chinigchinix), who would punish those who disobey his divine laws… Paintings at the conclusion of the rites of passage reaffirmed the final lessons of the ceremonies.


So after a total of 4.5 miles of hiking…


We were ready to find out what Larry had been preparing back at camp just southeast of Yaquitepec.


In Larry’s own words: “Wednesday afternoon involved preparing dinner while Bill went hiking with our friends. A majority of that time was used to assemble the vegetarian pot stickers and cook the falafels. We found that another picnic table had been moved to our campsite. We aligned them end-to-end and set out a Mexican serape as a table cloth and hung 2 Chinese bamboo flutes with red tassels, which danced in the wind, on the branches of the grove of picturesque mesquite trees. This made for a festive ambiance with plenty of seating and a buffet table for serving. The weather was beautiful with mild breezes.

I had fixings out for salad and/or pita sandwiches, which included falafels, tomatoes, onion, pepperoncini, hummus, tahini, pita wedges, vegetarian pot stickers (which were a favorite), lemonade, poppy seed short bread cookies, and celery sticks. Allowing guests to pick and choose their favorite eats always makes for a successful meal. Our guests (Rich, Eleanor, Emma, Adam and Susan) brought a bottle of wine and a delicious Julian apple pie topped with a crispy streusel topping.”

Larry enjoys researching and preparing food, recipes, and menus that are inclusive and compatible with guests’ dietary limitations.

I enjoyed the food and company so much that I forgot to take out our camera to capture the moment.  Perhaps we can entice the Man In The Maze to post some of his shots of this dinner gathering in his next post.

Desert showers bring more flowers

As I begin to write this at our home base in San Diego, it is 58 degrees, breezy with on-and-off sprinkles.  NOAA weather tells me that in our nearby Anza-Borrego Desert community of Borrego Springs, it is 64 degrees with isolated showers and wind speed of 29 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph.  A fast-moving low pressure system is moving through the area.  Last month we camped in the desert near Ghost Mountain, where poet, author, and artist Marshal South and his family set up a home they called Yaquitepec for over 15 years pursuing a primitive and natural lifestyle.  While we were there we experienced firsthand how quickly showers and wind can sweep through the area.


Marshal South wrote in his article, “Desert Diary 2 – February at Yaquitepec”, in the March 1940 issue of Desert Magazine:

                              There is nothing “regular” about the desert.  Uncertainty is its keynote and its eternal fascination…  Against a backdrop of silver showers that screened the footslopes of the Laguna range the desert flashed up in dazzling brilliance.  And over all, like a jeweled scimitar, its hilt in the desert and its point upon the summit of Granite Mountain, a mighty rainbow arched the sky.  It will be will be a warm and brilliant day today.  Tomorrow there may be snow.  Quien sabe!  This is the desert.


(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.)

We are preparing for our return to the desert and look upon today’s rain as a blessing and a promise of more desert flowers to come.  Marshal South wrote in his article, “Desert Refuge 56”, of the March 1946 issue of Desert Magazine:

                   But storms bring with them their ultimate reward.  For beneath every bush and in the lee of every sheltering stone, new green life is pushing up through the desert soil.  The steady drip of the rains has wakened seeds from slumber.


Wild Heliotrope (above)

Below is a field of Desert Sunflowers and Desert Sand-Verbena of Henderson Canyon near Borrego Springs.


As I finish writing this the sky is now very blue and the trees are bending in the wind.  NOAA tells me that the wind is kicking up dust in Tucson, Arizona.  We look forward to returning to the fascinating and colorful desert.


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: www.marshalsouth.com 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.