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2003 Toyota 4Runner Trail Adventure - Due South

Ghost Mountain Map
Kevin Blumer | Writer
Posted January 1, 2009
Photographers: Joel Blumer

Light Years, Galaxies, And Desert Dreams

We're all dreamers. From Walter Elias Disney to Walter P. Anonymous, each of us has a vision of grandeur floating about between his or her ears. Dreams give us hope. Dreams give us vision and direction. For some, dreams do nothing but clash with reality.

It was after a bit of daydreaming and a lot of reading that our '03 4Runner UNlimited was packed full of tools, munchies, and camping gear. We needed a close-to-home escape.

We had about 36 hours available, so what could potentially have been several days' worth of exploration had to be crammed into a day and a half. Our journey touched both the Space Age and the Stone Age against the backdrop of San Diego's backcountry.

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We found the Space Age atop Mt. Palomar at the end of twisty East Grade Road. Here, the Palomar Observatory's white dome gleams in the sun by day and retracts to expose the powerful Hale telescope by night. The Hale telescope is no longer the world's largest telescope, yet it continues to be an important research tool for the scientific community. Visitors don't get to look through the Hale telescope, but there are several photos on display of images captured using the sophisticated optics of its 200-inch-diameter reflecting mirror. Gaze at the photos long enough, and it's easy to feel closer to the cosmos than to Earth. George Ellery Hale was the dreamer behind the Palomar Observatory. Hale didn't build the telescope or the dome, but it was his vision and scientific prowess that were responsible for the observatory's creation.

While the Palomar Observatory is both spectacular and significant, we were after more than just scientific supremacy and twisty paved roads. The Palomar Observatory provided a touch point to compare our next destination to. We were about to pay a visit, and homage of sorts, to another dreamer: Marshal South.

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Marshal South was originally from Australia, where his father was a well-to-do sheep rancher. South's given name was Roy Richards, but he changed it to distance himself from his father after emigrating to the United States with his mother and brother in 1907. Although he'd grown up with wealth, Marshal South did not value it. Instead of material wealth, Marshal's ideal world contained an array of artistic media through which he could express his creativity. Marshal could work with words, wood, pottery, and paint to perfection.

Marshal South was one for whom dreams clashed sharply with reality. Marshal was neither a hermit nor a monk. He was a family man responsible for the well-being of a wife and three children. For 17 years, the South family lived on a rocky knoll atop Ghost Mountain. Called "The Great Experiment," the South family's existence was a tough one. Ghost Mountain had no water; every drop had to be collected in cisterns after falling from the sky or hauled up in containers. Civilization's closest outpost was, and still is, the hamlet of Julian. Ghost Mountain lies within the borders of present-day Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Although the journey to Ghost Mountain begins by turning off of San Diego County Highway S-2 onto a dirt road, the final stretch of a visit to Ghost Mountain can only be completed with hiking boots. The sometimes-steep hike to the South family's home site does not follow the same trail used by Marshal and his family, but it does give one an appreciation for what a tough existence living on Ghost Mountain must have been.

Although it wasn't a true-to-life Stone Age existence, parts of life on Ghost Mountain were very primitive. Wheat was ground by hand and baked in an adobe oven. Native plants were used for everything from food to clothing to household tools.

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