Ghost Mountain

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I was due to be born on this day. My parents were planning to name me Patricia. I came a day early and they named me Cheryl…go figure.

English: Taken at Anza-Borrego State Park, Cal...

      Bighorn Sheep at Anza-Borrego State Park

Yesterday we went hiking in the Anza Borrego State Park. Anza was the name of the 18th century Spanish explorer who was the first Caucasian to explore this area. Borrego is Spanish for Big Horn sheep, one of the 55 species of mammals who inhabit the park. Anza Borrego, the largest state park in California covers 600,000 acres. It is second in the nation only to New York’s Adirondack Park.
We chose an area of the park named Blair Valley to play in. Blair Valley has three distinctly different hikes and we did all the three. The first takes you up a steep trail for about a mile to the top of Ghost Mountain.

Anza Borrego

Anza Borrego Ocotilla Cactus in bloom

Marshal South was an eccentric writer who moved to Ghost Mountain with his artist wife in 1932. He and Tanya were well educated, but because of the Depression decided to begin a new life. During the next 16 years, they built a house and raised 3 children, living as close to nature as they could without losing touch with the world. Their source of income for staples came from the articles Marshal wrote for Desert Magazine (1937-1985) about desert life. The ruins of their home (Yaquitepec or Home of the Yaqui) remain at the top of the mountain, testament to their years there.
This mountain in the desert is an extremely harsh environment, reaching daytime temperatures of well over 100 degrees F in the summer and dipping close to freezing on winter nights. Water is scarce, the wind blows incessantly and the ground is sand and rock. The hike up the mountain to the home-site is a steep rocky trail, the same one they carried all their supplies up by foot. Yesterday was a beautiful day, the temps were around 80 degrees at noon but the drying winds were blowing on the mountain at a good clip as the warming desert pulls cooler air from the ocean. The question couldn’t escape my mind. Of all the places a man could choose to live in the wild with his family, why select such a cruel and unforgiving habitat? Was he testing the limits of human endurance or was he just crazy?  I plan to read some of the articles he wrote and see what he has to say.

Vista of the Anza Borrego desert landscape.

Vista of the Anza Borrego desert landscape.

The second hike was about the same distance but a gentle incline through deep sand. It brought us to pictographs in the Indian Hill area. Indian tribes inhabited this area of the valley for thousands of years and a huge boulder was their canvas for drawings in red dye, perhaps from the cactus blooms. Amazing that the color has withstood time so well and not been defaced by later humans. When I looked at them I saw things that made me wonder what they were thinking of when they drew them. One shape is a triangle that looks like a tipi. Another is a helix design like DNA strands under a microscope. A third looks like a long thin scorpion complete with the pincer tail and legs drawn in such a way that it’s head points toward the ground.
The third hike was shorter, perhaps ½ a mile, on a sand trail through huge rocks and boulders coming down the canyon walls.   I climbed up the canyon wall a short way on the huge stones thinking about the name for the larger area we were in, “Earthquake Valley.”   I could see these house sized rocks tumbling down the canyon walls, piling up at the bottom but leaving many along the way.  It is a really dramatic place to hike!  The destination is an ancient village site of the Kumeyaay. They were a nomadic tribe who used this camp when the weather was conducive to hunting and gathering. The village has an amazing view of the valley between two canyon walls to the desert and the Salton Sea. Huge boulders, easily thirty feet high and more were used as shade for morteros, bedrock mortar grinding holes, where the Kumeyaay women would grind seeds, nuts and grains into flour. We found over twenty morteros in the small area, all hidden behind huge protective rocks.
We climbed up on one of the rocks that had a shallow depression between two morteros and lay in the sun for a while. It was very pleasant to rest here and feel into the energy of the people who had lived here so long ago. It felt peaceful.

English: Photo of morteros or grinding holes i...
The energetic feeling of these three places which all lie in the same valley was so very different. It interests me to think about Marshall South hauling his family up that unforgiving mountain when less than a couple of miles away was this lovely valley of rocks where tribes had lived for thousands of years. Tonya could have used the morteros to grind her corn.  What was he thinking?

Ghost Mountain at sunset

    Ghost Mountain at sunset

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