Friday, December 16, 2016

Ghost Mountain's Secrets

I have this thing for Anza Borrego lately, really, for the desert in general and I'm not sure why. I did a tarot spread recently and it said something about finding peace by going home so maybe that's what it is? What I do know is that I don't feel so afraid out there so I keep going back. I've been particularly intrigued with Hwy S-2 and Blair Valley so I headed up there to check out Ghost Mountain.

I looked up this area on the internet after exploring on a whim a couple days prior. There I learned about Marshal South, a poet and writer, who built a homestead with his artist wife on Ghost Mountain. The family of 5 lived there successfully for about 20 years mostly living off the land but the small amount of money they did make came from Marshal's stories which were published in Desert Magazine.  Marshal South looks like he was a standard desert dude, super eccentric and creative and somehow was doing the hippie thing long before hippies were actually a thing. Here is some awesome Super 8 footage of the family that I found on youtube.

Considering the trail was the only way the family made it up and down the mountain the hiking was easy-ish with only a few difficult spots caused by rocks and slides. As I neared the top the rocks became bigger and more abundant and someone, maybe Marshal South, had built rock steps into the hill and I thought they looked beautiful.

After about a mile I reached the ruins of the home which they named Yaquitepec.  The site looked to be just below the summit and after a few photos I headed up cross county to the summit.

Ghost mountain sits at about 3400ft making it the high-ish desert as was evident by the copious amounts of cholla cactus. On my way up the hill I did some small rock hoping to avoid all things scratchy and pokey and once at the top realized I had arrived at a false summit, also known as the bonus round. The going wasn't too hard and I was feeling good, the day was gorgeous so I pushed on.

I arrived at the highest point on the mountain which was comprised of a boulder with a small rock cairn on top. I poked around the rocks looking for a register box but did not find anything. I pulled up a boulder and dumped the sand out of my shoes while looking over Blair Valley.

Looking a bit too much like my mom here. 0_o

I felt compelled to continue to meander around up there and popped down the other side of the summit. I was still interested in finding a register box, and since this is one of the 100 peaks hikes I thought there might be something up there. I hopped around on the rocks like a little kid and was poking at some bleached out animal scat with a stick when something caught my eye in a pile of rocks.

A register box? I started pulling rocks off the the pile, casting them aside with random pieces of wood until eventually I stood there looking at a large wood box with a teal Celtic design painted on the side.

The top appeared to be screwed on and I thought about how I was going to open it, if at all. In an attempt to get a better look at the markings on the side I pushed a few more rocks away and noticed the box was hinged. I gave it a good pull and the top creaked open to reveal two smaller boxes and a cache of animal bones. "Wuuut..." I muttered to myself. This is not a register box.

I took out one of the boxes and opened it cautiously and found it was full of pictures and handwritten notes. While I thumbed through the contents a large crow flew right over my head. I dodged out of his path and lost him in the sun but his caws remained loud above me. I returned my attention to the box and of course a photo of 3 cats caught my attention. I smiled and continued to poke around glancing at a photo of a good looking couple somewhere in San Diego judging by the gas lamp in the background.

The crow was still hovering above casting a shadow on me and the box. I told him to go away but admittedly started to feel a bit weird. I looked back down at the box and a sonogram photo popped out. I read the handwritten caption on it and felt my stomach flip flop... 

"You, Jack Carter, measured 8 weeks 4 days. Speedy Grower..."

Jack Carter was my grandfathers name. What the fuck?...
I got a jolt of anxiety, like someone was watching me, like I was looking at something I shouldn't be looking at. I put everything back the way it was and covered the box with the heavy stones. I was kind of freaked out and didn't cover it nearly as well as it was before, but it was secure against the elements so I called it good and high tailed it out of there.

Back at the trail head I tried to shake off the eerie feeling and ate some lunch while trying to push it out of my mind. I couldn't just go home and think about it for the rest of the day so I decided to cruise out to the Pictographs and the Mortreros. I drove out on the dirt road I came in on and veered right toward a series of canyons. I stopped at the Mortreros first and checked out the Kumeyaay kitchen and a cool pictograph by way of a guided tour pamphlet.

I jumped back in the truck and headed to the roads end to check out the pictographs. Once there, I climbed up a small pass into Smuggler's Canyon and followed a million footprints in the wash as they hugged the canyon wall.

If I wasn't paying attention I would have breezed right by it, but there it was, a series of drawings in red paint on a huge boulder. What do they mean? What do any of today's events mean??

I remember reading that there is a cool dry falls at the end of this trail so I followed the footprints down as the canyon narrowed. When I reached the falls I was graced with beautiful views of the desert painted in a golden light.

With the daylight dwindling I headed back the way I came. On the drive home I was happy that I had gone out and put in a day of solid hiking but felt super confused about the box. Whats up with that? What does this mean? Am I just assigning meaning to things that don't have any?

 I spent some time thinking about it and since there was a cache of animal bones inside I ultimately decided to notify the ranger. I'm sure the bones were just from a pack rat but what if it was more? They sent an archaeologist and a ranger up there a few days later and told me they could not find it, even with GPS coordinates. For real?!
The box was like Jumanji during this time with a drum beat pulsing in my head that would not relent until I went back up to it.

I returned on a windy and cold day and I was completely alone out there. I made a beeline to the box and tracked my climb using an app so I could give it to the rangers. Once there, I was determined to find out exactly what this was. I opened the box with the notes and photos inside and read a two page letter written from a mom to her son. It was the saddest letter I've ever read and brought tears to my eyes. There was a letter from dad to his son and a knit beanie fit for an infants head. I believe this was a young couples way of coping with a son who died and judging by the lack of baby pictures I am guessing he was still born. There was a second box that was locked and my gut tells me it was his ashes.

I kind of felt bad about reporting it and covered it up meticulously with the rocks hoping that no one but the rangers would find it, if they were so inclined. I have been telling myself that there was a reason I was moved to report it, so hopefully I did the right thing. I don't know. None of it makes any sense! Nothing in my life right now makes any sense! On the drive home I picked up a southbound PCT hiker and drove him to Julian hoping that by some miracle he would say something that would make things make things click into place, but he didn't.

I hope I understand things soon. For now, I'll just have to let things go and hug my nephew a bit tighter having read the heartbreak of such a devastating loss. Please send your positive juju to that family.  


  1. Strange! Let us know if you find out more about that box.

  2. Replies
    1. It is. I'm still not really sure what I'm supposed to do with the information. I feel like I am supposed to be of service to the family but all of my attempts to figure out who they are have failed. I guess I'll just have to keep them in my heart and wait to be directed to the correct action, if any. I think about it everyday.

  3. I love this adventure so much! How strange about the box and the rangers not being able to find it, but then you going right back to it. Fascinating. Gorgeous photos, too. I would love to do these trails.

    1. I was confused that the rangers couldn't find it too! The way I left it on my first trip up made it super easy to spot so that coupled with the gps coordinates should have been a no brainer. The people having my same family name threw me for a loop too.