Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Lessons From Yaquitepec

Yaquitepec truely a wilderness home

Yaquitepec was truly a wilderness home


©Bert Gildart: The trail was steep and rocky, and following a one-hour hike, Janie and I finally reached Yaquitepec, the site of the eroding ruins of a home Marshall South and his wife Tanya began building in February 1930. Here they remained until September 1946.

They had removed themselves from civilization hoping their lifestyle of simplicity would complement the flood of writing that both Tanya and Marshall produced. What we found, however, as we poked around the old homestead now being absorbed by the overwhelming wilderness in which they had once worked, were ruins. And they were a metaphor for their “experiment.”

For awhile, all seemed to go well for the Souths. Three children were conceived here, and art work produced. In his years at Yaquitepec Marshall wrote hundreds of magazine stories. “They were popular,” wrote Randall Henderson, editor of Desert Magazine, “because he expressed the dreams which are more or less in the hearts of all imaginative people.” Often complementing those stories was Tanya’s poetry. Marshall also wrote five novels, all popular at the time.


But underlying all of these achievements was an inflexible nature, and that, more than anything else, probably contributed to their downfall. Wrote Henderson in a book we had carried in our day-pack to Yaquitepec: “Marshall’s tragedy was that he tried too hard to fulfill his dream. He would not compromise. And that is fatal in a civilization where life is a never-ending compromise between the things we would like to do and the obligations imposed by the society and economic organization of which we are a part…

“He wanted to raise a family–and impose upon his family his own unconventional way of life.”

Though Henderson may well have been correct, the Souths were living in a time when vast changes were occurring. Our nation was at war and the army considered a part of the land on which the South’s were living to be their land, and in 1945, forced them off. Though permitted to return a year later, the South’s way of life had been disrupted, momentum lost, and they had to start all over again. By this time, the toll of such Spartan existence was taking its toll on Tanya, and she wanted out.


One winter day she gathered the children and marched down from Ghost Mountain, eventually settling in San Diego. Though there is much in the records to suggest she often looked back during the next 50 years (she died in 1997 at age 99), there is little in the written record, for she remained aloof–and sometimes friendless.

Almost absorbed now by the elements they once cherished

Almost absorbed now by the elements they once cherished


Marshall died in 1948, at the age of 59. He was penniless and so destitute that it remained for Rider, his oldest child, to provide a marker, which he did in 2005. The epitaph read: “Father, Poet, Author, Artist and included as well, one of his poems. Though the poem that follows is not the one on the grave stone, it may well reflect Marshall’s hopes that he did, indeed, leave his mark. The poem is entitled TIME and we begin with his second stanza:

Who owns this land? Beneath the sun,
in blots of indigo and dun,
The shadows of the clouds move by,
beneath the arch of turquoise sky.
Sunlight and shade in patterned change
across the wasteland’s endless range-
Time–on soft feet. And who shall find,
the records we shall leave behind?

Janie and I closed the book about the Souths and continued poking around. Immediately we found the metal frame of the old bed that all five used in the winter for warmth. We could also make out the general layout of their home. We found evidence of the cisterns Marshall constructed to funnel water following the desert’s infrequent rains. But elsewhere agave poked throughout the old structure. So, too, did ocotillo and barrel cacti. Cholla blocked the frame once supporting a door.


When Janie and I first learned about the couple, we had cheered for them; hoping to learn of a happy ending. But that was not to be, and we concluded they were lucky to have made it as long as they did, for so much was against them. They contended with war, disruptions to their lifestyle, and a society that at times expressed intolerance. As well, the nation was growing–the population expanding–and their land was coveted by some.

Without funds, they were ill equipped to fight this new battle, a lesson we should not forget. Take heart from the fact that their home-schooled children led very successful lives.


4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

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6 Responses to “Lessons From Yaquitepec”

  1. Kimmy Says:

    Bert I found this to be very interesting and wanted to find out more on the South’s. I’m Googling away at this very moment. lol
    A sad ending to such a promising story.
    Thank you for taking us up Ghost Mountain with you. :)

  2. Gadget Says:


    I enjoyed my hike up to the site last year as well. We’d stopped by last March, and read the interesting story of their experiment as well.

    Great entry! I’m looking forward to returning there in a few weeks myself.


  3. Gadget's Airstream Chronicles » Where to start? Says:

    [...] you want to know more about the experiment of desert living, check out Bert’s Blog and Bill’s Blog.  They’ll fill in the big details, and give you links to other places [...]

  4. History Safari Express » Blog Archive » Return to Ghost Mountain Says:

    [...] the ruins of Yaquitepec, 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 [...]

  5. George Says:

    It’s important to note that later in life, when the state of California contacted Tanya about creating a cultural preserve, she wrote back that “to honor the stark, miserable existence that Yaquitepec represented is quite absurd to me.”

  6. MK Says:

    thanks for the photos..sure has changed since i last saw it, in mid-80’s…now melting away..so sad.

    marker was put up cause around that time there was renewed interest and a book released. lame ass kid.