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The Ghost Mountain Experiment

See a preview of this Truly CA episode.

The word "desert" conjures up images of a grim, desolate wasteland choked by unbearable heat and populated by venomous reptiles and thorn-covered plants. It is not an inviting image. Yet, on the western edge of California's Colorado Desert, a simple adobe house was built 75 years ago atop a windswept waterless ridge, aptly named Ghost Mountain. It was here that the family of an eccentric naturalist, author and artist, Marshal South, chose to live a primitive existence for 17 years during the Depression and World War II.

This amazing saga attracted a large following through numerous national magazine articles. The Ghost Mountain Experiment tells the story of escape and survival through old photos, home movies, re-enactments, aerial footage and interviews with members of the South family and those who remember them. The stunning imagery of the desert and the old home site was shot over an 8-month period on super-16mm film and mastered on HD video.

Marshal and Tanya South wanted to protect their children from society, rather than raise them to fit into society's mold. This unusual courage and commitment, however, came at a great cost and ultimately led to the end of their stay on Ghost Mountain. The story of South's dream appeals to our pioneer spirit. The saga of a strong, resourceful, and resilient family surviving alone on an isolated mountaintop fascinates and inspires us, but also challenges us to evaluate our own lives and perceptions.

[Original air date: Sun, Jul 26, 2009]

This program is not currently scheduled for broadcast.

Filmmaker Profiles:

John McDonald

Read more about John McDonald, filmmaker of the Ghost Mountain: An Experiment in Primitive Living, which was expanded into a feature-length version called The Ghost Mountain Experiment.


The Ghost Mountain Experiment: Crew & Credits

Produced and Directed by
John McDonald

Director of Photography
Stuart Asbjornsen

Written by
Lydia McDonald

Edited by
Will Bigham

Post Production Supervisor
Sergio Palermo

Marshal's Voice
Will Bigham

Tanya's Voice
Sarah Fairfax

Opening Music by
Louis Febre

Music provided by
Groove Addicts

A Very Special Thanks to
Rider & Lucile South
Victoria (South) Morgan

An Artistic Interpretation Based on Research Made by
Diana Lindsay

Aerial Photography by
Corporate Helicopters, San Diego
Camera Operator
Marty Zimmerman
Ivor Schier
Steadicam and Jib Arm Operator
Jon Myers

Additional Photography
Marty Zimmerman
John McDonald

John McDonaldn
Mary Patrick

Audio Post Production
Blaine Stewart
Post Plus Sound

Camera Assistant
Miguel Ramirez

Thanks to
Adventure 16
Mike Artur
Robert Bahar
Woody Barnes
Catherine Bigham
Jeri Botts
Patrick & Gretchen Brown
Joan Carskadden
Nicholas Clapp
Karen & Tim Cliffe
Juliane Crump
Reena Deutsch
Donald Endicott Jr.
Carla Faulkner
Paige Gold
Robert & Jenna Goodman
Bobbie Hathaway Green
Richard Halsey
Gary Hebert
David Jackson
Mark & Kelley Jorgensen
Richard Halsey
Julian Hotel
Felicia Harmer Kelley
Sonja Lane
Brent Maddock
Robert Martin
Jack Masheeco
Jim McCallum
Patricia McCormick
Mike & Toni Minghini
Gary "Buzz" Mushet
Emily Moss
Mark Rasmussen
Sandra Ruch
Edwina Silber-Nagel
Phin Spencer
Patricia Sumerling
Joe Swycaffer
Terry Tally
Linda Tandle
Eileen Tellum
Lela Toombs
Phillip Towne
Mary Trunk
Allen & Nan Vinzant
Sam & Astrid Webb
Peter Wild
Jim Wood
Fred Woodworth
Bill & Heidi Worden

We could not have done this project without the help of our volunteer porters.
Jared Aldern & family
Mark Barrett
David Baumann
Chuck Bennett
Phil Brigandi
Ted Caragozian
Misty Clark
Marilyn Dickson
Allan Fein
Pea Hicks
Jerry Hildwine
Peggy Hurley
Deborah Knapp
Paul Larson
Celia Lawley
LuAnn Thompson
Scott Musick
Mike Puzzo
Joe Raffetto
Bob Theriault
Tish Wagoner

Accommodations provided by
Ocean Park Motel of San Francisco
Orchard Hill Country Inn, Julian
Julian Gold Rush Hotel, Julian
Angels Landing Country Inn, Julian

Home Movie courtesy of
Tony Bowker

Model A's courtesy of
Ray Beardslee and K.C. Edwards

Camera Equipment courtesy of
Keslow Camera
with special thanks to
Robert Keslow and Dennis McDonald

Mini Jib Arm provided by

Additional Camera Equipment provided by
Clairmont Camera
Plus-8 Video
Tally Video Systems
Dave Mesloh
Sean Brown & Digital Antics

Film Stock Courtesy of
Eastman Kodak Company
with special thanks to
Candace Chapman

Film Processing by

Telecine Film Transfer
Tony Bowker CCI Digital
with special thanks to
Rick Morris

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