Unseen ‘California’s Gold’ episode to screen Sept. 23 at Del Mar Library

A free screening of the “great lost episode” of Huell Howser’s acclaimed “California’s Gold” TV series will be shown at 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Del Mar Library. A Q&A with the director and writer will follow the screening.

In 2010, the late television personality Huell Howser telephoned filmmaker John McDonald and made an unprecedented request. He had seen McDonald’s documentary “The Ghost Mountain Experiment,” a story about a family who lived off the grid for 17 years in San Diego County’s Anza-Borrego Desert, and wanted to include it in his “California’s Gold” series.

“He just called me out of the blue,” McDonald said. “He told me that he loved my doc, would like to interview me for his show and include the film in an episode of the TV series.”

Huell found the story of the South family to be a quintessential California story. But the episode was never broadcast when “California’s Gold” became the victim of restructuring within PBS and its famous host decided to retire. Not long before his untimely death, Howser gave his unedited video master of the episode to McDonald in a gesture of appreciation.

“The Ghost Mountain Experiment” tells the true story of the “original hippie family.” Obsessed with the dream of living a simple back-to-nature lifestyle, the eccentric artist, environmentalist and author Marshal South flees civilization in 1930 with his wife, Tanya. For nearly two decades, they raise a family on a remote, waterless mountaintop, but isolation and betrayal take their toll and ultimately destroy a desert paradise and a marriage.

The film features archived family photos, reenactments, interviews with two of the South children, local historians and South’s own writings. Shot over a 15-month period, cinematographer Stuart Asbjornsen’s footage brings Ghost Mountain’s history to life with breathtaking imagery of the desert throughout the seasons.

This special episode of “California’s Gold” is now in limited release. A trailer can be seen on the film’s website:

The Del Mar Branch Library is at 1309 Camino Del Mar. Call 858-755-1666. For information about San Diego County Library and other events, visit