We stood for a moment, watching the white bird pass. In 1870, Philadelphia’s Evening Telegraph called it “a marvellous story” about “a ship high and dry on a Colorado Desert – billows of sand beating about her.” In 1875, British publishing house Chapman and Hall released poet Joaquin Miller’s book of verse The Ship in the Desert. However, Roberto Junco, director of underwater archaeology for Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, says it's possible there may have been a shipwreck that "we know nothing about.". Grasson stopped his Jeep and we stepped out into a thick cloud of fine dust particles. "We tell ourselves stories," Joan Didion wrote in The White Album, "in order live." The road to Vallecito Stage Station and then Borrego Springs is long and lonely. During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration published a guide to California. We deprive them, but we also deprive ourselves, crowding an already-crowded world that needs fewer "shoppes" and more places of solitude. And yet the legend about a long-lost vessel has persisted for centuries. When we'd spoken on the phone, I'd gotten the impression he thought the ship was of Spanish origin, which made more sense, as there were Spanish conquistadors in Mexico in the early 1500s, whereas there is no solid evidence of Viking settlement on the West Coast. "I don't think that has anything to do with the lost ship of the desert," Grasson says. That took three days and cost $500. This may be foolish, for there are surely more productive ways Grasson could spend his time. His faith may be strange, but it meets several hallmarks of a religion, right down to the prolonged sojourn in the desert, as well as a convoluted and improbable origin story whose artifacts are at once valuable and irrecoverable. Lost Galleon of the California Desert; COLD CASE On the morning of November 12, 1870, Charley Clusker set out from San Bernardino, California, looking for a 255-year-old Spanish ship loaded with pearls and other treasures. To enter the desert is to succumb to the unknowable. Promising leads have vanished like a cactus mouse in the undergrowth. More likely, Grasson has concluded, the ship is closer to the Mexican border, where the land is dusty and flat, where the dry riverbeds have names like Coyote Wash and the irrigation canals have names like Wistaria Lateral Eight. "Those who hold to this theory as the only solution of the mystery insist that almost all the exciting tales that come out of the desert are due to mirages.". We were driving to the Jacobsen farm when I saw it in a grove of trees behind which stood a modern-looking house: pointed directly at us was the wooden prow of a ship. In 1870, for example, explorer Albert S. Evans was traveling to San Bernardino, Calif., when he claimed to have stumbled on its remains. The leap Grasson wants to make is especially parlous. This could be a reference to a Spanish ship. According to the Imperial County Farm Bureau, the area is also "home to one of the largest catfish farms west of the Mississippi.". Those willing to see the place for what it is are few in number, since what's readily visible doesn't seem like much. Viking ship's buried clues may reveal identities of mystery women. The route Evans took came nowhere near Canebrake Canyon, and the ship Evans claimed to see was Spanish, not Norse. But included in California State Parks' files is an old, black-and-white photo of Justus, wearing dark sunglasses, from an unidentified publication. Today, the Salton Sea is the largest body of water in California. It is enough for Grasson to live inside the legend, the way a believer lives inside a religion, never questioning its outer bounds. If they are lucky, their "treasure" might be steady work in the shadows. Magazines, newspapers and books across the world have long perpetuated the idea that a ship is buried beneath the desert floor. It is believed that an English ship called The Content took a plunge off the coast of Baja, California, into the Cortez sea aka The Gulf of California — the home of the indigenous Kumeyaay tribe. The earliest tales of a lost Spanish galleon appeared shortly after the Colorado River flood of 1862. The editor of Desert Magazine during the 1960's, one Choral Pepper (2002), in her book Desert Lore of Southern California (1994), Chapter 3: Anza-Borrego Desert in a section called "Legend of the Lost Viking Ship" writes about a reported find of a single shield-like artifact somewhere close to or in Deep Canyon, near Palm Springs. Most of these do not return to search for ancient treasure ships. He prefers to be called an "explorer of legends and lore," not a treasure hunter. '", You have 4 free articles remaining this month, Sign-up to our daily newsletter for more articles like this + access to 5 extra articles. Grasson, who has a cheerful manner, walked me past winter bird tourists to the parking lot, where his 15-year-old Jeep Wrangler awaited. In addition, he'd recently been studying a 1632 book, Hydrographic and Geographic Descriptions of Many Northern and Southern Lands and Seas in the Indies, Specifically of the Discovery of the Kingdom of California, by a Spanish explorer of California named Nicolás de Cardona. Sarah Winchester as a young woman. It reads, "One of the last photos of Larry Justus, who reportedly found the Lost Ship of the Desert.". If you were lucky enough to have been able to talk to Julian librarian, Myrtle Botts, she would surely agree. For one, there's no primary-source record of a ship getting stuck in the Colorado Desert. We pulled off the highway, drove through town and toward a farmhouse shaded by a line of trees. Let us banish forever all traces of wonder from our lives. He played some of the city's famous clubs, but did not become famous himself. He then told Petra he'd been exploring the mountains north of the border when, in a "narrow box canyon," he saw "a boat of ancient appearance—an open boat but big, with round metal disks on its sides." He sells mattresses. The story begins in the year 1587. We drove along an irrigation ditch, between fields of rye grass (Grasson has asked me not to reveal the exact location of this farm, for fear that its occupants might be disturbed by "a bunch of idiots going out and wrecking private property"). He declared he knew where he could get her a better one. The grave was found during excavations in Trondheim, Norway. "The moon threw a track of shimmering light," he wrote, directly upon "the wreck of a gallant ship, which may have gone down there centuries ago.". You could argue that Grasson is wilfully blind to some facts, but we all practice the same kind of selective history-making. Grasson does not think the desert ship is in Canebrake Canyon, where Myrtle Botts claimed to have seen it in 1933. Grasson is convinced his ship is buried on a farm near the sad, parched town of Imperial, but won’t say more because he doesn’t want the area to be overrun by “a bunch of idiots wrecking private property.”, while working on a story about desert conservation, Meet Death Valley Jim, California Desert's Best Hope, WWII-Era Tunnel Unearths Story of Lithuania's Jews, The 'Hole' is 12 Feet Below Street Level and About A Century Behind the Rest of New York, Camel Hair Was the Glamour Garment of the 1930s, Rikers Island Guard Guilty in Beating Death of Prisoner, New Bridge Reveals How Little South Africa Has Changed, How Endangered Species May Fare Under Trump, Extinct Tasmanian Tiger Was Smarter Than We Thought, Why Trump Won't Move the U.S. Embassy in Israel, Inside the War Between Trump and the Media, Trump is Standing on the Wrong Side of History, Beijing Is Becoming the Global Champion of Free Trade, he said on the Death Valley Jim Radio Program. That wasn't to be, because, several hours later, there was a 6.4 magnitude earthquake in the waters off Huntington Beach, in Southern California. It told us to keep looking. His quote, stripped of context, is frequently found on college-dorm posters, because it seems to say that the pleasurable work of dreaming is more important than than the grinding work of accumulating and mastering fact. “The moon threw a track of shimmering light” upon “the wreck of a gallant ship,” Evans wrote in The Galaxy magazine in 1870, “which might have gone down there centuries ago when the bold Spanish adventurers … were pushing their way to the northwest.”. Pearce Paul Creasman, an associate professor in the University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, says wood can survive for an "amazingly" long time in certain parts of the desert, depending on environmental conditions. And if there was a ship on the desert floor, where did it go? It is fed entirely by agricultural run-off that will soon cease to flow, for an insanely complex set of reasons having to do with California's insanely complex water-rights statutes. Like many others who lived in or near Los Angeles, Grasson found real-estate prices pushing him East, into Riverside County and beyond, ever deeper into the desert, until he ended up in Banning, where he has lived for the last 11 years. To naysayers, it’s simply a myth passed down through oral and literary tradition. The legend does seem, prima facie, bonkers: a craft loaded with untold riches, sailed by early-European explorers into a vast lake that once stretched over much of inland Southern California, then run aground, abandoned by its crew and covered over by centuries of sand and rock and creosote bush as that lake dried out…and now it lies a few feet below the surface, in sight of the chicken-wire fence at the back of the Desert Dunes motel, $58 a night and HBO in most rooms. Almost 500 of the 1,373 people on board were airlifted off in bad weather. A map showing California as an island, an common misconception even into the early 18th Century. On page 461, there is an entry about Kane Springs, a speck on the western edge of the Salton Sea: One of the most prevalent of local myths concerns a Spanish galleon that sailed into the northernmost arm of the prehistoric Gulf of California, to be abandoned there with its fabulous cargo of gold. But the meeting never took place, and Grasson came to doubt the armor was from the ship. It was a hint, though also a taunt. Grasson isn't an archeologist, and is definitely not a paleo-hydrologist, though he understands how and where water has moved across the desert. He became an avid visitor to TreasureNet.com, an international clearinghouse for those seeking Jon Swift's silver mine deep in the Appalachian Mountains or a vault made by the Knights Templar on an island off Nova Scotia. I didn't want to ask how much money Grasson made, but every indication was not much. Others have reached more or less the same conclusion as Dunning. Almost everything on a Viking ship would get recycled or rot away. Grasson isn't denigrating professional archeology; only reminding its more pedigreed practitioners that their profession rewards a well-developed imagination—something it shares with astrophysics and pure mathematics but few other disciplines. It is said that after a very successful pearling trip along the coastal waters of Baja California, he sailed up the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) to explore its northern end, which is the Colorado River delta. Like all great legends, the desert ship is immune to its contradictions: It is fake news for the romantic soul, offering passage into some ancient American dreamtime when blood and gold were the main currencies of civic life. A Viking ship. After his discharge, he went to Los Angeles in 1985, hoping to become a comedian. By John Grasson. The ship could easily have then run aground, because Cahuilla was created by the natural damming of the Colorado River (lots of silt) and thus given to periodic drying up. "I was hooked full-bore," Grasson recalled. Before testing it, he explores a crypt in a Nordic church and descends 1,000 feet into a deserted mine. Grasson pointed to the striated rock that rose all around us. Unfortunately, that very day, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Southern California. "I know this is kind of weird, and a lot of people look at me like I'm nuts," he said on the Death Valley Jim Radio Program, the podcast where I first heard him talk. The recording is authentic, he says, and Carver was likely "the only man alive to have ever seen and touched the Lost Ship of the Desert.". The Vikings presumably abandoned ship, giving themselves over to the harsh elements, but their ship remained—and perhaps remains still. He could take up yoga, learn to garden, start a tour-guiding business. When knowledge is sparse, he has to let his imagination do the work. By the time I heard it, while working on a story about desert conservation, it had been nearly a century and a half since explorer Albert S. Evans had published the first account. A serpent-necked Viking ship was also reported by natives in 1900 in the Colorado River region. As the sea dried up, the hapless ship sank beneath the shifting dunes...The probable inspiration for the legend was a boat built in 1862 by a Colorado River mining company, transported part way across the desert by ox team, and then abandoned because of the difficulty of the journey from San Gorgonio Pass to the Colorado River. The state answered back with a resounding no. A moment later I realized it was a child's play structure wedged between two trees. Einstein once said imagination is more important than knowledge. But if an area is prone to wet and dry cycles, such as rain, floods or a river that rises and falls, Creasman cautions, the opportunity for preservation is "considerably reduced.". Aerial views of the desert area between the Colorado River and Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea. Then, that became too expensive. Santiago said he was pulled away by his companions before he could explore the ship, and he never went back. The furthest documented voyage by a Spanish ship throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries happened in 1540, says Don Laylander, a senior archaeologist with the cultural resources firm ASM Affiliates, who has published numerous studies on the region. A team that was shooting for the History Channel program came out to scan the property with ground-penetrating radar a few months ago. "This guy from Skeptoid is grossly misinformed," Grasson says. It may be a story about some masterpiece you've been nurturing for years, of selling a tech startup to Google, of raising a family in rural Vermont. One day, Santiago saw Petra making tortillas on a type of round griddle called a comal. Grasson went out into the desert, to the Vallecito Stage Station, one of the stagecoach stops on the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail. He doesn't fly, and his allegiance to land-borne transportation deprives him of the view I saw as my jet descended, the khaki-colored expanse of the desert giving way, suddenly, to rectangles of green and circles of blue, the lawns and pools of a desert oasis at once alluring and freakish. He also read Philip A. Bailey's Golden Mirages, a compendium of desert lore. Grasson's conviction, though, remains as solid as the black and brown hills. Sightings of the desert ship began in the 1870s and The Desert Magazine covered the mystery of the desert ship for the first time in 1939. In 2003, the Los Angeles Times concluded there were plenty of craft lost to the saline depths of the Salton Sea, but these belonged to the U.S. Navy, which had a test site nearby. By the time Myrtle and her husband had set out to explore, amid the blooming poppies and evening primrose, the story of the lost desert ship was already about 60 years old. Hell, yes.". The Lost Ship of the Desert series is exclusively for subscribers on desertsun.com and other USA TODAY Network sites. There has changed many times, dotting the landscape of the Colorado Desert with visions of a ship that never quite docked at the port of reality. Elizabethan chronicler Richard Hakluyt reported that Cavendish’s Content and her consort ship, Desire, had set sail for England heavily laden with plunder from the Spanish galleon, Santa Ana. At the same time, he spends more time pouring over documents than trekking through the desert. Grasson has never met anyone who'd seen the ship, and all the evidence he has of its existence is third-hand, at best. Given the podcast's name, and the pleasure its host takes in debunking popular legends (Hitler escaped the fall of Berlin, the moon landing was faked), it is not surprising Dunning took apart the desert ship plank by plank. The Viking Sky lost power on Saturday and sent out a distress signal after it began drifting towards land. "The usual theory advanced is that it is a mirage," Bailey said of the desert ship. Even Grasson concedes that a part of it should have remained above ground. You believe in a burial shroud supposedly worn by the Son of God, who ascended to heaven after crucifixion; he believes in a Viking shield turned into a baking implement. Yet some rivers can be deceiving, especially those in the volatile region west of the Rocky Mountains. still exist in good condition, he adds. Jacobsen said this was because they came from a boat he'd found on his property. Reach her at kristin.scharkey@desertsun.com or on Twitter @kscharkey. One morning, a prospector appeared in the couple's camp with news far more astonishing than a new species of desert flora: He'd found a ship lodged in the rocky face of Canebrake Canyon. Your California Privacy Rights / Privacy Policy. To get to Imperial, you skirt the western edge of the Salton Sea and head through the unnaturally fertile Imperial Valley. In 1996, Grasson moved out to Orange County, because it was cheaper to live there. Like all faiths, Grasson's constantly renews itself, flourishing at the very moment when it should expire. Until someone proves the ship doesn't exist, it could exist. Recounting the episode later, Botts said she and her husband saw the ship but couldn't reach it, so they vowed to return the following day, better prepared for a rugged hike. It is today believed by many to be under the Salton Sea in California. is fueled by his boundless curiosity and his craving for validation—although pocketing a hidden treasure wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It was early March, so the desert would have been in bloom, its washed-out yellows and grays beaten back by the riotous invasion of wildflowers. And yet the legend about a long-lost vessel has persisted for centuries. Lost Viking ‘highway’ revealed by melting ice 1,000-year-old horseshoes, sleds, and tools are emerging from a shrinking ice patch in Norway, telling the story of the rise and fall of a mountain pass and the people who travelled along it. Newsweek is drawing attention to a search for California’s lost Viking treasure ship Breaking News tags: California, Spain, Viking, Archeology. Surrounding place names reflected the strangeness and severity of the land: Moonlight Canyon, Hellhole Canyon, Indian Gorge. And whatever he made was hard-won. 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