"We tell ourselves stories," Joan Didion wrote in The White Album, "in order live." (Alex Berger / CC BY-NC 2.0) In 1870, for example, explorer Albert S. Evans was traveling to San Bernardino, Calif., when he claimed to have stumbled on its remains. He prefers to be called an "explorer of legends and lore," not a treasure hunter. Sarah Winchester as a young woman. A Viking ship. This may be foolish, for there are surely more productive ways Grasson could spend his time. is fueled by his boundless curiosity and his craving for validation—although pocketing a hidden treasure wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Aerial views of the desert area between the Colorado River and Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea. 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. This was all once desert, but irrigation has turned it into a breadbasket producing vegetables like potatoes and spinach and onions, as well as alfalfa, Bermuda grass and hay. 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. "[Their] science basically started with a treasure hunter looking for gold." "The beauty with legend," he says, "is that you're never wrong.". Yet there are believers who insist that, using recent advances in archaeology, the ship can be found. 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. Lost Viking ‘highway’ revealed by melting ice. "I was hooked full-bore," Grasson recalled. He had given himself to a greater faith and, like all devoted believers who do so, he could not be bothered by the petty inconveniences of everyday life. "But I really think this ship is there." Searching for a Lost Viking Ship in California Back in the days when much of the map was still blank, explorers would follow any waterway in the hopes of finding the next great passage. Your California Privacy Rights / Privacy Policy. Confronted with facts that pummel his theories—or the lack of facts to back up his beliefs—Grasson retreats into an uncertainty he thinks benefits his cause. That tribe, he says, is concerned only with self-enrichment, willing to abuse property rights and historical artifacts in the pursuit of some long-lost trove. Lost Viking Ship in California? "All archeologists are wreck hunters," he told me. Brian Dunning, who hosts the popular Skeptoid podcast, investigated claims about the lost desert ship in 2010. History. 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. There are reports of sightings around the Salton Sea and Imperial Valley, extending as far south as Mexico’s Baja peninsula, though firsthand accounts are rare. Let us banish forever all traces of wonder from our lives. 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"). The book so entranced him that he eventually drove to the Arizona State University library in Tempe, asking to photocopy all of Bailey's notes for the book. It took Jakie quite some time to get through all the sand, but when he did he found a small chest full of gems. Don't misspell it. Ships were a Viking's most prized possession, and if a high-born Viking did not die at sea he would be buried in a ship on land. The Desert Magazine covered the mystery of the desert ship for the first time in 1939, when writer Charles C. Niehuis described a strange encounter he'd had with Jim Tucker in Prescott, Arizona. By John Grasson. still exist in good condition, he adds. 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. Like Bailey many years before, he refuses to consign the desert ship entirely to the realm of fiction. Some believe that one of Cardona's captains lost a ship full of black pearls in Cahuilla, but Grasson concluded this couldn't be because Cardona's book suggested his fleet consisted of frigates, which would have been unable to sail up the Colorado. 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. There are reasons to doubt her story, yet it is only one of many about sightings of the desert ship. Some time ago, he listened to a recording made by a farmhand named Elmer Carver. Again, no desert ship. Most notably, how would a ship get into the middle of the desert? It is enough for Grasson to live inside the legend, the way a believer lives inside a religion, never questioning its outer bounds. The Canyon collapsed and the ship was buried in the rubble. We pulled off the highway, drove through town and toward a farmhouse shaded by a line of trees. And whatever he made was hard-won. Most of these do not return to search for ancient treasure ships. Some legends, when proliferated for malicious purposes, need to be revealed as the conspiracy theories and fake news stories they are. It was a hint, though also a taunt. He answered with obvious delight: "I would take a big nameplate with my name on it and go over to USC or UCLA and put it on their desk and go, 'Hi, I found it. But in Imperial, the search turned up nothing. The Los Angeles Times concluded there are plenty of craft at the bottom of the Salton Sea, but it reported that they were all attached to the nearby U.S. Navy test base. Use of such radar has led to notable archeological discoveries, like a tunnel out of the Ponar death camp in Lithuania used by Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust. Some say this is legend; others insist it is fact. Kristin Scharkey is features editor at The Desert Sun and editor of DESERT magazine. His attorney first contacted the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1974 and then two years later with a proposal to enter an agreement with Justus and the Imperial Valley College Museum in El Centro, Calif., to secure an antiquities permit, after which he'd be able to keep "all gold, silver and rare stones.". "I tell you something strange," Santiago said to his wife. The road to Vallecito Stage Station and then Borrego Springs is long and lonely. Unfortunately, that very day, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Southern California. Carver asked her about the ship. Promising leads have vanished like a cactus mouse in the undergrowth. While inspecting the property, Carver noticed that the fence posts were oddly shaped. 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.". Among those who say they've come close to the ship is small-town librarian Myrtle Botts. 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. Now Grasson wants to head back with a Geonics EM-61 MK IIA, a kind of ground-penetrating radar used on The Curse of Oak Island, a History Channel show about 140-acre plot of land off the Canadian coast that has hosted even more mysteries than the California desert. Totally insane, right? "I don't question the existence of the Lost Ship of the Desert," he wrote to me in an email. What was a ship doing out here, of all places? At the same time, he spends more time pouring over documents than trekking through the desert. We deprive them, but we also deprive ourselves, crowding an already-crowded world that needs fewer "shoppes" and more places of solitude. Lost Ship of the Vikings (Grasson) Featured, Stories, Vikings, Yarns 8998. To go through all of Bailey's research took Grasson seven years. That took three days and cost $500. A new life was started in San Jose California in 1886 by an eccentric lady named Sarah Winchester from New Haven to California. "You will say I am crazy, that I lose my water and get thirsty and see dreams, but it is the truth." Deep Canyon is known by archaeologists as carrying the trail that Cahuilla Indians … It's only as his work has become better known—he was on Myth Hunters, on the American Heroes Channel, the History Channel filmed an episode for a show about unexplained phenomena (he isn't sure when it will air), and he recently shot a pilot for another show, which could air on a major channel (Grasson asked me exclude details of this last production) —that he has gone out there more and more, as a field guide to and custodian of the desert ship myth. A Viking ship. And I am glad he said it, for it would have been deflating to have his search voided by a single paragraph in an 80-year-old book. 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. Botts claimed it dislodged rocks that buried her Viking ship, which she never saw again. Those who support the lost Viking ship theory suggest Norsemen sailed through the Northwest Passage, down the coast of Canada, around Baja California and up the Colorado River, which before a modern-day diversion flowed into the Gulf of … Grasson isn't an archeologist, and is definitely not a paleo-hydrologist, though he understands how and where water has moved across the desert. There are many places to cast doubt on the Botts’ story. The state answered back with a resounding no. The land is featureless except for the brown jags of mountains that squat on the horizon. A map showing California as an island, an common misconception even into the early 18th Century. That's my name. Tucker's wife was a Mexican woman named Petra, whose previous husband was a man named Santiago, "a high class Mexican from Los Angeles." Those wildflowers were what brought the Bottses to the desert, and they ended up near a tiny settlement called Agua Caliente. To make a living, Grasson sold carpet. This created a waterway that reached inland as far as the valley currently known as Imperial Valley, California, would have provided easy access to the deserts of southwest America by ships. Melting glaciers in Lendbreen, Norway have revealed a lost mountain pass and artifacts that were used by the Vikings. Carver gave his audio testimony in 1964; it subsequently passed into the hands of "private collector" whom Grasson won't name. That's unfortunate, because Canebrake is gorgeous land in the midst of the Anza Borrego, nearly as jagged and wild today as when the pioneers first came through. But they did leave a trace, and Parcak's team were determined to pick it up, however faint. Unfortunately, that very day, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Southern California. According to Grasson's most recent research, the desert ship is here. 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. It told us to keep looking. Lost Viking Ship Agua Caliente Springs (26 mi N of Ocotillo on Hwy S2) Today, the hot and cold springs in this desert canyon are maintained as a county park. The desert ship is buoyed by legend, but scuttled by facts. In other words, Grasson has plenty in common with the WWCs—i.e., members of the white working class—who handed the presidency to Donald Trump: he's a middle-aged, white-as-the-driven-snow guy from the Midwest who served in the armed forces but can't even get decent medical care. A serpent-necked Viking ship was also reported by natives in 1900 in the Colorado River region. "If you gotta guy who spends 10, 15 years looking at one particular story," Grasson said one day over breakfast, "and you got an academic who spent maybe a summer or two—you gotta realize who really knows more.". Such a ship then, would have to be much closer to the river's delta, in the armpit between Baja California and the Mexican mainland. "I know too much," Grasson lamented in a radio interview, "but not enough.". Those willing to see the place for what it is are few in number, since what's readily visible doesn't seem like much. One day, Santiago saw Petra making tortillas on a type of round griddle called a comal. Sufferers of arthritis and rheumatism park their mobile homes here for up to six months at a time, to enjoy the springs' soothing waters. Reach her at kristin.scharkey@desertsun.com or on Twitter @kscharkey. "This guy from Skeptoid is grossly misinformed," Grasson says. 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. Grasson pointed to a passage about "Came From Afar Men—the strange whalers who cooked whale meat in an enormous iron pot, ate it and drank the oil." "He's got some facts, but the dates are all wrong, the places are wrong.". Most notably, how would a ship get into the middle of the desert? History. Even Grasson concedes that a part of it should have remained above ground. 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. Hell, yes.". The earliest tales of a lost Spanish galleon appeared shortly after the Colorado River flood of 1862. Death Valley Jim, who has written a dozen books about desert lore, agrees. We call these people desert rats, and we leave them to their strange devices until we need them to move so we can build a golf course. Scholarly history is arrayed against him. Grasson does not think the desert ship is in Canebrake Canyon, where Myrtle Botts claimed to have seen it in 1933. We cannot subsist on faith alone, but can we subsist without any faith? Grasson hasn't been there, but won't discount the possibility. Those "round metal disks"—the superior comals Santiago promised his wife—suggest a Viking ship that would have sailed through the Northwest Passage, down the coast of Canada, around Baja California and up the Colorado River, which before a modern-day diversion flowed into the Gulf of California. The Content was loaded with 4 million dollars in stolen gold but it is believed that the ship ended up in the desert never … The Lost Galleon of the California Desert. This is, Coolidge wrote, "a record of the old Norsemen who visited the west coast of Mexico long before the Spanish came. The stories have given Pal… 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. If not, they may end up in a mass grave in Holtville, where many undocumented immigrants who've died during the border crossing are buried. Searching for a Lost Viking Ship in California Viking ship from the Ship Museum in Oslo. Today, the Salton Sea is the largest body of water in California. Myrtle Botts, the librarian who said she saw it, claimed it was buried by an earthquake. 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. Magazines, newspapers and books across the world have long perpetuated the idea that a ship is buried beneath the desert floor. 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. Two factors drove Grasson into the realm of obsession. According to the Imperial County Farm Bureau, the area is also "home to one of the largest catfish farms west of the Mississippi.". So they left and decided to come back in a few days. A 17th-century Spanish ship and a fortune in pearls are rumored to be buried in the sand of the Colorado Desert. 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. In the rugged Colorado Desert of California, there lies buried a treasure ship sailed there hundreds of years ago by either Viking or Spanish explorers. "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.". He is also driven by a slight sense of grievance, a conviction that academics are errant in their near-unanimous assertion that there is no desert ship. 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. "Could a ship pass through here? But included in California State Parks' files is an old, black-and-white photo of Justus, wearing dark sunglasses, from an unidentified publication. And yet the legend about a long-lost vessel has persisted for centuries. His license plate is DEZERTMAG, because he was once editor of Dezert Magazine, which was the short-lived successor to The Desert Magazine, which was published from 1937 until 1985. Bailey might not have many more facts than Grasson, but he has does have the force of conviction, annealed by the passage of time. In the Los Angeles Daily News of August 1870, the ship was described as a half-buried hulk in a drying alkali marsh or saline lake, west of Dos Palmas, California, and 40 miles north of Yuma, Arizona. Imperial is a sad, low town eternally under a hot, low sun. Desert Legends: The lost ships of the desert. In 1996, Grasson moved out to Orange County, because it was cheaper to live there. Then, that became too expensive. Sailing up the Colorado River back then would have brought this ship into Lake Cahuilla, an enormous body of water that once occupied much of what is today California's Coachella Valley. He concluded that no Norsemen sailed up the Gulf of California: "There is no archeological evidence of Vikings anywhere along the American West Coast.". Many parts of the California desert are now patchworks of green, unnaturally fertile land that is a reminder that long ago, there was much more water here, including the vast but now barren Lake Cahuilia. A cache of Viking artifacts discovered in the Arizona desert launches Scott Wolter on a quest to find a lost Viking ship that legends claim is buried somewhere in the Southwest. Others have reached more or less the same conclusion as Dunning. Grasson thinks that was because only a small segment of the Jacobsen property was searched. To continue reading login or create an account. This is what Grasson believes. 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. John Grasson’s long, dogged pursuit of the Viking ship (or was it Spanish?) Perhaps the most plausible tale of a ship lost in the desert involves the pearling expedition of Señor Juan de Iturbe in the year 1615. The lost Spanish Galleon stories began after the Colorado River flood of 1862. Born in Cleveland in 1957, Grasson enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school and worked as a cook. The desert is a changeable place, but not so changeable that an entire ship can disappear from view overnight. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the deserts of California each year—Death Valley National Park alone attracts more than a million tourists. "I don't think that has anything to do with the lost ship of the desert," Grasson says. 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