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Saturday, October 2, 2021

Discovery of a Lost Viking Ship...

And lost again...


Long ago a great flood came to the desert and everyone was forced to move up into the hills to await the leaving of the water. Almost every year in the time of the spring there was a flood, but this was the greatest flood of all and it lasted the longest time. One day, after the third dance had been held, there appeared a great bird with white wings that moved slowly across the top of the water. It came to rest on the top of a hill that the water barely covered, and never was it able to free itself. Soon the waters went away and the great bird fell over on its side and died. The wind blew away its white wings and the body of the great bird slowly slid down the hill where soon the wind threw sand over it to bury it. Sometimes the wind blows away the sand and the body of the great bird can be seen again, but the bird is an omen of evil and harm will come to whoever draws near.

—Old Indian Legend 

A FEW CENTURIES PAST, the Colorado River was much more mighty than it is today. Almost every year when the spring runoff poured down from the distant Rocky Mountains the Colorado River alternated its course like a long wet pendulum. It knew no boundaries when it poured into the desert floor over which it must travel in its race to the Gulf of California. To a passenger on a high flying jet the desert today resembles a huge piece of wormwood, testimony to the thousands of scars left in the land by the erratic and often vicious Colorado River. There is geological evidence that, at certain times in the past, the river furrowed such a deep channel into the gulf during spring rampages that salt water from the sea poured back into the channel after the flood subsided.

On the California side of the desert is the Salton Sink, the lowest area of land within the United States, some two hundred feet below sea level. Each time the sink was visited by the Colorado, it became a lake. Each time it was deprived of water, it dried up. Fossil evidence indicates that on at least two occasions in the past, the gulf broke through the delta-plain and joined it with the sea. No one knows with certainty how many times it has been filled and emptied, but the most recent inundation occurred in 1906 when the Colorado created the present Salton Sea.

These countless transitions from sand pit to sea have left many paradoxes. Grotesque concretion; like giant mushrooms, skeletons, serpents, and mythical monsters litter vast regions of the desert floor. One such area is in the Anza-Borrego State Park where there are acres upon acres of round concretions. Made up of sandstone cemented into shape with calcium carbonate, there is no dispute about their connection with bodies of water that have filled the Salton Sea. Another curious spectacle in the Salton Sink is a vast oyster-shell bed formed during one of the sink's unions with the Gulf of California. Averaging eight inches across, these petrified shells of the Ostrea vespertine, or ruffled oyster species, lived here about ten million years ago. In nearby areas are many thousands of tiny fresh-water shells deposited during a later epoch. Many, many years past, the sink was the bottom of a vast fresh-water body known as Lake Cahuilla, and primitive fish traps of the Indians still may be seen on the old water line of this lake a few miles south of Palm Desert. It was fed by the Colorado River and drained into the gulf, and there is a legend that the earth shook and that this huge body of water, covering hundreds of square miles, disappeared within a day and a night. All of this lends credence to the legend of an ancient ship, partially buried in sand in a desolate canyon of the California desert badlands.

One of the more intriguing versions is the story told by the Sefiora Petra Tucker who, before she married her prospecting husband, was the widow of one Santiago Socia. It was Santiago who first found the ancient ship of the desert. A wealthy Mexican of quick temper, he had fled Los Angeles to escape a hangman's noose. He took up residence in the border city of Tecate where he awaited the arrival of Petra. While he waited, he heard from an Indian peon that several ollas of gold were buried in the desert mountains of the United States about forty kilometers northeast of Tecate. The peon just happened to have a map of the gold's location, just happened to need some quick cash, and thus was willing to sell Santiago the chart. A transaction was quickly consummated. Santiago waited for Petra to arrive, then waited in Tecate for another couple of months before chancing the trip across the border to pick up his treasure. He returned a month later with no ollas of gold, but he told Petra a strange story.

While searching for the treasure, he had entered several canyons near the floor of the desert and in the bottom of one with high sheer walls was an ancient ship with round discs on its side. Only a portion of the ship projected from the sand. On the wall above the ship was some strange writing carved into the rock, not Indian, not English nor Spanish, not any other language with recognizable letters. The bow of the ship was curved and carved like the long neck of a bird. Santiago had brought back a souvenir of his find, a shield made of metal in the shape of a tortilla, only larger, which was one of a series attached to the side of the ship. What happened to it? It was heavy and worthless and was thrown away. What happened to Santiago? He was a man of quick temper, and he died within a year of bullet wounds received in Sonora. The location of the strange vessel was forgotten, other than that it lies in a narrow canyon some forty kilometers northeast of Tecate.

Myrtle and Louis Botts of JulianCalifornia, often came down from their mountain village near San Diego to camp in the desert. Their favorite spot was near an area of natural mineral springs, some hot and some cold, which today are maintained as a resort by the United States Park Service. In the thirties, however, hardly anyone knew about Agua Caliente Springs, and it was then that the Bottses arrived with their tent and enough supplies to remain for a week. 

Myrtle Botts was, and still is, the librarian in charge of the Public Library of Julian. She is also a serious amateur botanist and was one of the founders of the famous wildflower show held annually in Julian. Desert wildflowers depend entirely upon the rain that falls during early winter months. If the desert receives heavy rains in January or February, its floor will be wild with color in March. If the rains fail to materialize, the seeds are unable to germinate and must wait another year or more until the seasonal rains do fall. It was to survey the rain situation and to search for possible new specimens that the Bottses came to the remote desert area near Agua Caliente Springs in the spring of 1933. 

On their second or third night out, they camped near the entrance to a deep canyon where there was a cold water spring. While preparing their supper, a dusty and semi-illiter­ate prospector arrived to replenish his water supply. Some days earlier, he told the Bottses, he had been well into the canyon where he had seen an old ship sticking out of some dirt right in the side of the mountain. The Bottses were interested, but the prospector could tell them nothing more, other than that the ship was "yonder up the canyon." When he told them that he also knew where the lost Peg Leg Mine was located, the Bottses dismissed him as a garrulous old man and rejected his tale of the lost ship. 

The following morning the Bottses hiked into the canyon in their quest for wildflower specimens for the upcoming show. They followed the floor of the defile, eyes fastened to the ground; then, as the grade became steeper, they paused for a brief rest. Mrs. Botts noticed it first.

Jutting out of the canyon wall, almost immediately over­head, was the forward portion of a large and very ancient vessel. A curved stem head swept up from its prow. Along both sides of the vessel were clearly discernible circular marks in the wood, quite possibly left by shields which at one time had been attached to the vessel. Near the bow, on one side of the ship, were four deep furrows in the wood. The craft was high enough to hide its interior from the Bottses' view and the side of the canyon was so steep that it could be scaled only by an expert mountain climber. Indeed, he might have trouble be­cause the wall was composed of shale and clay, too unstable to support his weight. 

For a long tune, the Bottses studied the curious sight, then slowly retraced their steps to their camp, taking careful note of landmarks in order to experience no difficulty in returning to the ship. The earthquake struck at almost the moment they emerged from the canyon. Both were thrown to the ground, and as they clutched the moving earth in terror, they could see their camp shaking itself to pieces in front of them. Mrs. Botts remembers their empty car bouncing across the desert floor as if it were being driven slowly over railroad ties. When the rum­ble had subsided and the earth once again had become calm, the Bottses retrieved their wandering automobile and gathered up their scattered camp supplies. The spring that had been cold the night before, Mrs. Botts discovered, had now become hot. 

The earthquake had been a severe one, causing extensive damage in Long Beach and many other sections of southern California, but as is the case in most natural disasters, it was soon forgotten. Not forgotten by the Bottses was the strange ship in the desert canyon. Preliminary research in her library told Mrs. Botts that the vessel most nearly resembled an old Viking ship, yet she could not believe that the craft could be one of those ancient piratical vessels. Before she reported her discovery, she decided to have another look at the craft and to support her announcement with some photographs. Thus, the following weekend, the Bottses once again set out for the desert area near Agua Caliente Springs. 

Once again, the couple hiked up the steep canyon, but this time when they came to the spot where they had paused to rest, their passage was blocked. Half the mountainside had fallen into the canyon, the unstable earth shaken loose by the heavy temblor. There was no sign of the ancient ship. If the earthquake had occurred a short time earlier, the Bottses realized uncomfortably, they also would have been buried under the tons of earth shaken from the mountain. 

Today, Mrs. Botts is not sure what kind of an ancient ship she and her husband, and an old prospector, saw in the desert canyon. It could have been Phoenician, or it could have been Roman, but she feels that it was Viking. Eventually there will be another earthquake around Agua Caliente Springs and possibly the earth will open to display this ancient vessel.

There are other legends and tales of lost ships in the vast California desert. The Seri Indians, who live on Tiburon Island in the Gulf of Mexico, sing of one. This once hostile and murderous tribe preserves its history through song, a curious lilting monotone that is passed down through generations by tribal historians trained for their task from childhood. One song recounts the arrival of the "Came From Afar Man." Many, many years in the past there appeared at Tiburon Island a huge boat that contained many, many men with yellow hair and a woman with red hair. They remained at the island for many, many days while the men went hunting with their arrows and spears. One man, who was their chief, remained behind and lay with the red-haired woman on the boat. When the hunters returned with their game, the boat departed from the land of the Seris. 

No mention is made in the song of how the visitors escaped with their lives. It was a Viking custom for captains to have their wives along. Another story in the lost-ship syndrome involves a modern Viking, one Nels Jacobsen, a rancher in California's Imperial Valley. Jacobsen reportedly found the skeleton of an ancient boat near his house some six miles cast of Imperial City in 1907 and thriftily salvaged the lumber from it to build a pigpen.


 Borrowed From the book, 

The Mysterious West 

By Brad Williams and Choral Pepper

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