Ghost ships. The phrase evokes images of rotting, transparent sea vessels floating upon frenzied waves. When envisioning a spectral sloop, one rarely pictures a landlocked cutter a hundred miles from the ocean. Yet, that’s exactly the anomaly purportedly sailing the Salton Sea in Southern California.
Now an inland body of water, the Salton was believed to have been, at one point, connected to the Pacific Ocean. In fact, many conquistadors were convinced California was actually an island.
According to tale, in the late 17th century, a Spanish galleon, laden with precious pearls, navigated the Salton Sea in search of an alternate route to the Pacific.
Due to lack of precipitation, the deltas upon which the ship entered this body of water, evaporated. The vessel became trapped within, what is now, the Continental U.S. As a result, the crew ran the galleon aground, and ventured through the desert on foot. Although it’s believed the sailors eventually reached a friendly settlement in Mexico, accounts of the men, from then on, remain scarce.
It wasn’t until 1775, approximately a hundred years later, the abandoned ship, long since engulfed by swirling sand dunes, began reappearing.
His name was Manquerna, and he traveled by night, in order to circumvent the blistering, daytime desert heat.
Making a living scouting the fundamental charting of California, this explorer, at one point, encountered a massive Spanish sailing vessel embedded in the sands before him. The ship appeared not only a hundred years old, but a hundred miles off course.
Upon boarding the galleon, Manquerna discovered it fraught with pearls. Procuring what he could, the man disembarked, and documented the location of the vessel. Manquerna then hired a small band of soldiers to aid in his quest for the remaining riches. Unfortunately, shifting sands hid the location of the ship. The galleon, and its treasure, were once again lost below the dunes.
In 1870, The Los Angeles Star published a group of articles regarding Charles Clusker, an adventurer hell-bent on uncovering the craft’s whereabouts. According to the features, Clusker, himself, forever vanished into the desert, during an excursion to find the supernatural sloop.
In 1878, a troupe of German prospectors witnessed the vessel hovering across the wastelands. Intrigued, a member of the ensemble set out after the vision, only to be discovered days later, dead from thirst deprivation, and completely nude.
Butcherknife Ike, a seasoned miner, claimed to have uncovered the three-master in 1905. Unfortunately, Ike’s assertions were never verified, and the ship once again slipped through the collective grasp of treasure hunters.
The most conclusive evidence supporting the existence of a ghost ship in the Salton Sea came in 1915, when a Native American sauntered into Yuma, Arizona, and paid for several purchases with handfuls of pearls. The man reported to have spent the previous evening in a partially buried sea vessel, filled with buckets of the precious gemstones. When offered several hundred dollars, should he divulge the whereabouts of the ship, the drifter took the cash, and spent the night in lavish accommodations. Craftily, he vanished into the desert before those seeking his services awoke the following morning.
Numerous treasure seekers have mounted expeditions in search of the famed Spanish galleon. To date, all have met with defeat. Shifting sands could attribute to the elusive nature of the ship, as the dunes easily reveal sizable objects, one day, only to hide them, the next.
Whether or not this meaty hunk of folklore harbors any truth, those relating the tale often add their own delicious spice, claiming that, over time, the vessel has been bleached white by swirling sands. Thus, the galleon now glows in the fullness of the desert Moon, while the spirits of perished sailors walk its decks.
Since the precise location of the ghost ship remains a mystery, your best bet for finding antiquated riches in the Southern California Desert would be to visit the Salton Sea. This inland body of water is located south of Interstate 10, in both Riverside and Imperial Counties, off either Highways 86 or 111. Bring plenty of water. It’s damned hot out there, and the sea is far too salty from which to drink.
© 2011. Hugh Mungus
Bishop, Greg; Oesterle, Joe; Marinacci, Mike. (2006). Weird California: Your Travel Guide to California’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. p. 61. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN: 1402733844