An imaginary depiction of the remains of a stranded Viking ship.

A Ship in the Desert? Searching for a Lost Viking Ship in California

(Read the article on one page)

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. Yet some rivers can be deceiving, especially those in the volatile region west of the Rocky Mountains. According to local lore, a great ship is stranded in California’s Salton Sea Basin on the edge of the Sonora Desert. Despite having no concrete proof that such a ship actually exists, there is a great deal of debate over its possible origins.

Some say it is a Spanish galleon that was searching for an alternative way around “California Island” (a common misconception in the 16th century). This ship would naturally be filled with treasure. Others claim that the ship belonged to early Viking explorers who managed to navigate a Medieval Northwest Passage and come down the western coast of North America before being stranded. The only way we will ever know for certain is to find the ship.

‘Vikings Heading for Land’ (1873) by Frank Dicksee.

‘Vikings Heading for Land’ (1873) by Frank Dicksee. ( Public Domain )

Rumors of the Viking Ship

Rumors about a desert ship have circulated for years. For this particular ship, the most concrete verification of those rumors came in 1933. Local librarian and nature enthusiast Myrtle Botts was out hiking in the Anza-Borrego desert with her husband. It was early March and the desert was alive with the vibrant colors of wildflower blooms. They set up camp near Agua Caliente and were greeted by a passing prospector. The man had not struck gold but he claimed to have found “a ship lodged in the rocky face of Canebrake Canyon. The vessel was made of wood, and there was a serpentine figure carved into its prow. There were also impressions on its flanks where shields had been attached—all the hallmarks of a Viking craft” (Nazaryan, 2017).

The Botts went to see if the prospector’s tale was true and sure enough they saw what appeared to be the stern of a ship. However, it was too high up the canyon and the Botts did not have the necessary means for such a rugged hike. So they left and decided to come back in a few days. Unfortunately, that very day, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Southern California. The Canyon collapsed and the ship was buried in the rubble.

A Viking ship

A Viking ship. ( The-Wanderling)

There are many places to cast doubt on the Botts’ story. Most notably, how would a ship get into the middle of the desert? There are many explanations but one with some plausibility “holds that an exceptionally large tide from the Gulf of California may have collided with an exceptionally heavy runoff from the Colorado River at the delta, producing a flood which broke through the land barrier to the Salton Sea. The cresting waters could have carried a ship over the natural dam and down into the Salton Sea basin. The flood would have then retreated, leaving the vessel stranded” (Difley, 2017).

This sequence of events is not as improbable as it at first may seem. The Salton Sea Basin, which sits 270 feet (82.3 meters) below sea level, appears to have been a naturally made receptacle for floodwaters. This would have also contributed to the notion that California was an island.

One of the leading experts on the desert ship is John Grasson, a self-declared ‘explorer of legends and lore’. Grasson and the desert ghost ship have recently been featured on “Myth Hunters […] 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 American Legends, an Icon Films production for the Travel Channel” (Nazaryan, 2017).

Foreigners Roaming the Lands

Some contend that people may have thought to see a ship but it was really just a mirage caused by the desert heat. Grasson maintains that there is genuine evidence of foreigners roaming these lands centuries before history would suggest. As one example, he cites a 1939 book by Dane Coolidge called The Last of the Seris , which is devoted to the Native Americans who lived around the Gulf of California. Coolidge relates a legend of the Seri people: “Came From Afar Men—the strange whalers who cooked whale meat in an enormous iron pot, ate it and drank the oil.” This is, according to Coolidge, “a record of the old Norsemen who visited the west coast of Mexico long before the Spanish came” (Coolidge quoted in Nazaryan, 2017).

Comments

near the new Viking site on Newfoundland at Point Rosee there's a local whose grandfather, sometime in the late 19th Century, had found an overturned longboat on a sandbar that fit the description of a viking ship; he turned it over and found three skeletons. Next day a storm came in and either buried it or washed it away.... google Point Rosee and find the CBC news item from Sept 16, it's towards the end of the item.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Concept art of Queen Anne’s Revenge, based on the Pirates of the Caribbean prop for ‘The Black Pearl’
History records Blackbeard as one of the most notorious pirates; but his early years weren’t as infamous or inglorious. Edward Teach, the man who would later become the pirate known as Blackbeard, had a relatively normal childhood. His criminal lifestyle that brought him fame later in life wasn’t fueled by exposure to a sketchy upbringing.

Myths & Legends

A vase-scene from about 410 BC. Nimrod/Herakles, wearing his fearsome lion skin headdress, spins Noah/Nereus around and looks him straight in the eye. Noah gets the message and grimaces, grasping his scepter, a symbol of his rule - soon to be displaced in the post-Flood world by Nimrod/Herakles, whose visage reveals a stern smirk.
The Book of Genesis describes human history. Ancient Greek religious art depicts human history. While their viewpoints are opposite, the recounted events and characters match each other in convincing detail. This brief article focuses on how Greek religious art portrayed Noah, and how it portrayed Nimrod in his successful rebellion against Noah’s authority.

Human Origins

Cro-Magnon man communicating with each other and producing cave drawings
How human language began has been a question pestering researchers for centuries. One of the biggest issues with this topic is that empirical evidence is still lacking despite our great advances in...

Ancient Technology

The School of Athens
Much of modern science was known in ancient times. Robots and computers were a reality long before the 1940´s. The early Bronze Age inhabitants of the Levant used computers in stone, the Greeks in the 2nd century BC invented an analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism. An ancient Hindu book gives detailed instructions for the construction of an aircraft –ages before the Wright brothers. Where did such knowledge come from?

Ancient Places

Artist’s representation of the sealed door of Vault B at Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Ropes of gold several meters long, Napoleonic coins, Venetian jewelry, diamond belts, emeralds the size of ostrich eggs, and barrels of golden rice…these are just some of the treasures said to have been hidden within Padmanabhaswamy Temple. But insufferable dangers may also be lurking for those who dare to open the temple’s mysterious sealed door. Would you take the risk?

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article