There’s a Lost Viking Ship in the California Desert, or is There?


California has issues with drought, high taxes, the occasional destructive earthquake, and… viking ships? According to legends, one ship is stranded in the Salton Sea Basin of the California desert to this day.

There’s apparently no concrete proof that the ship exists, it’s only rumors. But what if it did? And if it did, how did it end up in California?

Ship-in-the-Desert (1)

Some believe it is a Spanish galleon that was searching for a new way around “California Island”—in the 16th and 17th centuries, Spanish explorers thought California was separated from the mainland (today it’s only figuratively separated). This myth was propagated by many maps of the time period, depicting the gulf of California as a body of water which divided said land.

Others believe the ship belonged to early Viking explorers who had managed to navigate a Medieval Northwest Passage and sailed down the west coast of North America before becoming stranded.

The Salton Sea used to be an extension of the Gulf of California, until silt from the Colorado River runoff cut off the flow of water. This created the Salton Sea, a standalone body of water.

In any event, there have been rumored sightings in the past. The most legitimate claim came from a local librarian named Myrtle Botts, who was out hiking in the Anza-Borrego desert with her husband in 1933. The pair set up camp near Agua Caliente and were approached by a passing prospector. He had just returned from the Salton Sea Basin where he alleged to have seen “a ship lodged in the rocky face of Canebrake Canyon.” It was made of wood and included a serpentine-like figure carved into its prow—aka very Viking-like!

The Botts were so intrigued by this man’s tale, they went near the spot where he supposedly saw it. Indeed, they saw what they believed to be a stern. They had planned to return in a few days to get a closer look, but a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck which caused the canyon to collapse and the ship to get buried—allegedly.

But a prevailing theory is that what the prospector and the Botts couple saw was simply a mirage caused by the desert heat. Even though this was in March, the desert can still see spring temperatures hovering around 90 degrees.

If there really is a ship, it’s inconclusive whether it belongs to Spain, the Vikings, or some other entity. Some even estimate it could belong to a lost Israeli tribe. That one is probably the most doubtful.



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