The Lost Viking Ship

the Wanderling

The person most responsible for bringing the Lost Viking Ship to the public eye was a woman by the name of Myrtle Botts. There are versions of her original story all over the net, but in my case, unlike most of the stories that have been simply parroted over and over ad infinitum, I had the good fortune of interviewing her myself personally in order to get the story as she viewed it first hand.

It all started when my Uncle and I were on one of our extended expeditions in the desert headed toward his home in New Mexico from the High Sierras. We had cut through Death Valley, Baker, Nipton and into Searchlight, Nevada when he decided rather than crossing the Colorado River over Hoover Dam by turning north, we would instead, vere south and parallel the river toward Yuma. His decision to go south along the west side of the river was because of a conversation we had as we traveled. It seems the construction of the dam had stopped torrential floods downstream that had transpired since time immemorial. In a general chit-chat sort of way about the Colorado River floods, citing my major source of information in my early days, comic books, that I had once read a great story in a Gene Autry comic called "The Ship in the Desert" (issue #52, June 1951) and later an even better one in an Uncle Scrooge comic called The Seven Cities of Cibola (issue #7, September 1954) wherein a wrecked Spanish galleon had been found in the desert and that both stories, as near as I could remember, were associated with an old Colorado River channel covered and uncovered by flash floods or some such thing leading to the Salton Sea.

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He said he had heard stories of such ships, especially the one of the Spanish galleons being lost in the desert many times. He said that in 1933, however, it had been reported that an ancient Viking ship had been found in the desert on the other side of the Salton Sea, and, although he had not seen the ship himself, he had talked personally to the woman who did. He then went on to explain how just such a thing could happen. So off we we went in search of some of the ancient river channels that flooded the Salton Sea over the centuries to see how a ship, Viking or otherwise, could end up stranded in the desert so many miles inland.

Any of you who are familiar with my works knows that my uncle was what I call a biosearcher, even to the point of having several plant species named after him. Matter of fact, in a large part it was because of his intimate knowledge of southwest indiginous plants that I, starting as not much more than a mere ten-year old boy, but mostly less, ended up exploring much of the desert with him. Among other things, for example, the famed astronomer, meteorite hunter and scientist Dr. Linclon La Paz selected him to work with him. La Paz's idea, as explored more thoroughly in the article on Frank Edwards, was to have my uncle determine if and where any of the plant growth on the suspected debris field related to the Roswell Incident may have been moved, removed or replanted.

It was because of my uncle's role and expertise as a biosearcher, and well before I entered the picture, that somewhere along the way he met Myrtle Botts, she herself being a highly regarded amateur botanist, who in an odd sort of way, mostly because of the Viking ship, became infamous in the lore of the desert southwest. Although much has been written about Botts, years before I interviewed her on the subject, she discussed personally the following at length with my uncle who inturn related it to me:

On the morning of March 9, 1933 Botts, a biosearcher herself on a search for new species of desert wildflowers, together with her husband Louis, were camped in California's Anza-Borrego Desert near Agua Caliente Springs in the mountains just west of the Salton Sea when an old prospector wandered into their camp. He told them that a few days before he had seen what looked like a wooden ship with a snake or dragon's head carved on the bow poking out of the canyon wall nearby. After getting directions, the next day the couple hiked to the canyon and sure enough, just as the old prospector said, the bow of a wooden ship was sticking out of the cliff. By the time they reached the site it was getting late and in that the ship was so high up on the cliffside to see firsthand without special equipment of somekind they made a notation of where it was located and went back to camp, planning to return the next day with ropes and such.

That evening at 5:55 PM the 1933 Long Beach earthquake hit, destroying a great deal around them including their campsite. They felt they had no choice but to return home, resolving to come back the next weekend and take photographs of the craft. When they returned the following weekend the canyon trail they hiked the week before was completely blocked. So too, after searching most of the day climbing over rocks, boulders, and landscapes they no longer recognized they were unable to find the canyon wall or the ship, the earthquake apparently covering all traces.

During the week between the time of the earthquake and they returned, Myrtle Botts, who worked in a library, researched what type ship the vessel they saw might be. In that it had a curved prow with a carved dragons head, circular marks along its sides that looked like where shields had once been, and deep furrows of overlapping Lapstrake Construction of the bow, the Botts considered it could be nothing else than a Viking longship. Mike Marinacci in his book MYSTERIOUS CALIFORNIA (1988) in a section called "Lost Viking Ship" offers a scenario on just how such a ship could have found its way into California's Anza-Borrego Desert:

"The idea of a Viking ship stranded in the Borrego Desert may not be quite as preposterous as it sounds. During the great Norse expeditionary period from 900-1100 AD, high temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere melted away much of the Arctic ice north of Canada. At least one Viking ship may have sailed through the Northwest Passage there and down through the Bering Strait, though the prevailing east winds in the Arctic guaranteed that the adventurers would never make it back to Scandinavia.

"A curious Indian legend implies that Vikings may have strayed as far south as Mexico. The Seri Indians of the Gulf of California's Tiburon Island still tell of the 'Come-From-Afar-Men' who landed on the island in a 'long boat with a head like a snake.' They say the strange men had yellow hair and beards, and a woman with red hair was among them. Their chief stayed on the island with the redheaded woman while his men hunted whales in the Gulf. When they had finished hunting, the strangers went back on their ship and sailed away.

"One version of the legend says their ship sank in the Gulf, and the survivors swam ashore and were taken in by the Mayo Indians. Even today, the Mayos sometimes produce children with blond hair and blue eyes, and say that they are descendants of the strangers that married into the tribe in ancient times.

"Others say that the fair-haired foreigners sailed farther up the Gulf and were never seen again. If, as some revisionist geographers insist, the Imperial Valley was once an extension of the Gulf of California, then the ship could have run aground on what are now the Tierra Blanca Mountains. So it may lie today buried under tons of earthquake-loosened rock and soil in the canyon above Agua Caliente Springs."(source)

How it was related to me by my uncle and pretty much backed up by facts, the Salton Sea depression has been flooded many times throughout the centuries by the Colorado River changing course --- sometimes it flowed south to the Sea of Cortez, other times it turned northwest and flooded the area where the Salton Sea is now. In historical times the area occupied by the Salton Sea had been a huge inland fresh water lake given the name Lake Cahuilla, with a water level sometimes as high as 42 feet above sea level, lapping up against the Anza-Borrego area. Native American fish traps can still be found high up in the rocks around the shoreline of the ancient lake (the current surface level of the Salton Sea is 226 feet below sea level).

The chart below shows the historical highs and lows of the ancient lake from 700 AD to the present. It is stated in the above quote by Marinacci that the great Norse expeditionary period was from 900 to 1100 AD. Notice on the chart, except for a short precipitous 50 year drop between 900-950 AD that the lake, during the Viking expeditionary period, was at it's highest levels, meaning the lake's reach was at the maximum in length and width, pushing deep into all of the canyons around its periphery.



The Native American petroglyph below shows quite clearly a single-mast ship with a striped square-rigged sail and oars not unlike how Viking ships of old are typically depicted. The petroglyph is located in California, several hundred miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in a place called Pinto Canyon. Pinto Canyon is south of the Anza-Borrego Desert near the U.S. Mexican border just west of the city of El Centro (between the small towns of Jacumba and Ocotillo). The drawing is most certainly not a multi-sail Spanish galleon and no known Native American culture, at least in the desert southwest area, used any sort of sailing vessel with oars. How or why the petroglyph artist would be inspired to draw a square-rigged sailing ship --- with oars yet --- so many miles inland UNLESS he saw one is a mystery. It should be noted however, that the Pinto Canyon area lays not far from the historical southern boundries of the ancient Lake Cahuilla as dipicted in the above animated graphic.

In any case, as the story goes and I love to speculate on this, more than likely the Vikings heard there was a vast expanse of water just north of them and thinking it must be the ocean decided rather than go clear back down the 1000 mile length of the Baja peninsula they would just go north. Their ships were shallow draft vessels, so no matter how low the Colorado got they figured they could still navigate. As far upstream as they traveled the river still didn't connect with a huge body of water. Being told the water was just north of the river they either portaged their ship overland, discovered, or were shown a still semi-connnected or partial waterway or a bay-like inlet on the lake that inched southward much closer toward the Colorado. However, when they reached the water it was fresh, not salty, so they knew it wasn't the ocean. Thinking the lake was high enough that it must drain toward the ocean someplace they decided to circumnavigate the shoreline looking for an outlet rather than backtracking the route they came in on. Some sort of an upheaval occured and the ship was intombed or possibly stuck in the mud so bad in some low laying swamp area the crew had to abandon it.

The aforementioned extended expedition with my uncle cited at the top of the page in which I learned for the first time about Myrtle Botts and Viking ships lost in the desert southwest was in 1970. The trip came about because my 65 year-old-plus father had been caught in a fire while on the job, ending up with a collapsed lung and all. Because his outlook didn't look all that favorable, my uncle drove out from his home in Santa Fe to see him. After learning my father's health was OK at the time of his visit, considering his age and what had happened to him --- as well as spending several days talking over old times together, my uncle decided to head back home. As it was, my dad held on, albeit dying of complications from the fire two years later.

Prior to the trip, the last time I had seen my uncle was in Taos a couple of years before. Since that time the events I describe in Dark Luminosity had transpired and because of that he wanted to see what I called my High Mountain Zendo plus catch up, if possible, with an old friend he had introduced me to when I was a young boy, Franklin Merrell-Wolff --- as told in The Tree --- hence our trip to the High Sierras. I continued to tag along on his return trip home to Santa Fe. However, after visiting my dad but just before leaving to see Merrell-Wolff, my uncle, with me going along as well, squeezed in whole day with another good friend of his, cowboy western author Louis L'Amour.


When I got back from Santa Fe, super-eager to learn the exact story about a Viking ship lost in the desert southwest firsthand myself, I made arrangements to meet up with Myrtle Botts personally --- which turned out to be an extraordinarily revealing personal interview, and most likely not only Botts' last interview prior to passing, but probably her last related to the Lost Viking Ship.

Botts was born in 1898 and retired in 1968. She died in 1973 at age 75. When we met it was 1970 and she was edging toward the cusp of age 72, indicating she would be turning so around Thanksgiving of that year. My uncle had somehow met Botts years before through a mutual friend named Marshal South who he met via a series of monthly columns and articles South wrote during the years 1939 to 1948 for a publication called Desert Magazine. Although considered more of a naturalist, South was one of those desert rat, prospector types like Walt Bickel that seem to inhabit isolated far corners of the desert eeking out livings off the land and their own wits. I never met South but he and Botts were very close. In that my uncle knew both, our meeting was eased and unfolded smoothly in an open, positive, unhindered manner. After the usual get acquainted small talk and getting caught up about my uncle I moved to what I really wanted to know about: The Viking Ship![1]

Most of what has been reported seems to be fairly accurate as Botts related it to me. I am convinced that she saw a ship, that it was in an upright "floating" position and not damaged, that it was made of plank-type wood and that it had a finely carved dragon's head just like ancient Viking longships. Some reports indicate that it still had shields mounted in place, but she made it clear that on the side of the ship she was on there were no signs of any shields visible, only markings, four deep, where they were once attached. The rest of the ship, beyond the fourth shield mark, was firmly encased backward within the cliff's wall of shale or onetime clay. How long the portion of the ship she saw was exposed to the elements or how it was exposed in the firstplace without damaging the ship is not known. She said she was so completely overwhelmed about finding it she simply didn't take in any tailings or rockfall at the base that might have given clues as to it's exposure, her primary concern being how to get up to it. She said it was true, she just wasn't "geological-minded," but did not recall seeing or standing on anything that appeared to be newly fallen loose dirt, talus slides, or rocks at the base below the ship. She did say she saw no evidence that would indicate it had been "dug" out by hand or that anybody had made any sort of an attempt, recent or otherwise, to climb up to it.

In that the ship had circular marks along its sides that looked like shields had once been it could indicate the crew abandoned the vessel taking their shields with them. Viking shields were made of wood, although some did have metal parts. If any shields could have survived intact in the open desert environment still to be found is questionable, but not totally beyond the realm of possibility.[2]

Although it appears that the Vikings had a fairly good working relationship with the Native Americans they came in contact with, without their help, it is highly unlikely that any of the crew members would make it very far across the desert on foot on their own. Initially, after the loss of their boat, they probably stuck together in a group, maybe even making a small settlement along the lake's edge. Because of the lay of the land, plus their own travels into it, the Vikings would have known any water exit would most likely be toward the southern edge of the lake. They also knew the upper reaches of the Sea of Cortez where an exit would dump into, if not the ocean, was more of a desert than where they were. However, if they had circumnavigated the lake, at the northern end, near present day Palm Springs, they would have seen very-close-by mountains with an abundance of pine trees at reachable elevations and possibly even snow if it was the right time of the year, indicating a potential habitable transition zone --- at least a less harsh environment than the desert floor as well as closer to what they were used to in their own homeland. Even wood to construct a raft if not a new ship, which to do so would mean metal tools and possibly a small foundry. That's where I would have headed and that is where remnant remains of what happened to them could possibly be found. The problem would be is that the typical archaeologist surveying the general area would not be prepared to attribute any prehistoric human-based findings or artifacts to other than Native Americans unless something so blatent came to life it could not be ignored --- say an ancient iron Viking broadsword, axe, or metal shield handle for example --- and even then the archaeologist's reputation would come under such scrutiny it might not be worth it.

Another highly viable option would be, in that Vikings were sea people through-and-through and driven by the sea, plus a seemingly never ending craving to constantly see or learn what was on the otherside, I just don't think they would have given up. Because of the facts in the story of the shield find along Deep Canyon Trail as reported in Footnote [2] there is a chance the Vikings may have sent exploration parties higher up into the mountains, say for example, to present day San Jancinto Peak. Even now on a clear day from the summit you can see the Coachella Valley, Salton Sea, Santa Rosa Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, San Bernardino Mountains, Palomar Mountain, the Los Angeles Basin, Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean glaring in the sunlight along the western horizon as well as Santa Catalina Island sitting off the coast of Orange County. One peek at the Pacific Ocean shining in the distance and they would packing their shields heading west.


Myrtle Botts spent the night before sighting the Viking ship camping out in Agua Caliente Springs, located in the mountains just west of present day Salton Sea. In distance, Agua Caliente Springs is around 60 air miles southeast --- and many miles more traveling along the desert floor or mountain trails (albeit not so bad by boat in the ancient lake) --- from San Jancinto Peak. In relation to the lost ship and it's potential location, Marinacci and others, possibly quoting him, mention the Tierra Blanca Mountains, meaning of course, associated canyons thereof whose lower levels rise up to form the mountains. The north-south Tierra Blanca range with it's east facing canyons running down into the flat desert basically defines where Agua Caliente Springs (and where Botts camped) is located. The ancient shoreline of the lake at the time of the Viking expedition is less specific, but would not be totally removed from the picture depending on where or what canyon the ship was actually located, as the lake waters could very well have, and did, finger their way up into any number of the canyons.


What is now called Laguna Peak rises up nearly 6,000 feet just eight miles away, on a clear day has a full and totally unobstructed view to the Pacific Ocean westward from the summit, the ocean being only about 60 miles further west (i.e., San Diego on the above graphics). That 60 mile distance on the ground to the Pacific from the peak is however, mostly rough mountainous terrain all the way to just before reaching the ocean. If you leave the Viking shield found on the trail to San Jancinto Peak out of the story, the same scenario of climbing then Laguna Peak instead and seeing the ocean would apply as mentioned previously, albeit, and tactically so, the alleged location of the ship being much, much closer to Laguna Peak and the ocean than is San Jancinto Peak.

(portage graphics courtesy Discovery Channel)

Even if the waters of the ancient lake didn't actually finger their way very far up into the canyons for any distance, the Vikings, after sailing or floating or rowing their way as far as they could, may have thought they could portage their ship the rest of the way over the mountains to the Pacific after having seen the ocean from Laguna Peak (and determining it was much closer by far than from San Jancinto Peak). If that is what they actually did, after getting so far into the canyons and mountains they may have seen how futile their endeavors were and simply abandoned the craft where it was and headed toward the ocean with only their personal belongings.

If the Vikings didn't head west, or in any other direction, and not absorbed into local Indian tribes --- and there are no legends with area Indians that they did --- and began dying off one by one, typically Viking deaths were officiated over in a funeral pryre. Any personal effects, including wooden shields would more than likely be placed with them on the pryre, making artifact finds for future archaeologists that much more difficult.



Viking Ships

Viking Shields

Lake Cahuilla

Lost Vikings of the Pacific

VIKINGS: Northwest Passage, Bering Straight, Alaska and South










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Footnote [1]

It had been a few months after the trip with my uncle that I personally contacted and interviewed Myrtle Botts, having done so in order for me to become more knowledgeable about the Viking ship and events surrounding it. I was driven to do so because, as it should be noted for the reader, my uncle and I never did make it as far as the Salton Sea to search for stranded Spanish Galleons or lost Viking ships during our sojourn through the desert. Instead, the following, as found in the source so cited, happened:

"Then, out of the blue suddenly things changed. Only a short distance south of the little speedtrap town of Searchlight, Nevada he began slowing down looking off to the east. His eyes glazed over and out of nowhere he no longer wanted to chase down ancient river channels and desert marooned Spanish galleons, but instead, he wanted to go to the east side of the river. Rather than doubling back to Hoover Dam we continued south to Davis Dam.

"After crossing the Colorado over Davis Dam we went north on Highway 93 --- located some distance east of the river --- all the time my uncle continuing to glance off to the left as though he was looking for something."(source)

Some miles south of Searchlight before we reached Davis Dam my uncle turned left off the paved highway onto a dirt road called Christmas Tree Pass. After driving about ten rather bumpy and rock strewn miles generally curved toward the southeast he turned right on an even lesser dirt road. A short distance later we stopped, then hiked a mile or so to a place located about six miles west in the mountains above the Colorado River basin. There we came upon an ancient watering hole in a location he called Grapevine Canyon. Most of the boulders and huge rocks surrounding and those nearby the watering hole were covered with petroglyphs.

My uncle, because of his rather extensive travels in the desert southwest had, over time, developed a strong working knowledge and familiarity with most aspects of Native American rock art. Amongst the petroglyphs were many he pointed out as being decidedly different, and of which he said were not of Native American origin, but were instead ancient Chinese ideographs.

The question I asked my uncle was he in effect telling me that not only Vikings came up the Colorado River, but so too did the Chinese? His answer was: not necessarily. He said most likely they had come overland from the Pacific following established trails and routes used by the Native Americans for trade, probably led by guides or trailing a group of traders returning to the Colorado River area. From there he said they headed up river toward the Grand Canyon. See:



Footnote [2]

The editor of Desert Magazine during the 1960's, one Choral Pepper, in her book Desert Lore of Southern California (1994), Chapter 3: Anza-Borrego Desert in a section called "Legend of the Lost Viking Ship" writes about a reported find of a single shield-like artifact somewhere close to or in Deep Canyon, near Palm Springs. Deep Canyon is known by archaeologists as carrying the trail that Cahuilla Indians used from the desert floor up the Santa Rosa mountains and to present day San Jancinto Peak --- most likely the same route they would have shown Vikings to reach the summit.

Extrapolating both from Pepper's works and desert lore surrounding the story of the shield-find, it was orginally reported by a woman whose husband had a regular habit of hiking in the desert and canyons surrounding the Anza-Borrego desert. One day, after being gone several days or more, he came home and told her he had been wandering in some canyons some distance off and in one of them he came across what appeared to be an ancient ship of some kind that had round discs on its side (like a Viking ship). Part of the ship was sticking out of the sand. There was some kind of strange markings, posssibly writing, on the wall above the ship he did not recognize. He also said it had a curved bow. The wife did not find his story credible so over the months that followed he went out looking for it over and over but was never able to locate it. However, one day he did return with a weathered round wooden shield the wife said was twice the size of a large tortilla that the husband said he had found secreted along a canyon trail in the mountains quite some distance north of where he thought the ship was located.

This from Great God Pan: The Mysterious Lost Ship of the Desert:

"Perhaps the most stunning unearthing is that of a Mexican gentleman by the name of Santiago Socia. Socia was residing in Tecate, Mexico when he happened upon a map describing the location of some buried gold in the mountains just north of the border. Sure of his impending fortune, Socia traveled north, exploring several canyons before happening upon an ancient ship buried in the sand. Along its length were metal shields, and the ship’s bow was 'curved and carved like the long neck of a bird.' Above the ship, carved into a sheer rock wall was an inscription in a language that the Mexican was not familiar with. But alas, there was no gold to be found and Socia returned to Mexico, dying soon thereafter and taking the location of the ship with him to the grave." (source)

According to the book Lost Gold and Silver Mines of the West (1963), by Eugene L. Conrotto, from the January, 1939, issue of Desert Magazine, in an article by Charles C. Niehuis, Niehuis had interviewed the widow of Santiago Socia, Petra Socia Tucker. She was visiting her second husband Jim Tucker at the Arizona Pioneer's Home in Prescott and told Niehuis it was her first husband, Santiago Socia, that saw and knew the ship's location. Socia had told her it was in a narrow box canyon with sheer high walls and a sandy bottom. He said, "partially buried there was a boat of ancient appearance --- an open boat but big, with round metal disks on its sides."

There is some discrepancy regarding the shields. Botts told me that on the side of the ship she was on there were no signs of any shields visible, only markings, four deep, where they were once attached. In his initial reports to his wife, Socia told her there were metal disks on the side of the ship he saw. However, what he had with him when he returned home after long day of searching was a weathered round wooden shield his wife said was twice the size of a large tortilla.

Vikings were known to use wooden shields not metal ones. If Socia saw "disks" on the side of the ship, even though Botts said there were none, they may have appeared to be metal, but most likely would have to had been wood if the vessel he found was indeed of Viking origin.