the Wanderling

Below, just before entering into a number of "real life" lost ships in the desert stories and legends, is a short three paragraph synopsis outlining the plot for an episode of the Bat Masterson TV series titled "The Desert Ship, " Season 1, Episode 35, that aired for the first time July 15, 1959. The story line, with no overt or covert attempt to belittle it in any way, has all the classic lost in the desert treasure cliches. A treasure map, in this case an engraved watch, from an unknown source that gets transferred back and forth between participants. Often the map is in two or more pieces with each party having to put parts together to find the treasure. In the Masterson case it's a watch with secret engravings. Good guys and bad guys with the bad guys usually following or trailing the owners of the map right up to the end or vice versa where the treasure is taken away only to lose it, usually falling out of the grasp of not only them, but both sides. A sand storm, flood, or earthquake or some such thing that covers up not only the treasure and all the landmarks and clues indicating where it is, but usually taking out those in the know by mysterious disappearing or ending up dead. Typically, in the end, nobody gets any significant amount of the treasure except maybe some small trinket or nugget proving it existed with both treasure and location returning to it's previous untouched status.




In October, 1878 at Little Pass, Arizona Territory, Bat Masterson is participating in a high stakes poker game. His opponent has lost everything except for an old pocket watch. The man, Colonel Anders Dorn, believes Bat has cheated him. Bat, trying to conceal his displeasure with the accusation, offers to draw high card, his winnings against the watch and an apology. Bat not only lets Dorn deal but cut the cards as well, ensuring there would be little possibility for dishonesty in any outcome on Bat's part. Bat wins and grudgingly gets his apology.

After the game Dorn's niece Elsa asks Bat if he would be willing to sell the watch back. The niece explains she and her uncle are convinced that a one time but now dry ancient Colorado River channel holds the remains of a long marooned Spanish galleon loaded with treasure, and that the watch is engraved with a series of mysterious encoded pictograms, symbols, or glyphs showing the location of the lost ship, both treasure and ship having long since buried in the sands of the desert. While talking with the niece, Dorn returns with two companions, one of whom knocks Bat out with Dorn retaking possession of the watch.

A short time later Bat recovers enough to trail the four treasure hunters into the desert, in the process finding Elsa during a sand storm alone and unconscious. She tells Bat her uncle was shot and wounded by the two men. Searching for the uncle Bat and Elsa stumble onto the lost ship now uncovered by the storm. Inside they find the treasure but the two men appear followed shortly thereafter by the wounded uncle. The wounded uncle is alive but needs medical help. Bat offers the two men half the treasure if they let him get the uncle back to town. They tell him they plan to take it all regardless. The uncle dies and a gunfight erupts between Bat and the two men. Bat overpowers the duo long enough for he and the niece to escape, albeit leaving the treasure behind. The sand storm reburies the ship and the treasure, the desert covering all traces of it's existence. To se the complete episode online free click HERE.

Most of the "Lost Ships in the Desert" stories, and there seems to be hundreds of them with most of them being variations circulating around the same handful of ships, find them lost in the broad general area of the desert southwest. More specifically, in the vast desert region associated with the lower Colorado River basin and the Salton Sea, an area that covers a huge mountainous and desert geographical landscape in both length and width. So too, connected geographically and physically right up to the bottom of that sparse landscape is the looming presence of the Gulf of California, a 700 mile long gulf of sea water fingering it's way northward from the Pacific Ocean to the southern outlet of the Colorado River. There, the terminus of the river provides what looks like an inviting, but more often than not, a tenuous, treacherous, and dangerous pathway for ships and watercraft to navigate into an otherwise nearly inaccessible and sometimes unforgivable habitat.

Except perhaps for one major anomaly, almost all lost in the desert ships, like the lost ship in the Bat Masterson "Desert Ship" story above, involve a circa 1500's to 1600's multi-deck Spanish-style sailing vessel similar to the ones used by the Spanish explorers and conquistadors in their explorations of the New World.

Missing in action in nearly 100% of the legends and stories are Chinese ships. Although wrecked Chinese vessels and their remains have been reported along the Pacific west coast at least as far south as San Diego since explorers began sailing up and down California, with the Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo even citing the locations of wrecked Chinese junks on one of his maps of California in 1543. Except for one weak sighting, wrecks or remains of Chinese vessels have not been found in relation to the Gulf of California or the Colorado River. The interesting aspect of it all, which I write about in a few minutes, is in a great number places where Chinese glyphs, pictograms, and etched markings in stone show up along the Colorado River, especially so located in Grapevine Canyon and near Searchlight, Nevada.


Paul Wilhelm offers one possible sighting of the remains of a Chinese ship as found briefly mentioned in his article GHOST OF THE VIKING. Wilhelm says he was told pieces of a Chinese ship had been seen at Willis Palms in the Cochella Valley. In the quote below from Wilhelm's article, it is however, a little on the soft side. Why Wilhelm didn't run right over there from his Thousand Palms oasis and check it out himself immediately is not known. In all the years since, nobody else has ever come forward with similar or like information even though the oyster beds have been a long sought out area to visit and explore.

"One old desert vagabond who visited my oasis at Thousand Palms years back told me he had once found parts of a Chinese junk sand-and-clay buried near the oyster beds at Willis Palms."

I went to the oyster beds at Willis Palms for the first time when I was a very young boy. My grandfather worked in some high-ranking superintendent office-like capacity for the railroad at the time. When I was born his job was in the Pacific Northwest. When World War II started the railroad transferred him to the Los Angeles region for reasons unknown. The move did, however, put my grandparents in close proximity to where my family and I lived. No sooner had he and my grandmother moved to L.A. than the government assigned him to participate in a high level top secret military operation out of Needles that involved not only German fighter planes hidden in the desert not far from the railroad's mainline near Indio and Brawley but also the American spy and actress Rochelle Hudson.[1]

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Knowing my budding interest in Morse code and telegraphy he said I could tag along and watch how real telegraphers worked as long as I didn't hinder the operation too much. It was just like in the movies. The operator had a window that opened up to the station platform and sent messages back and forth as need be. There was a continuing change of operators, but one, easily the youngest of the group, took a liking to me, letting me copy incoming Morse code right along with him and allowing me to send upline code to a buddy of his and receive return messages a couple of times.(see)

In small talk he said he heard I lived at the beach asking if I ever visited any of the tide pools. When I told him yes, that my grandfather took me to them regularly he told that out in the middle of the desert, probably not more than five miles away, was an ancient oyster bed. He said he would take me to them after his shift if my grandfather gave the approval. My grandfather thought it was a great idea even loaning the operator one of the railroad's old trucks.

When we got there I was totally amazed. Here were the remains of ancient sea creatures, with the closest ocean hundreds of miles away. Even the Salton Sea was at least 25 miles away. I've been back a number of times and every time I always reverted back to that special eye-awakening awe I had as a child.

Now, while it is true I was a very young boy and I didn't hike all over the whole of the nearby landscape there were no signs of pieces of ancient Chinese junks either. Nor have I ran into anyone since then who was convinced they saw some. There is, however, strong evidence of the Chinese having been along the Colorado River, but well before the Spanish. The following, from the source so cited, may be of some interest:

"Scattered here and there within the numerous glyphs, pictograms, and etched markings in stone and elsewhere attributed to the indigenous populations of North America and Mexico are any number said to have been made by cultures other than those considered native. Those designated with having a significant possibility of being Chinese in origin are a big part of those discovered. Although people often see a strong Asian influence in the concentrated Mesoamerica cultures in the southern reaches of Mexico and the Yucatan there is, for some reason, an extraordinary amount of Chinese ideograms that seem to be located paralleling long portions of the Colorado River valley, especially so not far from where the Mojave Trail intersects with the river, which in turn entertains the possibility of early Chinese presence in the area."

Buddhism In America Before Columbus

Chinese ideograms among Native American pictograph sites in close proximity to the Colorado river, but no evidence of Chinese vessels anywhere along the 1000 mile stretch of Baja California from the tip to where the rock markings are found. How so? The answer surrounds a Buddhist monk named Hui Shen who is recorded in ancient Chinese texts to have, in the latter half of the 5th Century AD to the early part of the 6th Century, traveled by ship down the North American Pacific coast and into Mexico from China and returned.

Unlike the Spanish of a 1000 years later Hui Shen is said to have disembarked his ships along the Southern California coast near present day Point Hueneme between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, California where the Santa Clara River enters the Pacific and traveled by foot across 300 miles of desert to the Colorado River following Native American trails designed specifically to connect the inland reaches of the Colorado tribes with those along the coast.


Even though it was only 458 AD Hui Shen disembarked his ships where he did and successfully crossed eastward some 300 miles of harsh desert land to the Colorado because he already had in his possession all the necessary information to do so. Hui Shen's trek across the desert was for one reason only, to pay homage to a highly deified priest or lama called by the name Quatu Sacca (Quatu-zaca) reportedly living in a small house on an island in a lake formed by the Colorado River, a person reported over and over by the scribes of the Conquistadors in early Spanish records. Re the following as found in The Mystic Aztec Sun God:

"One of the countries of America which was first converted by the shamans of Cabul (i.e., Buddhist monks), arriving from the southern point of Karatchatka at the excellent port of San Francisco, in California, to the north of Monterey, must evidently have been the country upon the banks of the Colorado River, a large river which flows through these same regions from the north to the south and falls into the northern end of the Gulf of California. Now, in the useful translations of the Spanish authors made by M. Ternaux-Compans, we find that Castaneda (Pedro de Castaneda de N'jera) placed near the Colorado River, in a small island, a sanctuary of Lamaisra, or of Buddhism. He mentions a divine personage living in a small house near a lake upon this island, and called, as he says, 'Quatu-zaca.'"

Letter to the French Academy of Sciences by Charles Hippolyte Paravey de Chevalier April 26, 1847

"Through the great canyon a large river flows from the north to the south and falls into the northern end of the Gulf of California. Now, in the useful translations of the Spanish authors of 1540 AD we find that the scribe of the Conquistadors placed near the Colorado River, in a small island, a sanctuary of Lamaisra, or of Buddhism. He mentions a divine personage living in a small house near a lake upon this island, and called, as he says, Quatu-zaca, who was reputed never to eat."

VOYAGES: l'Histoire de la D'couverte de l'Amerique, Vol IX, Henri Ternaux-Compans (1836)



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In the above two quotes, which can be found in Buddhism In America Before Columbus as well, there is made mention by the scribes of the Conquistadors of a small island in a lake placed in the Colorado River. That island is concluded to be the no longer in existent Cottonwood Island. Cottonwood Island was formed by a onetime lake created by a natural blockage some distance downstream that eventually became overcome releasing the main depth of the lake water to what became the more-or-less the normal outflow of the Colorado River. The island itself however still had sufficient water flow on either side of its banks to remain a viable intact island during the time of the Conquistadors and later European settlers. Today however, Cottonwood Island is completely submerged by Lake Mohave created by the manmade Davis Dam near Laughlin, Nevada. Lake Mohave in covering the island easily surpasses the width, length, and depth of the unnamed original lake that formed Cottonwood Island in the first place. As it was, none of the 1540s Spanish explorers, over land or by river, ever got much closer to Cottonwood Island than 40 miles if that. Anything they had to say was hearsay garnered from their Native American guides. It wasn't until the the white explorers, exploiters, miners, and settlers started showing up in the area that Cottonwood Island was actually accessed by them or began showing up on the radar. By then Quatu-zaca and any traces thereof were long gone.

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Just before the start of my junior year in high school I developed a burgeoning interest in and became familiar with the history, background, and the teaching of the Buddha. At the high school I attended the graduating class had what they called 'Senior Ditch Day,' wherein a regular school day was officially set aside to ditch and go somewhere as a class en mass. My senior year the class selected Catalina Island as our destination. During that high school excursion I participated in all the usual tourist stuff with my girlfriend and buddies: go on the inland motor tour, ride the glass bottom boat, hang out at the beach. I also went to the Catalina Island History Museum housed in those days on the ground floor of a harbor front building called the Casino. There I saw what was to me, thanks to my growing Buddhist knowledge, a truly remarkable artifact --- an artifact that was on exhibit as though it was nothing special, but for me at the time, really blew my mind. Sitting in a glass case amongst a myriad of other Native American artifacts was two halves of an open abalone or clam shell that had at one time been closed and sealed with natural occurring asphaltum. The sealed shell had been found, as I was to learn much later, in 1922 in an ancient Indian burial site located on the island at a place called Empire Landing. When the abalone shell was opened, inside, and the same thing I saw and was set aback when I did, was a small ceramic fired Buddha-like image, looking all the same as high quality white porcelain. And it was. Again, as I was to find out later, the Buddha-like image was way beyond any of the knowledge or ability to do so or make by Native American cultures prior to the burial. Professor T. Y. H. Ma (1899-1979), late of the National Taiwan University, Taiwan, and his colleagues reported that the ceramic image was certainly of Chinese origin and that the workmanship showed it to be from the Tang dynasty circa 618-907 AD.

On the mainland, straight as an arrow directly due east 40 miles from Catalina Island, is the California beach community of San Clemente. One day, almost exactly one year after my ditch day on Catalina, a person was walking along the beach and discovered a cast bronze artifact embedded in the sandstone cliff with a portion exposed. It has been determined to be very ancient with clear Asian type symbols and markings including a deity-like face with Asian features.

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Sometime in the late 1990s I ran into an article titled "Early Man at San Diego: A Geomorphic-Archaeological View" by George F. Carter, now deceased (2004), who at the time was a retired professor of geography from Texas A&M, still living in Texas albeit born and raised in San Diego. Carter was a big time early man in the Americas and pre-Columbian discovery type guy. Figuring he just might be sympathetic to what I was looking for I sought him out.

What I wanted to know was, in all of his archaeology work and in-depth research in and around San Diego and the reaches from the Pacific toward the Colorado River, did he ever run into anything, no matter how small in nature, that might lead him to believe that Vikings may have visited or been in the San Diego or surrounding area in pre-Columbian days? He said possibly, but he had not seen anything definitive himself personally. What he knew, he said, came from the Spanish and the days of the missions.

Giving me some background on the Spanish, Carter told me they suddenly began expanding aggressively northward into Alta California because of the threat from the Russians who had already established forts and communities almost as far south as the San Francisco bay. To counter any further expansion in California the Spanish developed a plan to build a series of missions about a days march apart all along the coast, with the first of the missions being in San Diego.

What most people don't realize is that the present location of the San Diego mission is actually it's second location, the first being where what is now called Presidio Hill. When the Spanish first arrived in the New World and started spreading out into the hinterlands exploring what they dubbed New Spain they began running into small smatterings that the Chinese, more specifically Buddhists, had been to many places before them. Carter told me when the Spanish began building a fort and mission on present day Presidio Hill they found what appeared to be earlier habitation or occupation they attributed to members of the indigenous population, and most records reflect that. However, in his research he came across mention that the habitation was actually more than what the local population was capable of. In at least one source, possibly two if his memory served him correctly, he said there was evidence of metal or iron working and even the remains of a small forge or foundry. There were also remains of worked or hewn logs with all signs of the hewing having been done with or by metal edged tools. Carter said the Spanish gave credit to what they found as possibly being of Chinese origin as the artifacts appeared quite ancient. Not taking any chances, even though there had never been any hints of armed aggression from the sea, they mounted two bronze cannons on fort property, one facing toward the ocean. What Carter thought, even though the Spanish automatically attributed the foundry and hewn logs to the Chinese, it could have very well have been an earlier settlement by Vikings, especially so by taking into consideration the Sweetwater Creek exit to the Pacific taken by the Vikings from Laguna Peak only eight miles up the mountains from the then hugely expanded Salton Sea. Which brings us back to the Viking ship.

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The "except perhaps for one major anomaly" mentioned a few paragraphs back, means of course, a lost ship that was other than Spanish. That other than Spanish "major anomaly lost ship" was Viking. The most credible lost in the desert Viking ship story, which I get into in a few minutes, is from 1933 and attributed to one Myrtle Botts. However, in 1892, which figures out to be 41 years before the 1933 sighting by Botts, a man by the name of Santiago Socia, who lived in Tecate, Mexico, using a map said to have been given him by a padre', was searching for some stashed lost Indian gold treasure. The map led him deep into California's Anza-Borrego Desert ending up miles and miles north from where he lived. Returning home empty handed of any gold or treasure after many, many weeks of fruitless searching throughout hundreds of uncharted Anza-Borrego canyons he told his wife that during his hunt for the gold he had come across a partly buried ship that he described as visually similar to what Botts saw in the same general area 41 years later, as well as being in similar if not the same geologic-terrain-like surroundings. Choral Pepper (2002), in her book Desert Lore of Southern California (1994) writes:

"Santiago had a strange story to tell. While searching for the treasure, he had entered several canyons near the floor of the desert. In the bottom of one with sheer high walls stood an ancient ship with round discs on its side. Only a portion of the ship projected from the sand. There was strange writing on the wall above the ship which Santiago didn't recognize as Indian, Spanish, or English. The bow of the ship was curved and carved like the long neck of a bird."

In 1939 a man by the name of Charles C. Neihuis had a take on the Santiago Socia story albeit a somewhat different take than Pepper. Written 55 years before Pepper's all the same names, places and characters were there, however Neihuis got his from a actual face-to-face interviewed with the widow of Socia. His article was published in Desert Magazine in January 1939 under the title The Lost Ship of the Desert.

On the morning of March 9, 1933 Myrtle Botts, a highly qualified amateur biosearcher 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 some kind 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" mentions an oft cited Indian legend on just such a ship being in the Gulf of California thus then possibly having found its way into California's Anza-Borrego Desert, a legend from the Seri Indians:

"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, etc., etc."

In a printed article published in the January 1973 issue of Fate Magazine titled Ships that Sailed the Desert, researched and made available long before the rise of the internet and internet search engines by the way, and, although not dedicated exclusively to lost Viking ships in the desert per se', has within it's context a fairly good coverage of the "Come-From-Afar-Men" legend. Although not too different than what shows up now days all over the internet it does mention of their source. The source cited is the 1939 hardback book "Last of the Seris" by Dane Coolidge. Almost everything that you read about over-and-over regarding the "Come From Afar Men," that the Siris call "Came From Afar Men" is in the book, especially as found in Chapter XXV The White Whalers. And when I say almost everything, when it comes to Vikings specifically, and although Coolidge writes heavily about Vikings and Norsemen being in the Gulf of California and such, nowhere in the book does he mention the most important aspect of Viking ships. That aspect being "a long boat with a head like a snake." You can see for yourself if you like as I have a link further down the page to a complete, free, unabridged, no sign up online PDF copy of "The Last Seris." The long boat with a head like a snake aspect of the legend must have come from somewhere else. I just haven't been able to rundown that "else."

A majority of the Myrtle Botts information was garnered though my own personal one-on-one interview with Botts as found in:






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As to the subject of donations, for those who may be so interested as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.

Footnote [1]


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On December 31, 1941, the IV Interceptor Command reported that several enemy planes were believed to have landed and been hidden near the inland desert communities of Indio and Brawley in the Imperial Valley of California. They also reported that five messages in Japanese code were being sent daily between Brawley and Mexico City via short wave radio. At 12:32 PM in the afternoon of December 31, 1941, the Federal Bureau of Investigation relayed the following message:

"There is a plan for air and sea attack against San Diego, San Pedro and San Francisco, to take place about dawn either New Year's Day or the following Sunday. It is possible the attack will be made against San Diego and San Pedro first. Expecting cooperation from aliens ashore. The air attack will be by German airmen from across the border where planes are now under cover, taking off before dawn and coming over flying high. If air forces are alert, this can be broken up before they reach their objectives. Am sending you this information for want of better channels to advise."

Harbor Defenses of Los Angeles During World War II

By the spring of 1942, General George S. Patton Jr. had moved into the Indio and Brawley area and put into place a desert training center for his tanks and armored equipment. In doing so, as an unanticipated side effect, it also hindered any further potential attacks from the desert or Mexico by the Axis powers similar to or like the planned aerial attack on Southern California by German pilots as cited above, that was by the way, stopped in it's tracks by actress-spy Rochelle Hudson and her Naval officer husband, he posing as a civilian. Together the two were doing espionage work primarily in Mexico posing as a vacationing couple in order to detect on the QT if there was any German or Japanese activity there. When they uncovered a supply of high octane aviation fuel stashed by German agents in Baja California and destroyed it, without the necessary fuel to implement the attack, the Germans had no other choice than abandoned the idea. For more see:



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Near the end of April or early May of 1942, U.S. Military Intelligence learned the Japanese had put to sea the small but fast Japanese 5th Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Hosagaya Boshiro and consisting of two light carriers and a seaplane carrier at its core, along with support ships; two strike forces, and his flagship group, comprising a heavy cruiser and two destroyers, protecting supply ships --- configured in what appeared to be a potential invasion force. By June 3, 1942 Patton was convinced the fleet's final destination was to invade Mexico by landing on the beaches of Baja California, then move north into California. Patton positioned almost his full compliment of officers and men, albeit not yet anywhere near fully trained, within striking distance right on top of the border to move south within minutes to meet any invading Japanese force. The suspected Japanese invasion fleet eventually landed on Kiska Island in the Aleutian Chain on June 6, 1942.(see)


In August of 1942 Patton and his armored command was sent to North Africa and the Desert Training Center was renamed the California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA). After the Allied victory in North Africa under the banner of Operation Torch the need for desert-trained units declined and in May 1944, CAMA was closed leaving the whole of the desert area to the Colorado River and beyond basically empty of troops.

When Patton left the desert training area he and his staff was of course, to ensure that all operable or inoperable tanks, half-tracks and other assorted armored equipment was accounted for as well as gathered up and returned to their proper places. As it was, no sooner had Patton gone than stories of armored equipment left all over the desert began to show up, some of it simply bulldozed into the ground. When stuff actually started to show up the Army investigated and did find equipment left all over the training area. They went to work gathering up everything they could find and made arrangements for the railroad to ship all heavy equipment it to where it had to go once gathered up. That's where my grandfather came in. He set into place the plan moving the equipment to where it had to go from a central gathering place assessible to the railroad. All stories of buried tanks and other armored equipment were denied, authorities saying they were patently untrue.


With Patton and his armored troop out of the desert it wasn't long before the Germans renewed plans to use the desert southwest as their own staging area to attack, damage and destroy targets and personnel important to the U.S. war effort. Top on their list was the destruction of Hoover Dam. See: