I TRAVELED ACROSS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AND BAJA IN SEARCH OF A LEGEND BURIED IN THE SAND.
By Kristen Scharkey | Desert Sun
Two years ago, I received a mysterious phone call to my office in Palm Springs.
A man on the line told me he needed to speak to the editor of Desert Magazine, John Grasson.
“I don’t know anyone here by that name,” I said.
The confusion was understandable. Out here in the California desert, there’s a historic regional publication Desert Magazine, now defunct, as well as my publication, DESERT magazine, which I oversee as part of the USA TODAY Network.
That day, I learned of a third version: Desert Magazine, published from 2010 to 2014.
The man asked if I knew about the lost ship of the desert. I didn’t. He said he had a picture of himself sitting on the vessel as a kid.
I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, and he wouldn’t offer more information since I wasn’t John Grasson. So, we hung up. I haven’t spoken to him since.
But I did track down Grasson — and the legend of the lost ship.
It sounds implausible at first: a ship in the middle of the desert? And yet local lore abounds. Could it be buried beneath the Salton Sea? Imperial Valley?
Theories range from Spanish to Viking, and everything in between.
But what started as a chance encounter eventually turned into a two-year journey across Southern California and down to Baja, as I discovered oral tradition shapes this story differently, depending on where – and who – you are.
To this day, people continue to be pulled in by the tides of the lost ship legend – as much a reflection of the desire for solitude that defines homesteaders in this region as it is a reminder that settlement originally came at a colonial cost.
To forge that connection, I spent time in Baja with Desert Sun photojournalist Omar Ornelas, who has covered the U.S.-Mexico border for 15 years, to conduct interviews in both English and Spanish. As a bilingual Mexican man, Omar holds an innate understanding of culture clashes – and coherence. He has a different view of the past.
Desert Sun features editor Kristin Scharkey (second from right) and photojournalist Omar Ornelas (far right) in Laguna Salada while reporting on the lost ship of the desert. The pair traveled throughout Baja with the help of farmer Arturo Guerrero Cortés (far left) and road trip expert Rick Marino (second from left).
(Photo: Brandy Menefee)
Our team also included travel expert Rick Marino, a band tour manager often found in Mexico’s border towns.
Brandy Menefee, a documentary storyteller, captured the entire journey with her cameras.
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