Saturday, October 15, 2016

LEGENDS OF THE WEIRD WEST: Pirate Raiders of the Colorado

  Weird West has a lotta things buried under its sand, locked in its barns, roaming its mountains. Ghosts, UFOs, strange creatures and missing men. It's even got a mighty Spanish Galleon, laden with treasure and the hot, white bones of its plundering warders, glowing bright beneath the noonday sun.
    You heard me. Ships in the desert.
    In 1870, a man named Charley Clusker returned to civilization after some time and reported that yes, he had in fact found the Spanish Galleon sitting out there, aground in the Colorado Desert. Los Angeles Star reported it. He got his wagon stuck after a wrong turn he said, and had to come home.  He was going back again now, better prepared and was gonna be a very rich man. He left some time after November 12.
    Case you're not a geography buff, no, there ain't some desert in Colorado. Oh, sure, there's some little bits in the southwest corner and the one in Wyoming trickles down a bit up north but come on, now. No damn ship is gonna make it from the Pacific over to Colorado. That's just silly talk.
    Now, from the Gulf of California up to a bit of Sonoran Desert say, about 100 miles inland from San Diego known as the Colorado? Why the hell not? Charley says it was there, it was there. Shit, he found it twice. Maybe three times. Found it once and came back and said, 'I'm gonna find it again'. Went and did that, then came back a second time and said 'Yes, there she is. Be right back.' Maybe he did find it that third time. After his story in the paper December 1, 1870, no one knows. He disappeared.
   Was he just tempting fate (three times) on some half-ass local legend? Improper prepared, that desert will kill a man, no question. Charley was lucky with that stuck wagon the first time and the second, barely made it back after running out of supplies. Why a third go? Sure, people are stupid, but someone that dumb would be hard-pressed to find their way out of bed in the morning.
    Hell, maybe Charley was that dumb. Maybe just insane. Or maybe he was relying on the accounts of folks all saying, insisting, for years, either some Spanish Galleon, Viking Warship, the Pearl Ship of Juan De Iturbe, or even a boat from King Solomon's Navy wound up in the piece of the Sonoran they call the Colorado Desert, 100 miles east of San Diego.
    Were they all dumb and crazy? Could be. Little of both could take someone's mind right over in days when facts were a man's word and the world was just too damn big and untested not to always have a little something...weird waiting around every new corner. Man comes up and says he knows of a ship, sure, another man might believe him. Might even try to find it. Three times, though, who knows. If Charley had such bad luck or ill-plans, he was either dumb, crazy, or just so goddamn sure he knew where it was, he rushed it, figuring he'd be there and back in no time.
    And little as he probably knew it at the time, science backs Charley up plenty. See, that desert has a dent in it, called the Salton Sink. Today, it's called the Salton Sea, accidentally made back in 1905 when some fools from the government were trying to irrigate the area and it got away from them. Sink got flooded and here we are. Salton Sea. (More like a lake, though)
    This lake however, is an old thing. Going back at least three million years, that dent in the Colorado was filled many, many times with water. Whole Colorado Desert was. Over the eons, a push of silt and sand (a river delta) formed a barrier between the desert and the Gulf of California. The gulf went back to the ocean, the desert dried up and the Salton was either a sea/lake, or a big, dry dent, depending on the weather. Every 4, 500 years, it'd evaporate and fill back up.
    Now, the Colorado River is basically a big shoelace wadded up and dropped on the southwestern United States. It winds all over but trust me, it eventually runs into top of the Gulf of California. In fact, recently as 1922 (which killed 80-some folks on a capsized steamship), it ran into the Gulf in a big way. See, before we got our heads around that irrigation out there, the River and Gulf would smash up and make "tidal bores" that washed over the delta separating the Gulf from the desert.
    These days, we got millions of folks drawing the Colorado off into lakes and pumps and canals and machines and there's no 'oomph' left in the old girl by the time she gets to the Gulf. But back in Spanish days? Oh, certainly. Spanish were all over that place sniffing around. Maybe the galleon had a map and were feeling brave. Maybe they were lost. Maybe it was weather. One way or the other, they just might've ended up in a bore and found themselves up over the coast of California and dropped down into a filled Sink.
    Wouldn't fill much. Enough to set 'em down and realize they were skunked. Not enough to accommodate the draft of a big ship like that so they'd sit in the shallow, feeling the ship settle more and more into the mud beneath. They'd look back at the high wall of that delta, then on out upon the water seeping, seeping away into the desert beyond and eventually...
    Hell, who knows. I don't know. No one knows.
    Except Charley.

No comments:

Post a Comment