The website blogged in the desert links to a site written by a couple of full-time RVers, Bob & Lynn Difley, who collect stories and photos “as they wander around the US in their motorhome.” In this post, the Difleys tell a remarkable found and lost story — of a sailing vessel packed with pearls, buried somewhere in California’s southeastern desert:
Another early tale was told by Antonio de Fierro Blanco in his historical book, The Journey of the Flame. He relates Juan Colorado’s story, told on his 104th birthday, of once being in the camp of Don Firmin Sanhudo where “all of our men had spent their lives as guards or packers for Spanish explorers”. One of the men, Tiburcio Manquerna, took Colorado aside and related the tale of Iturbe, the great coastal pilot, sailing along the California Gulf Coast in 1615 exploring for the king and fishing for pearls on his own account.
After filling his 50 ton ship with a sufficiently large fortune in pearls, Iturbe sailed on past San Felipe in search of the Colorado River mouth. Instead he found a “vast sea extending far inland” (presumably the Imperial Valley). Assuming he had found the long sought Straits of Anian, the fabled passage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, he sailed on and eventually went aground on a sandbar in a vain attempt to locate a continuation of the Straits. From the highest mountain he saw a vast body of water winding toward the northeast (the Colorado River), but he could not find the entrance.
On his return voyage to the south he could not find the narrow opening to the Vermillion Sea and again went aground. “They left their ship and its vast treasure of pearls upright as though sailing, but with its keel buried in sand”, reports Fierro Blanco.
Manquerna then told of working as a mule driver for Juan Baptista de Anza who was searching for a land route from Sonora to Alta California. After much difficulty, Manquerna “was sent to the right of the course, seeking a road to the ocean”. He continues, “traveling by night because of the heat, I stumbled upon an ancient ship, and in its hold so many pearls as is beyond imagination. Fevered by this wealth, I abandoned my comrades, and, riding toward the ocean as far as my mule could carry me, I climbed the precipitous western mountains on foot. Fed by Indians, I at last reached San Luis Rey Mission. Since then I have spent my life searching for this ship”.
As a cryptic conclusion, Fierro Blanco states, “I have known, as a boy, natives from every tribe on the Peninsula, and they taught me much of great value but never did one lie to me. Some of their stories I did not then believe, but each as tested proved to be true in all parts.”
I should point out that the Difleys title this story “The Legend of the Mojave Desert’s Lost Ships.” The Mojave is the correct name for most of California’s desert areas, but not the Lower Colorado River Valley area. The vicinity of the Salton Sea, Imperial Valley and Anza-Borrego is considered a part of the Sonoran Desert, which mostly lies in Baja California and Sonora, Mexico and in Arizona.