The Mysterious Lost Ship of the Mojave

ship buried in sandPhoto:
Image: nick boren (not the Lost Ship)

Intrepid explorer Charley Clusker treks across a desolate landscape, never taking his eyes off the horizon should he loose track of his precious path. Parched and dry from the desert winds and scorching sun, the emergence of a tall ship would ordinarily seem nothing more than a mirage, but Clusker knows that this strange, hazy vision before him is no trick off the mind. Senses in check he heads towards the marooned vessel, with increasing vigor on every step. He has found exactly what he was looking for – the mythical Lost Ship of the Mojave.

Legends say that deep in California’s Salton Sea Basin lies an ancient tall ship filled with pearls and other goodies that would make a pirate’s Christmas. And, although there are a number of theories, no one knows for sure where the ship came from or how it got there.

salton seaPhoto:
Image: Weird CA

The first story dates back to the early 1600s when King Phillip of Spain sent a fleet to the western coast of Mexico to dive for pearls, which at the time could fetch a pretty penny. The group didn’t find as many pearls as they thought they would, so when they came across a Native American village that had baskets of the round beauties just lying around they offered lush European garments in exchange for scores of pearls.

When it came to the trade, however, the Spanish duped the Native Americans and swapped the pearls for rags instead. Outraged, the tribe attacked the ship as it tried to set sail, wounding the captain who ordered the two other ships in the fleet to continue looking for pearls in the Gulf of California. Here it’s thought one of the ships struck a reef and was sunk, but before it was completely submerged the crew ferried all the treasures to the one remaining ship. It carried on up the Colorado River and into the Salton Sea where it met its demise.

Storms, freak flooding, earthquakes and a rapidly evaporating sea have all been blamed for the eventual beaching of the ship, which is now said to lie 100 miles inland, buried in what was once the bottom of a lake or sea.

sunken spanish shipPhoto:

The ship was long forgotten about until the 1800s when stories started to crop up around southern California about a ghost-like ship half-buried in the desert. Questions were rife about how it got there, and so curious explorers started to search for the ship, and its precious load.

Many people have set out to find it over the years and most failed until Charley Clusker and his expedition decided to give it a go. The Los Angeles Star reported in 1870, November 12:

“Charley Clusker and a party started out again this morning to find the mythical ship upon the desert this side of Dos Palmas. Charley made the trip three or four weeks ago, but made the wrong chute and mired his wagon fifteen miles from Dos Palmas. He is satisfied from information he has received from the Indians that the ship is no myth. He is prepared with a good wagon, pack saddles, and planks to cross the sandy ground.”

Then on December 1 the same year the San Bernardino Guardian stated:

“Charley Clusker and party returned from the desert yesterday, just as we were going to press. They had a hard time of it, but they have succeeded in their effort. The ship has been found! Charley returns to the desert today, to reap the fruition of his labors. He was without food or water, under a hot broiling sun for over twenty-four hours, and came near perishing.”

Along with his party, Clusker had found an ornately carved Spanish galleon sunk in the desert, far from any water and laden with masts, crosses and treasures. He set off not long after to collect the abandoned loot but, much like the elusive ship, was never seen again.


Since then only a handful of explorers have tried to find the ship and its booty again but none of them have produced evidence that either the ship, or its cargo, exists. Of course, it will never stop people looking for it.

Source 1, 2, 3