Thursday, May 24, 2012

Haunted Anza Borrego State Park


Ghosts & Legends of San Diego's Haunted Anza Borrego's Desert

Anza Borrego Ghosts, Spirits, Ghost Lights, Treasure & more! Haunted Anza Borrego is a great place for ghost hunting! 

The Lady in White
The trip from Yuma to Vallecito was an arduous desert trek, long stretches of desperately dry sand and desiccated terrain. The stagecoach and its passengers staggered from one rancid, warm watering hole to the next, a bumpy jarring ride across baked and burning countryside. You moved at a crawl, with shuddering winds and sudden cloudbursts. Choking dust was the passengers' cruel and most steadfast escort. There were times where the road became so bad the passengers had to get out and push the coach. People went mad in the midst of this one-hundred fifty-mile trek. Some coined the name for this tract of the Butterfield Stage Coach line, "The Journey of Death." 

The most well-known ghost story of Vallecito is about "The Lady in White". Late in the 1850s, a young girl from the east arrived by stage at Vallecito. She was on her way to Sacramento to meet her lover, who had struck it rich in the Diggins. She was a frail young woman, worn with the hardships of travel and ill from improper food and doubtful water. She was carried from the coach and put to bed in the back bedroom and given the best care available. But nothing could save her and her fight was a losing one. Her journey came to an end in the dark bedroom of the Vallecito stage station.

 Her baggage was examined and a brand new white dress was found. It was decorated with lace and sewn with a fine seam. It was to have been her wedding dress. They dressed her in this and buried her in the Campo Santo, a few hundred feet east of the station. They thought they had put her to rest, but on moonlight nights, she has been seen, down through the years, walking restlessly about the station. She harms no one but her presence is disturbing even to the most obstinate non-believer.

It is no wonder that so many ghosts haunt the lonely trails, mountains, and landmarks of the forbidding desert. The desert can be so unforgiving and, at the same time, unbelievably generous. Many travelers, prospectors and adventures have gone into the desert, never to return or be seen again. Others have returned with gold nuggets and treasures so rare and unique that we could only dream of being so lucky ourselves.

Desert lore, stories and quests for loot and gold have made men greedy. Gun fights, murders, and death from starvation and dehydration have left many dead on the barren desert trails. Their ghosts still walk the mountain ridges, gullies, and deserted locations they once traveled or lived, spirits with unfinished business, who cannot rest.

Some guard buried treasures and lost mines, while others battle perpetually until death, forever replaying their last moments of life.

The Phantom Stage of Carrizo

The Lady in White is not the only ghost story attached to the Vallecito Stage Station. Not far from Vallecito is Carrizo Wash where the Phantom Stage forges it way through the deep sand, pulled by a team of four mules on moonlit nights. The Phantom Stage is driven by a lone driver hunched over as if asleep. No passengers are seen in the Stage when it passes through Carrizo Wash, hesitating for only a moment, as if planning to stop at the place where the Carrizo Station once stood, but is now only a pile of mud. The Phantom Stage continues on past the old station until out of sight. In the morning one may think twice about actually seeing the Phantom Stage, until he sees the ruts carved from wagon wheels and hoof prints left behind by the ghostly stage that travels by on occasion, as if to keep the trail alive.

There is another story that coincides with the Phantom Stage. In the 1860s, before the stage line closed, a special stage set out from El Paso headed for San Diego with a box of coins. The stage that carried the coins had one driver and a guard. When the stage reached Yuma, Arizona, the guard fell ill and the driver continued on without him. That same stage was held up by robbers somewhere in the area where the route meanders into Carrizo Wash between the Fish and Coyote Mountains. The driver was shot during the robbery and the thieves stashed the coins on the south slope of Fish Mountain. The coins remain there to this day, they say, because there were too many soldiers passing by on the trail. It is said that after the robbery, the dead driver and the stage continued through Carrizo toward Vallecito Station, but the stage disappeared, never to be seen again.

The White Horse Ghost of Vallecito

Vallecito is famous for its ghosts. Its history contains many murders, deaths, robberies, and other wicked tales. One well known story involves a double-murder at Vallecito Station. It all started with a stage hold up that yielded $65,000 worth of loot to four men on horseback, who robbed the eastbound stage before it reached Carrizo Wash en route to Vallecito Station.

As the men fled the scene, the driver of the stage fired one shot, killing one of the four men. When he reached the thief he had shot, he found not one, but two dead bodies. The driver concluded that the leader of the band of thieves, had shot one of his own men so he would not have to divide up the loot.

The bandit leader and one other thief survived the robbery and rode on to rest at Vallecito Station. Shortly before they arrived at the station, they buried their loot in some nearby hills and rode on to the station for a drink and some food. It is said that the two bandits were arguing while having a drink in the station. One of the bandits, the leader, went outside to check on his horse promising to continue the discussion when he returned. He did return to the station, entering through the doorway mounted on his big white horse, and shot his companion.

As the wounded bandit was dying, he drew his gun and fired back at the leader, killing him dead from the back of his brave white mount. The white horse, spooked by the gun fire and death of his master, ran off into the hills. It is said that when someone is in the valley around midnight, near the location where the bandits buried their loot, the ghost of a White Horse will appear from nowhere, galloping through the sand and then disappearing without a trace.

The Ghost Lights of Borrego

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Borrego Springs area of California are notorious for the many legends, ghost stories and unexplained phenomena occurring there over the years. The region of the Sonoran Desert is home to the Vallecito Stage Station, Yaqui Well, in addition to the mysterious "Ghost Lights" of Oriflamme Mountain. The first account of the "Phantom Lights" of Borrego was reported in 1858 by a Butterfield Stage driver. Since then soldiers, prospectors and explorers have reported seeing similar lights. The sightings have been reported near Oriflamme Mountain, over Borrego Valley and in other nearby areas. The occurrences are always slightly different, but the general description of the sightings is the same.

In 1892, a prospector by the name of Charles Knowles and two other men were camping near Grapevine Canyon at the entrance to the Narrows, where they reported their sighting of "Fire Balls." Knowles described the "lights" as balls of fire that rose up approximately 100 feet in the air and then exploded. Knowles compared the "Fire Balls" to fireworks. He saw three "Fire Balls" rise and cascade upon explosion, before they stopped. About 30 minutes later the "Lights" started again, but this time they were different. The "lights" rose into an arch pattern returning to the ground without exploding. The "Light" would then reverse itself and go back to the place where it started.

Scientists have tried to determine a logical explanation for the "Ghost lights." One scientific explanation suggests that when the wind blows sand against quartz outcroppings, static electricity is created, which could look like bright lights or sparks on a dark night.

Some believe that the lights were signals used by bootleggers during prohibition or US Immigration for smuggling operations related to the Mexican Boarder. The only problem with these two explanations is that the sightings had been going on long before and after the time constricted by the events described above.
Another notion is that the "Fire Balls" indicate the location of buried treasure. There are stories that support this latter theory of buried treasure. One of the stories tells of a young man who found many gold nuggets in a gully within the Oriflammes. Another man by the name of George Benton found a boulder of rock, weighing a ton, that contained gold. He found the boulder in the Oriflammes.

The Eight-Foot Skeleton

If you find yourself out late in the desert night, somewhere between the Superstition Mountains and Seventeen Palms, you may see the apparition of an 8-foot skeleton with a lantern in his chest. A prospector by the name of Charley Arizona first saw the ghost about 4 miles southeast of Borrego.

It was a dark night and Charley had already set up camp and was settling down for the night. Not long after Charley turned in for the night, something disturbed his burros and he went to investigate. Suddenly, he saw a large human skeleton with a lantern light shining through its ribs. The skeleton walked in a crazy fashion, as if looking for something or as if it were lost. Shortly after Charley sighted the skeleton, it disappeared over a small ridge.

About two years later, two prospectors had a similar experience while camping in the Superstition Mountains. They caught sight of a flickering light in the distance and wondered what it was; it quickly disappeared. One of the prospectors thought it looked like a skeleton carrying a lantern, but they figured it was the fire reflecting off a rock.

The two prospectors didn't think much of the incident until a year later, when a traveler came into the Vallecito Station with the tale of a skeleton he saw wandering in the desert carrying a light. It wasn't long before news of the skeleton got around and two adventurers went out into the desert to search for this legendary skeleton ghost.

During their third night in the desert, they encountered the ghastly lit skeleton. One of the men shot at it with a gun, but the skeleton continued on unfazed by the gun fire. The two men followed the skeleton for three miles as it wandered in a strange and intermittent gait, over ridges and through valleys, before they lost track of it.
Many believe that the skeleton is the ghost of a prospector who discovered and worked the Phantom mine, which has been lost for many years. The skeleton is no better off than the rest of us, for he too continues to search for the lost Phantom Mine, wandering the dark desert nights looking for his final resting place.

Ghosts Dancers at Yaqui Well

Not far from the Phantom Mine lies another place where skeletons have been seen. During warm summer nights, when the moon is full, ghosts dance at Yaqui Well. The ghosts are said to be the spirits of three emigrants who were traveling from Yuma to California. In search of a shorter route through the desert, the emigrants arrived at Yaqui Well, exhausted and near death from lack of food and water. One of the three travelers drank from the well as much water as he could hold. He died shortly there after.

The other two men also drank from the well, but survived.While moving their dead companion's body, the other two noticed some rock specimens that fell out of his pocket. The two men were excited to discover the rocks contained gold, but they did not know where their friend had found the samples. The two men became very excited about the gold and the excitement soon turned into a frenzy of greed and distrust. The two men began to struggle until one finally drowned the other in the muddy water of Yaqui Well.

An Indian watched these events unfold from a nearby hill. The Indian felt it was safe to talk to the one man who had survived, but the emigrant was still so excited as he described his story to the Indian, he entered a state of frenzy and ran off in to the desert yelling "Gold, Gold."

It is only during the hot summer nights of the full moon that the three emigrants return to Yaqui Well. One rises out of the muddy waters of the Yaqui Well, one emerges from the brush nearby, and the third arrives in a cool breeze out of the wash. The ghosts join hands and circle Yaqui Well in a dance. Soon after the twirling begins, they disappear, leaving only the good waters of the well and a slight chill in the air.

The desert holds many secrets of buried treasures, lost travelers and mysterious sightings. The stories shared with you on these pages are only a small sample of the tales and legends that have been spun for centuries. In the months to follow, DesertUSA Magazine will share more legends of lost mines, tales of buried treasures and more sad stories of heartsick strangers stranded on the desert sands.

Humanoid / Cryptid


Location: Anza Borrego State Park, California
Date: September 15, 2007
Time: 3:00am local time

Carl and his girlfriend had decided to go on an overnight backpacking adventure. Their destination was Mt. Laguna (unincorporated area of San Diego) however a forest fire in Julian closed off Route 78 therefore they took an alternative route and stumbled upon the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. They arrived at the park at 1700. He had never hiked, or backpacked at the park, therefore Carl went to the visitor center got the information he needed and set on his journey to Culp Valley Campground. Culp Valley campground is approximately 3500 feet in elevation. He pulled into the campground loaded their packs and set off. They only backpacked about 1 mile out due to night settling. They set up a tent about 20 feet north of the trail.

At around 0300am the night moon had sunk behind the mountains surrounding the desert, it was pitch black and Jeremy’s girlfriend was sleeping. Unable to sleep Jeremy just stares at the starry sky. Suddenly he heard a man’s voice, he looked into the direction it was coming from and saw a green light being waved back and forth. He immediately thought it was a park ranger.

The light was about 50 yards east from his tent. He could tell that whoever it was using the green light to guide somebody on the trail. The green light was coming closer and closer to the tent...probably not directly to the tent but on the trail about 20 feet away. The tent was set up on a small slope looking downward on the trail. The green light disappeared and Carl panicked. Suddenly out of nowhere a massive amount of light lit up the trail 20 feet from where he was. He was terrified, nobody was talking at this point and he didn’t hear footsteps just saw a massive amount of white light.

The light was getting closer to the trail next to his tent. He immediately ducked down and laid low in his tent scared. He then peeked out of the tent and saw 12 to 15 humanoid figures that looked like people, but some were extremely tall and the rest were really very short with large bald heads. The tall figures appeared to be wearing white cloak-like outfits and the short figures appeared to be naked. Terrified and his heart pounding Jeremy watched the beings walk very gracefully and slowly, turning their heads from left to right with each footstep. They were all holding metal rod like implements which emitted a powerful white light. They seemed to ignore the tent and walked “peacefully” by the tent. The witness remained laying down and quite as the beings “walked” by the tent. The light eventually faded as the beings continued down the trail and disappeared. Terrified he woke his girlfriend 10 minutes later because he didn’t want the beings to hear them talking.

He told the ranger the next day about what had happened and the ranger wrote it down in a report, suspecting it was some type of religious cult.

Lost Ship of the Desert

 In the 1800’s, many stories began circulating throughout Southern California and beyond about a spectral ship lying half buried in the desert sands. Around that time, many migrants after Civil War passed through the desert on their way to California. Many reported that they saw a multi mast Spanish galleon. Multiple expeditions left looking for the ship, but none found it. Some claimed it was Noah’s Ark. Many more claimed that it was loaded with pearls, a fortune’s worth, millions of dollars worth of exquisite pearls.

In 1610, King Phillip III of Spain ordered Alvarez de Cordone to search the Western coast of Mexico and recover the pearls residing there. Cordone hired two other captains, Juan de Iturbe and Pedro de Rosales. He also hired sixty pearl divers and began having three ships build. By July 1612 they set sail to plunder the west coast of its precious oysters.

Over and over again the ship would pause in its travels so the pearl divers could jump off the ship and return with the oysters they discovered on the ocean floor. But the going was slow. Eventually they discovered a Native American village and stopped, meeting with the village leaders. They discovered that the Native Americans had baskets of the pearls just lying about and they formulated a trade of their rich fancy European clothing for the pearls. However, the Spanish swindled the Native Americans and traded them only rags and dirty cloths. The Native Americans outraged attacked the ship as it was trying to set sail. Cordone was hit by an arrow and lay ill. His ship was forced to turn around, but he ordered the other two on in search of more pearls, commanding them to look up the Gulf of California.

As they journeyed up the Gulf, Rosales’s ship struck a reef. The cargo was rapidly transferred to Iturbe’s ship and they continued on. One story says that Rosales’s ship was sunk in a terrible storm. With one ship remaining they sailed up the Gulf and eventually up the Colorado River and into the Salton Sea (or the Blake Sea or Lake Cahuilla as it may have been called long ago).

Here there’s some slight departures in the story. Some stories claim that Iturbe (or another Spanish ship) sailed into the Salton Sea to find the legendary Straits of Anian, an all water route from the Gulf of California to the Gulf of Mexico. Some stories claim that the Salton Sea and the Colorado River were higher and filled with water at the time. Supposedly this was during an unusual flooding season. Others claim that after Iturbe had sailed from the Gulf of California and into the Salton Sea, an earthquake happened, closing off what remained of the Salton Sea from the ocean. Regardless, when Iturbe or whatever Spanish ship had sailed into the Salton Sea, turned around to try and head back home, they were dismayed to find that it was closed off. In fact, with the outlet to the ocean blocked, the water their ship was currently in was rapidly evaporating. The water slowly receded and eventually the ship was beached on the California desert, many many miles from the ocean. The ship was abandoned, the crew grabbing what few supplies they could carry and they trudged west towards the water. Supposedly four months later the survivors were finally picked up

Other versions of the tale, involve a pirate ship loaded down with almost a million doubloons. Another story states that the ship is one of the ships from King Solomon’s navy, carrying the ten lost tribes of Israel to North America. Yet another claims the ship to be from a war like tribe formerly located in the Indian Ocean.

Another puts the Spanish galleon on Lake Cahuilla, supposedly another name for the large inland sea that eventually became the Salton Sea. Lake Cahuilla existed in the 16th century and had a tribe of Native Americans living in the area at the time. Knowing that the Spanish were coming to take their treasures and probably hurt the tribe, the Cahuilla Indians instead ambushed the Spanish party that came ashore from the ship. Then the tribe mounted a full attack on the galleon and after a fierce battle, annihilated all the crew on board claiming the ship for the tribe. The Cahuillas began looting the ship of the clothes, foods, and exotic items that the Spanish had brought with them, but they could not move nor break into the heavy large iron chests that were in the hold. While they were debating what to do with the treasure chests a storm brewed up, and began attacking the galleon. The Native Americans were forced to desert the ship which broke from its anchor, driffted off into the storm, overturned and soon sunk into the sea taking its precious cargo with it. By the time the lake supposedly dried up, the ship had been long buried under tons of dirt, sand and silt.

Lastly, one story discusses a viking ship that could be found sticking out of the side of a mountain in the Tierra Blanco Canyon near Agua Caliente Springs. Legends of Native Americans speak of the arrival of the visitors that supposedly had a boat with the head of a snake on it. Sightings of the mysterious viking ship apparently ended after a 1933 earthquake.

How true could this story be? It is surprisingly possible that a flood occurred connecting the Salton Sea to the Gulf of California. Supposedly in the past the two were connected at one time. The area between the desert and the gulf has the potential to be hit with massive flooding. And it would have been plausible for a ship to get carried in on the waves and the stranded afterwards as the water receded. Additionally the waters there have been known in the past to have strange tidal bores that would sweep waves in land. A ship could have been carried inland by one of those. However, it must be from the sheer number of stories and legends told by both Native Americans and frontiersmen, that makes this story quite possibly true.

In the 1800s the legends, stories, and failed expeditions began. Some claimed that the ship seen in the desert was haunted and could only be found at certain times of the year. Native Americans told tales about it, which was apparently good enough to confirm its existence. One group claimed that the ship came from 1862 when several people built a twenty-one foot single mast skiff mounted on wheels to transport themselves across the desert. Sadly when they reached the lowest point in the desert, they were forced to abandon the ship and continue on without it. They claim that the ship people saw in the desert was their abandoned wheel mounted skiff.

In 1870 several Indians reported seeing the ship, supplying a location of approximately 30 miles west of Dos Palmas and 40 miles north of the then San Bernardino - Yuma road.

1870 continued to bring attention to the ship in the form of a series of stories in the Los Angeles Star on November 12th and December 1st of 1870. The stories spoke of a man named Charley Clusker who claimed to have located the ship and was organizing several expeditions to return to it and bring back the missing ship which he claimed was filled with crosses and had broken masts. It was reportedly fifty miles or more from Dos Palmas in a region of boiling mud springs. Sadly there was nothing afterwards, and Mr. Clusker appears to have simply disappeared much like the elusive ship.

In 1878, three German prospectors saw the ship around sundown about 120 miles northwest of Yuma and 40 miles east of Indio. The two survivors reported seeing an immense ship under full sail, floating over the desert, sailing like a cloud into the sunset. One of the three prospectors went after it the next morning, but never returned. A rescue party eventually found him dead from lack of water and strangely naked. Later one old timer, reportedly spent several days camping inside the slowly rotting hull of the old galleon, completely unaware of the pearls and immense wealth that lay buried under the sand beneath him. Obviously, he was never able to relocated the derelict ship.

In 1905, a prospector named Butcherknife Ike, claimed to have discovered a fossile ship buried in the san dunes of Borrego Springs. And in 1915, a Yuma Indian arrived in one town paying for his merchandise with pearls. After being questioned, he claimed to have spent the night in a strangely shaped wooden house that was partially covered by sand. The people he spoke to offered him several hundreds of dollars plus a place to sleep for the night if he would take them back there in the morning. He agreed, collected his pay, agreed to be lodged for the night, and was no where to be seen come morning, having completely vanished.
In 1933, Antonio de Fierro Blanco wrote a book that discussed the story of Tiburcio Manquerna, a young mule driver who had apparently come across the lost Spanish Galleon. At the time Tiburcio was operating as a mule driver for Juan Baptista de Anza who was searching for a land route from Sonora to Alta California. He even went into the hold of the ship, saw the pearls, but was never able to relocate the evasive ship.    These events occurred around 1775.

Even as early as 1949, three UCLA students, armed with old newspaper accounts, 1910 Imperial Irrigation District Maps, and old stories from Cahuilla Indians, went out to search for a Viking ship. The Los Angeles Times reported the undertaking, but sadly never told the results of the expedition, which leads me to believe that like so many others before, it too met in failure. Many treasure hunters have gone after the missing treasure of pearls. None has brought back evidence of finding it. One of the presumed reasons for this, is that the sands of the desert shift sometimes moving or obscuring or revealing the lost ship.

And of course a ghost story has sprung up around the incident. According to story tellers, the ship itself, now bleached white and desiccated by the whipping sands blown by the desert winds, has become a ghost. With an eerie otherworld glow and singing dead sailors, the skeleton of a ghost ship sails the desert. often being seen sailing into the sunset or along the moonlight. Of course, ghost stories are often in dispute, as another ghost tale places the phantom ship near Kane Springs, and the ship doesn't make a sound as it glides silently pass. Nor are any sailors in view.

Does the mysterious ship laden with a fortune in pearls still reside in the desert? Or is it simply a strange story that has been passed down through the decades? Does it still sail spectrally over the sands, heading off into the sunset? Perhaps one day, when the sands blow the correct way, we’ll be lucky enough to find out.

The Lost Viking Ship

Quite possibly buried in the 1933 earthquake, a lost Viking Ship apparently resides in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County . In 1933, near Agua Caliente Springs, Louis and Myrtle Botts from the small town of Julian under directions from a strange prospector they had met the night before, stumbled upon the forward half of an old viking ship sticking part way out of the mountains in Tierra Blanco Canyon. Sadly shortly after they discovered it and before they could take any photgraphic evidence, a huge earthquake occurred and covered up the finding.

Strangely enough, Native American legends actually support the theory that a Viking ship made it all the way around Canada, through the Arctic Circle and down the west coast. The Seri Indians' legend states that the "Come From Afar Men" arrived in a long boat with a head like a snake. These men apparently all had yellow beards and hair. They were also accompanied by a red haired woman.
The Mayo Indians also have legends involving a possible Viking Ship. Their legend states that the ship sank off the coast and that the Mayo Indians took in the survivors. These survivors inter married with the tribe and this is the reason why even today occasionally descendants of the Mayo Indians are born with blonde hair and blue eyes.

So just like a lost Spanish Galleon loaded up with pearls, a lost Viking Ship buried under rubble might exist in San Diego County.


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  2. I saw the lady in white when I was a little girl, while camping with my family. I di not know she was a ghost and asked my father why a lady was walking around in a wedding dress.

  3. Is this place accessible at night if you are not camping and just wanting to do some ghost hunting?

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