In my previous blog I discussed my recent excursion to the far reaches of West Texas, that is, El Paso. It was there that I hiked the Franklin Mountains and had a challenging but memorable experience. As I hiked I thought of the other mountain ranges of West Texas that I have enjoyed hiking including the Davis Mountains, the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend, and not to be forgotten, the Guadalupe Mountains.
I have hiked the Guadalupe Mountains almost a dozen times, and am always held in wonderment. The highest point in Texas is Guadalupe Peak at 8,700 ft. You can see for over a hundred miles in almost any direction. I have watched the sun set while at the peak, been at the peak when it is dark, and I have watched the sun rise from the peak; all enjoyable experiences. The trails are challenging and many are quite remote. You can hike for days in the Guadalupe Mountains without seeing anyone. The Peak trail is challenging but you will see a number of folks on that trail.
The Guadalupe Mountains from what I have read were formed differently than neighboring mountain ranges such as the Rockies. They are a distinct ecosystem unto themselves. One of my favorite treasure books I read this past year was Legend and Lore of the Guadalupe Mountains written by W. C. Jameson. He is a very well-known author of many treasure books. His treasure tales are captivating but what I really enjoy most about Jameson’s writing is his attention to history. I actually love his history stories related to the Guadalupe Mountains more than his treasure stories. I have read many of his treasure books but I think the Guadalupe Mountains is my favorite.
If you are ever on a venture to see Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, the Guadalupe Mountains are just 40 miles down the road. You will feel like you are out in the middle of “no where” and you would be right. But that is the lure of the Guadalupe Mountains. I will make it a point to reread his book before my next excursion to the Guadalupe Mountains. It will quite literally add to the adventure.
I enjoy reading books about treasure, especially ones well researched. One such book in my opinion was written by W. C. Jameson called Lost Treasures of American History. It was a good read and I deliberately took my time over several days in order to reflect on some of the stories before moving on to the next. One treasure tale that really intrigued me took place in the California desert.
Sounds like it would be buried treasure and although that is what it is today, that is not the way the story began. The name of the chapter was “Lost Spanish Treasure Ship in the California Desert.” I thought it would be about gold and silver, but instead it was about pearls. That’s right,……. pearls. “Pearls?” I asked myself. I was not aware of any pearl exploration in the New World. Besides, what is a Spanish ship doing in the desert?
This was a tale I thought seemed farfetched, but in reality makes a lot of sense. We often overlook the fact that the Spanish were roaming around the New World over a century before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1619. They would remain another 200 years before Anglos began entering Texas and California. We are all well aware of the search for gold and silver but I never realized they also sought pearls.
In 1612 the king of Spain sent an expedition north out of Mexico City up the Pacific coastline. The Spanish were well aware of large mollusks found on the Pacific coast that produced dark pearls, something wealthy Europeans desired. The three ship expedition eventually encountered a tribe of Indians that were pearl diving, and many of them wore pearl necklaces and bracelets. The Indians were friendly at first and agreed to trade pearls for some of the uniforms and clothing of the Spaniards. Unfortunately, after the actual trade took place the Indians realized the Spanish had left them with moldy, worn, almost useless clothing. The Indians quickly pursued the Spanish who had boarded their ships and were trying to get away fast. The Indians in their canoes managed to throw their spears and shoot their arrows, one of which hit the captain of the expedition. He ordered two of the ships to continue north while he would return home for medical care. The two remaining vessels continued north and eventually entered the Gulf of California. Here they found rich oyster beds. Weeks passed as they continued north often finding other oyster beds while enriching their cargo. They were determined to travel as far north as they could.
One ship hit a reef and was lost. Fortunately, they were able to transfer the pearls to the remaining boat. When they reached where the Colorado River empties into the Gulf they continued on into what was then an inland sea. The Colorado River had a much greater flow of water at that point hundreds of years ago than it does today. The ship sailed in the shallow waters of the river and inland sea for several weeks. When they tried to navigate out they found the water level had dropped thus trapping them. After searching in vain for a way out, and the water level dropping, the ship soon found itself stuck on a sand bar. In order to survive the men only carried with them essentials, leaving a cargo hull of chests stuffed with pearls. After traveling south by foot for four months along the coast line the remaining survivors were rescued by a Spanish galleon.
The Colorado River at that time changed course as many rivers do. In time the Spanish ship was resting on a dry sea bed that is now part of the Colorado Desert in Southern California. Fast forward over 250 years into the 19th century. Gold prospectors reported seeing the remains of a ship out in the desert. In the late 1800’s some gold seekers said they found a ship’s mast but were unable to find any ship. In the early 20th century, an old Yuma Indian traded shinny rocks for goods, perhaps not realizing they were pearls. Upon questioning where he found them, he said they came from a “wooden house “ buried in the desert. Even as late as 1999 some hikers in the desert supposedly reported seeing the bow or stern of a sailing ship in the desert. Once they learned the story of the Spanish pearl ship they have been unable to relocate it. Perhaps someday someone will find the remains of a ship of pearls. I doubt it, but it is one very interesting treasure tale.