There were no Colorado River Queens to match the Mississippi riverboats in elegance and size. The Colorado was a very different river back before we converted it into one of the planet’s greatest civil engineering projects. A shallow draft was needed to navigate the constantly shifting sandbars, with an engine and boiler strong enough to breast the current in the canyons. (This photo is the “Cochan” on the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona. This picture was taken in 1900.)
Considering how few Colorado steamboats there were compared to Eastern rivers, it’s a pleasurable surprise to discover at least one ghost boat buried down in the delta. The Explorer, one of the first boats on the river, broke free of its moorings at Pilot Knob and was swept 60 miles down stream in the spring flood. A survey party found the remains in 1929, , according to this excellent history.
The Chicago Daily News (Mike Royko‘s paper, God Bless Him) ran a kind of ghost story feature on the backpage of the Saturday edition. Missing persons, haunted houses, and unsolved mysteries. From there I discovered that Uncle Scrooge’s find was based on a much older story.
My fascination with the sunken boats emerging from our drought-stricken reservoirs has roots 68 years deep, to the September 1954 issue of Walt Disney’s Uncle $crooge. I was only 8 years old, but already an avid reader not of school books but comic books. And the adventures of Uncle Scrooge, the three nephews and Donald were my favorites.
Carl Barks (March 27, 1901 – August 25, 2000) was an American cartoonist, author, and painter. He is best known for his work in Disney comic books, as the writer and artist of the first Donald Duck stories and as the creator of Scrooge McDuck. He worked anonymously until late in his career; fans dubbed him The Duck Man and The Good Duck Artist.
In the September issue, Scrooge and the gang follow an arrowhead clue deep into the desert, where to the well-preserved wreck of a 400-year old Spanish galleon.
A “Lost in the Woods” story with a happy ending, thanks to the U.S. Air Force. No photo credit or byline on the dramatic picture and story in the Mojave News, although both deserved one. What’s really impressive is the amount of government resources from county sheriff, NPS and Air Force put at the disposal of some young woman with an injured ankle. I’m amazed at the tech advances of recent years and the accompanying cultural changes. Back when I was in my 20s, if one of us had injured an ankle while hiking with three buddies it would never have occurred to us to call for government assistance and wait for rescue. The casualty would have been expected to cowboy up and make it back to the trailhead with the help of his friends.
Not to brag, but today the temperature on my back porch was 120, four points hotter than Furnace Creek in Death Valley.
“Here I am, an old man in a dry month,”
I’ve found some temporary escape from house arrest by looking back over old notes on past travels. I posted notes on a trip to colorado 8-10 some time ago, and I want to add Death Valley to the archive as one of my favorite memories. I had been looking forward to a return trip this spring but the Park Service, like the BLM, decided visiting our “public lands” is hazardous to our health.
Little early for Halloween chills, but there’s a great piece in DesertUSA on “Desert Shamans and Sorcerers.” Reading about the evil Tahquitz makes me want to visit his canyon sometime, or maybe just watch for him strolling the streets of Palm Springs. The Cahuilla roamed the desert west of the Colorado River, but their beliefs differ only in detail with the Navajo and Apache as well as the more settled Pueblo and Hispanic people farther east. All believe in witchcraft in one form or another.
The backcountry search for Barbara Thomas, who disappeared in the Mohave National Preserve 11 days ago, has been suspended, S&R teams working with K9 units, members certified in cave searches, rope climbing and desert terrain combed the area yesterday but found no trace of the missing woman. “Detectives from the Specialized Investigations Division have assumed the investigation,” according to the Sheriff’s Department.
The search for Barbara Thomas, missing since the afternoon of July 12, is still underway, but chances she is still alive somewhere out in the Mojave are now vanishingly small. Another strange story, this one from the California mountains, offers a sinister alternative template to her disappearance. Found after missing for four days, the woman claims she got lost fleeing from a man brandishing a knife. I’ve been wandering the mountains and deserts of the Southwest for better than 50 years, more often alone than not, and I’ve had some unsettling encounters with strangers. While I can’t say I ever felt seriously threatened, the world (and esp California) seems to get crazier by the day. Personally, I feel more comfortable carrying a pistol when I hike (more for snakes, feral dogs and rabid animals than for two-legged predators). Unfortunately, that’s not a legal option in CA, with its restrictive gun laws.
I try not to post on back-country misadventures too often, since the plot lines are so often drearily familiar. But every once in a while one comes along sufficiently out of the ordinary to attract my attention. Such a one is this report from California. Search continues, but air temp is around 104 today, the ground underfoot is 20-30 degrees hotter than that, and shade is minimal to non-existent. If the missing woman has been out there for more than 72 hours with no water and no clothing to speak of, her survival chances are slim. What’s puzzling is that she’s no feckless German tourist, but a local resident who should have been aware of what that desert is like this time of the year. Unless she’s no longer entirely compus mentis (in which case a responsible adult should have been keeping a closer eye on her) it’s hard to understand why she would go hiking in mid-afternoon, without a cell phone, any water, or any covering but a baseball cap, hiking boots and a black bikini. I pray she survives to tell her story.