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  • George Djuric

Desert Hot Springs

Updated: May 15, 2018


This story was originally published in Inlandia Journal, which can be found here.


Le Bapteme de Solitude


Herman Ehrenberg (1816 – October 9, 1866) is the namesake of Ehrenberg, Arizona. A native of Germany, Ehrenberg joined the military volunteer unit the New Orleans and fought against Mexico in the Texas Revolution. He was one of few survivors of the Goliad Massacre. His memoirs of the Revolution were published in Germany in the 1840s and translated into English in the 20th century.


A theory held by historians Clarence Wharton and Natalie Ornish is that Ehrenberg was Jewish. This is based primarily on hearsay from Barry Goldwater, whose grandfather was a close friend of Ehrenberg.


About 5 miles east of North Shore, CA, lies Dos Palmas. It was one of the main stage stops on the Bradshaw trail, which ran from 1862 till the coming of the Southern Pacific railroad in 1876. Mysteries and legends have always surrounded Dos Palmas.


A letter from Dos Palmas Station from Nov. 1873 stated: ‘The son of old Chino Theodore from Yuma came to the station recently about dark, on foot, and nearly dead for water. He said he had left his father and a boy, out forty miles on the desert, without water and nearly dead for the want of it, having been without it for nearly three days when he left them twenty four hours before. Joe Dittier, the station keeper, and Hank Brown started the next morning with a team and plenty of water to find them. After going twenty-five miles they came upon the old man. He had found a cask of water that had been left by surveyors. One of the parties stayed with him, and the other went to look for the boy. After going fifteen miles he was discovered stretched out under a bush, naked and almost dead – his tongue being swollen and black, and blood running out of his nose and ears. He was brought to life after two hours of hard work, having been without water for five days and nights. Their three horses died. The old man said that if he had not lost his knife he would have cut his own throat and ended the misery.’


Herman Ehrenberg was murdered there on the night of Oct. 6th 1866 as he slept outside on a pallet. Legend has it that he was carrying $3,500.00 in gold from the La Paz gold fields in Arizona back to Los Angles. Newspapers reported that it was by Indians, but some have even come to believe that it may have been by the station keeper himself, Mr. Smith. He was buried the next day, close to the station.


When the Southern Pacific Railroad came through the Coachella Valley, from Yuma to Los Angles, they established a train stop called Dos Palmas. It was 260’ below level. When the Colorado River broke its levies, causing the floods of 1905 through 1907 which would eventually form today’s Salton Sea, the train station disappeared underneath its waters.


It is well documented that a family from Texas passed through Dos Palmas and while there, their baby died and was buried next to the grave of Herman Ehrenberg. The ‘baby white’ headstone was carved in 1906 and placed on the grave by thirty-year resident Frank Coffey, who had prospected the Chuckwalla Mountains and surrounding area since about 1885, and was also known as the mayor of Dos Palmas.


Seldom are legends of both desert treasure and sunken ships together. There is one place in the desert southwest where this phenomenon exists, due to a combination of naturally occurring geologic features and a series of historical events. The Salton Sea lies in a depression in the earth’s crust 227 feet below sea level. Marine fossils have been found that indicate the Sea was once a continuation of the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) extending through the Imperial Valley as far north as Palm Springs.


As the Colorado River, quite different now than it was hundreds of years ago, carved out the Grand Canyon, tons of silt and sediment were deposited at the mouth forming an enormous delta, which continued to increase in size until it separated the Imperial Valley from the Sea of Cortez. Prior to closing off this sea route it was possible for ships to sail north beyond where the Salton Sea is now.


Reports by emigrants, prospectors, and other travelers suggested an ancient ship lying in the desert sands, subsequently buried and uncovered by the blowing, shifting sands have persisted for many years. The now crumbling, torn out books about this golden opportunity were never written. A story appeared in The Los Angeles Star in its Nov. 12, 1870 edition that ‘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.’


The Star printed another story on Dec. 1 that ‘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. He was without food or water, under a hot broiling sun for over twenty-four hours, and came near perishing. The ship has been found! with crosses and broken masts, mostly buried in the sand several miles from the nearest water. Charley returns to the desert today, to reap the fruition of his labors.


He was never heard from again.


Antonio de Fierro Blanco in his historical book, The Journey of the Flame, states that after filling his 50 ton ship with a sufficiently large fortune in pearls, 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 – 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.


Salton Sea’s bright lights would quickly fade in the 1970s when the sea’s water level began rising from several years of heavy rains and increasing agricultural drainage. Shorefront homes, businesses, resorts, and marinas flooded several times until the water stabilized in 1980 after a series of conservation measures to reduce field run-off. However, for the many resort areas, it was too late. The salt and fertilizers of the run-off had accumulated to such a degree that they had reached toxic levels, which began a cycle of decay. As algae fed on the toxins, it created massive amounts of rotten smelling matter floating upon the surface of the lake and suffocated many of the fish. Within just a few years, the resorts had closed, the marinas were abandoned, and those who could afford to, had moved, leaving in their wake abandoned businesses and homes and scattered junk.


He can see a coyote as he trots toward him across the sand and through the underbrush, with a pace no coyote can keep up with. It looks like a coyote, but it is twice the ordinary size. Only God knows that for sure, but he thinks it is not a coyote. There are things that appear to be coyotes, but are not. If it is carrying something in its mouth then it is not a coyote, but I cannot see clearly, the speed blurs the image. He heard of a woman from El Centro. She was killed. It happened when he was a little boy. The woman, they said, used to turn into a female dog. And one night the dog went into the village to steal a chicken. The villager killed the dog with a shotgun, and at the very moment the dog died the woman died in her own hut.


He stands out into the sandy plain and stands awhile alone. Presently, he will either shiver and hurry back inside the gates, or he will go on standing there and let something very peculiar happen to him, something that everyone who lives there has undergone and which the French call le bapteme de solitude. It is a unique sensation, and it has nothing to do with loneliness, for loneliness presupposes memory. Here in this wholly mineral landscape lighted by stars like the Fourth of July flares, even memory disappears – a strange, and by no means pleasant, process of reintegration begins inside him, and he has the choice of fighting against it, and insisting on remaining the person he has always been, or letting it take its course. For no one who has stayed in the desert for a while is quite the same as when he came.


Reliving Titian’s The Death of Actaeon, this man is dying, mauled by a ferocious yellowish-gray coyote who has already sunk its teeth into his waist and ripped open his flesh from hip to knee. The bloody viscera of the his thigh stands out in rust-colored contrast to the brown toga covering the rest of his body, and the sharp splash of red across his hip can be read as the exposed ridge of his pelvic bone. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.


As he reaches the point of great physical distress, he listens as the coroner pronounces him dead. He begins to hear an uneasy noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving rapidly through a long unlit tunnel. He finds himself outside his body but still in its physical vicinity, spots his corpse down there. From this vantage point he observes the autopsy while in a state of emotional upheaval.


Ultimately he gets a grip of this circumstance, glimpses the spirits of buddies and long lost relatives, reruns the highlights of his life to date, feels love floating around, then reaches the doors of perception leading into the afterlife.


The Other Side is right here among us, another dimension superimposed on our own world, some three feet above our version of ‘ground level.’ Its vibrational frequency is much higher than ours, which is why we don’t perceive it. People who have seen spirits invariably describe them as ‘floating above the ground.’ There is good reason for that – they are floating above our ground. On the ground level of The Other Side. We’re actually ghosts in their world, sharing the same space but unreal by comparison, since it is in the spirit world that all being are completely and fully alive.


The Death of Actaeon can also be seen as a very personal statement: a great artist’s final meditation on the power of art. Actaeon dies after an accidental vision of beauty, the crime of seeing the virgin goddess Diana at her bath. He is forced to experience deeply the terrible power of beautiful things, a power that can transform and destroy.


A large coyote spotted around Dos Palmas was killed Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2013, according to Salton City police, reports the Desert Sun. Residents of this tiny desert community were startled to see a humongous coyote roaming their neighborhood on Tuesday night. The animal was spotted near Main and Psiville around 9 p.m. Police arrived in the area just in time to see the coyote run into a ravine near Dos Palmas wash. A short pursuit ensued and police fired a warning shot to get the animal to return to the desert. Officials say the animal returned to the community, and due to its aggressive behavior, it was shot and killed.


But whose undimmed human consciousness is trapped inside the body of the coyote beast?

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