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This Side of Hell, by Brett Cogburn, is a Western novel that takes place in the California area of the Sonoran Desert, where a treasure ship may be buried. From my book review at Historical Novel Society:

“Western genre lovers won’t have to go far to find a treasure trove of tropes in Cogburn’s book: guns of just about every model and make, high-stakes poker in grungy saloons, horses able to go very, very far without much water let alone food, & a familiar cast…. Clearly, Cogburn relishes his genre, and he’s as good a writer as his heroes are horsemen. Eccentric origin tales & skillful evocation of setting give Western lovers a lot more to chomp on than those poor horsies ever get.”

Cogburn’s good, bad, and ugly guys and gals are hunting for a wrecked treasure ship in, of all places, the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert.

Colarado Desert in Sonoran Desert, CA
Spacenut525, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Far-fetched as it seems, the premise is not literally impossible. “…The topography of the area, the potential for monumental flooding, the early explorations by Spanish vessels and a tragedy in the 20th century have all given some currency to the possibility of a shipwreck in the desert.… Spanish vessels sailed into the [Colorado River] delta area in the 16th century, seeking treasures and ocean passages. An exceptionally large tidal bore moved up the delta stream bed in 1922, capsizing a steamship and killing 86 of 125 passengers. (Tidal bores no longer occur in the delta area because the river’s water is totally depleted by agricultural and municipal usage before it reaches the Gulf.)” (DesertUSA

Since at least the 1870s, adventurers have sought, and a few have claimed to have found, or at least seen, the shattered remains of a wooden ship in the shifting sands.

The exact make of the ship supposedly sighted varies from Viking knarr to King Solomon’s flagship. An ornate Spanish galleon, laden with treasure like any respectable Spanish galleon, is a favorite, and at least a bit more likely than a ship stranded from the Middle East.

Replica of Spanish galleon San Salvador, visiting San Diego | photo via Paso Robles Daily News

These photos capture the terrain treasure-seekers have endured and, several times, disappeared into.…

Font's Point Anza-Borrego, CA
Font’s Point Anza-Borrego. Photographed by and copyright of (c) David Corby 2006 via wiki
View of Trigo Mountain Wilderness. photo United States Bureau of Land Management, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Slot Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Slot Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, via American Southwest
Locust and Scorpion statues by Ricardo Breceda
photo by James Dorsey via

Okay, maybe not the giant locust and scorpion facing off, as in these fabulous metalworks by Ricardo Breceda. Still, it’s not surprising that no one attempting to comb the vast area for treasure has come out laden with loot.

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