Pegleg Smith’s gold

On January 24, 1848, James Marshall, a Mormon immigrant from New Jersey and foreman for John Sutter’s saw mill in Coloma, Ca. (50 miles northeast of Sacramento), waded into a stream to see if the current was strong enough to turn a mill wheel and saw a shiny small yellow rock.  A few days later Sutter’s headquarters verified that it was gold and newspaper articles a few months later triggered what became known as the California Gold Rush (1848-1855).  Argonauts poured into the San Francisco area from around the world, including Chinese gold seekers dreaming of wealth on “Gold Mountain“.  Gold fever also spread to the desert and legends arose.


Pegleg Smith is one such legend.  Thomas L. “Pegleg” Smith (1801-1866) was a mountain man who was also known as a fur trapper, prospector and horse thief.  During a trapping expedition, he was shot in the leg by a local Indian resulting in an amputation and a wooden leg.  There are many legends about Pegleg Smith and his “lost gold mine”.  Some say that he found black pebbles while crossing the desert and held on to them until he reached Los Angeles, thinking they were copper.  When he was told they were gold, he boasted about his gold stories for drinks in the saloons and sold maps to his mine.  He became a celebrated liar and Hollywood set designer Harry Oliver started the Pegleg Smith Club, erected a monument in 1947, and held the first official Pegleg Smith Liars’ Contest in 1949.


The sign beckons, “Let those who seek Pegleg’s gold add ten rocks to this pile.”  Many have come here over the years and the rock pile has grown substantially. Bert Gildart photographed this pile last February while camping here.  Rich L & family, Rich C, and Bill & Larry also boondocked here in March, 2007.  Pegleg Smith Monument is at the junction of Pegleg Road and Henderson Canyon Road at Highway S-22, 6.7 miles northeast of Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, Ca.  Nearby is the field that was covered with Desert Sunflowers seen in my recent article, “Desert Blooms 2009“.  Earlier this month on our way to the flower fields we stopped at the Pegleg site just in time to see “gold” glittering on Pegleg’s rock pile…


in the form of the Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa).

dsc_0178-peglegs-insect-trap-sign.jpgThe Pegleg Smith Liars’ Contest starts at sundown on the first Saturday of April each year and attracts storytellers from all over the world…

 along with other interested parties and/or creatures…

Watch DesertUSA’s video, “Riding on Gold“, which tells more about the legend of Pegleg Smith.









Desert showers bring more flowers

As I begin to write this at our home base in San Diego, it is 58 degrees, breezy with on-and-off sprinkles.  NOAA weather tells me that in our nearby Anza-Borrego Desert community of Borrego Springs, it is 64 degrees with isolated showers and wind speed of 29 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph.  A fast-moving low pressure system is moving through the area.  Last month we camped in the desert near Ghost Mountain, where poet, author, and artist Marshal South and his family set up a home they called Yaquitepec for over 15 years pursuing a primitive and natural lifestyle.  While we were there we experienced firsthand how quickly showers and wind can sweep through the area.


Marshal South wrote in his article, “Desert Diary 2 – February at Yaquitepec”, in the March 1940 issue of Desert Magazine:

                              There is nothing “regular” about the desert.  Uncertainty is its keynote and its eternal fascination…  Against a backdrop of silver showers that screened the footslopes of the Laguna range the desert flashed up in dazzling brilliance.  And over all, like a jeweled scimitar, its hilt in the desert and its point upon the summit of Granite Mountain, a mighty rainbow arched the sky.  It will be will be a warm and brilliant day today.  Tomorrow there may be snow.  Quien sabe!  This is the desert.


(All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.)

We are preparing for our return to the desert and look upon today’s rain as a blessing and a promise of more desert flowers to come.  Marshal South wrote in his article, “Desert Refuge 56”, of the March 1946 issue of Desert Magazine:

                   But storms bring with them their ultimate reward.  For beneath every bush and in the lee of every sheltering stone, new green life is pushing up through the desert soil.  The steady drip of the rains has wakened seeds from slumber.


Wild Heliotrope (above)

Below is a field of Desert Sunflowers and Desert Sand-Verbena of Henderson Canyon near Borrego Springs.


As I finish writing this the sky is now very blue and the trees are bending in the wind.  NOAA tells me that the wind is kicking up dust in Tucson, Arizona.  We look forward to returning to the fascinating and colorful desert.


Desert blooms 2009

Each year’s desert wildflower bloom is unique in its variety, profusion and timing.  Much depends on rainfall and temperature.  Anza-Borrego Desert recently had rain and with warming temperatures the blooms are popping.  A good blooming year here happens only a couple of times a decade.  A good example is found in the fields of Desert Sunflowers and Desert Sand-Verbena of Henderson Canyon near Borrego Springs.


Desert Sunflower, Geraea canescens


Along with Desert Sand-Verbena near Ocotillo Wells.


Below is Desert Chicory in the Palm Canyon area where we camped.


And the Barrel Cactus


And the Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla)…


Last Friday we drove out to the Ocotillo Wells area where we photographed what some people consider the holy grail of the desert wildflowers, the Desert Lily…


Hesperocallis undulata


Read and/or listen to the March 5, 2009 NPR, All Things Considered story, ‘Good Blooming Year’ For California Wildflowers.

The desert is blooming

It might be snowing where you are, but it’s spring wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.  That’s how I started a similar post almost exactly one year ago when Larry and I rendezvoused with Rich Charpentier and Sadira for a celebration of the beginning of the wildflower season and the turning point in Rich’s fortune.  Two years ago Rich visited this area in Borrego Springs and immediately felt happy.  From here he went on to find his happy home base in Prescott, Arizona and establish his very successful career, R.L. Charpentier Photography, and gallery.

Last Saturday we received a report from the Anza-Borrego Foundation and Institute that the desert is blooming.  We were not disappointed, even our campsite was surrounded with wildflowers.

The blooms are just beginning and should be prolific this year due to our recent rain.



Since dogs are not allowed on the trails, we took turns going with Rich on day hikes.  Larry and Rich hiked up Palm Canyon with its many displays of the Brittlebush (big grayish-green dome-shaped bush covered with bright yellow flowers on thin stalks) and the Pink Sand Verbena.  Then on the same day, I joined Rich in his Titan on a drive to Ghost Mountain where we hiked one mile to see the pictographs in Smuggler Canyon.


Along the way Rich discovered a lizard on a rock.  And the lizard contemplated its options.

Rich came well equipped with two cameras, an assortment of lens, tripod and waterproof bag.  Rich is gaining quite a reputation for his spectacular HDR images.

We found the pictographs and my images will appear in my next post, along with more about Marshal South’s and his son’s visit here when they lived at nearby Yaquitepec.

The brief report comes to you from the field, as it did one year ago, complements of Rich’s WI-FI connection.


More desert trails and mysteries will continue after my next post, Desert blooms 2009.