One book leads to another...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Phantoms of Vallecito

Nothing seems as distant as your destination when crossing the desert in summer. Sometimes even a brief stop at a ramshackle gas station proved refreshing when we could run inside and take turns standing in front of the fan on the counter while grandma pumped gas out front. 

Of course, back in the day, I’m about to tell you about, there were no gas stations. Anywhere. But there is a place where you suddenly glide down from the menacing high desert mountains into a veritable wonderland of flatland grass and a natural spring. No wonder everyone stopped there.

Nestled in the heart of ‘earthquake valley’ in the Anza Borrego desert are remnants of a once bustling stagecoach station called Vallecito (little valley), where weary travelers and their burros could rest and replenish water and supplies.  However, having come through the ‘journey of death’ across the unforgiving desert, many weren’t able to go any further.

Such as the Lady in White, who was assumed to have traveled cross-country alone to meet her prospective husband (some speculate she was a mail-order bride), only to die of exhaustion and dehydration in a back room of the station. Although she was buried in a wedding dress found in her suitcase, and hers is one of only three gravesites in the old cemetery, her restless spirit is said to roam the valley ridges on moonlit nights, an unsettling vision; in tears, and flowing white.

As the first official transcontinental route (between Yuma and San Diego) for stage lines and emigrant caravans alike, especially during the Gold Rush days, Vallecito became a principal stop for the antecedents of the Pony Express, though back then it was called Jackass Mail. 

While the stagecoach that ran between Carrizo wash and Vallecito station is of small note in history these days; stories abound of sightings of four mules pulling a coach with a driver who sits slumped over. If by morning you’re not sure you saw what you think you did, wagon wheel tracks in the deep, soft sand are quite convincing that someone (perhaps the mailman?) wants the trail to remain open.

And then there are the fireballs. Reportedly seen (since as far back as 1858) north of Vallecito station as burning balls; projecting soundlessly up and exploding into cascading flames that light even the darkest of night skies. If there is an explanation for these sightings, I haven’t found it. But, as one local historian puts it; “Don’t gaze long into the darkened night…for something is undoubtedly looking back.”

Do you have a favorite road trip memory? Would you camp in earthquake valley? What do you think those fireballs are?


  1. Hi Diedre - such an interesting history and legend grown up through time ... poor woman - in fact poor anyone who got through the desert and then died.

    Fascinating and the fire balls ... a place to vist - sometime (perhaps!) ... cheers Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary!
      I'm glad you enjoyed:-) So often I find the history to be as, if not more intriguing than the ghosts themselves. In addition, history explains why a spirit might still be hanging around; as in the tragic case of the Lady in White.
      Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is wisely closed during peak summer hours but visitors are not prevented from entering - just fairly forewarned;-)

  2. Hi, Diedre!

    Great balls of fire! That oft reported phenomenon is indeed a mystery. I can't begin to explain it.

    Mrs. Shady and I got a taste to the Arizona desert in July 2014 when we crisscrossed twice in a rental car. One leg took us from El Paso, TX, to the Grand Canyon, and the other down past Sedona, Phoenix and Yuma to our destination San Diego.

    I wouldn't want to camp too far from civilization, especially in the desert or high mountain country, and I wouldn't have wanted to make that ‘journey of death’ in the olden days before convenience stores and rest stops dotted the route to offer blessed relief from the unrelenting sun and heat.

    I enjoyed learning the history and ghostly tales surrounding Vallecito. Just once in my life I would relish an encounter with a ghost. The young and the restless Lady In White seems like a benign spirit that I wouldn't mind meeting.

    Thank you for another interesting history lesson and ghost story, dear friend Diedre, and enjoy the rest of your week!

    1. Hi Shady!
      Even by today's standards the Yuma to San Diego route can be a challenge.
      At least 2014 wasn't a record temp year for Arizona. Temps in Death Valley topped out at 120. Did you guys enjoy Sedona? Did you have a chance to see Oak Creek Canyon? Try as I might, I've never heard the spirits in the wind that softly sings throughout the rich red rock formations. But I have felt the difference of electromagnetic energy.
      I agree, the Lady in White is certainly no threat to anyone. My problem is how in the world to help someone like that.
      I'm glad you enjoyed, dear Shady :-) I sure do enjoy sharing things that fascinate me so much!

    2. Hi again, Deidre!

      As we drove through Sedona we stopped periodically to take pictures of the red rock formations. We also had breakfast at a Mexican style restaurant in town. Unfortunately we didn't allow time to visit Oak Creek Canyon. Mrs. S was eager for us to drive all the way from Flagstaff to San Diego in one shot and we needed to keep moving along. The highest temp we experienced was 111 between Phoenix and Yuma and that was plenty hot for me. When we got back home to Florida the 90+ degree temps seemed pleasantly cool! :)

      Thanks, dear friend!

    3. Hi Shady!

      I bet those cool ocean breezes did indeed feel pleasant :-)

  3. It's amazing to think back on the hardships faced by the early explorers and settlers. Now we can whiz so quickly across the land that in a day we can cover what probably took those folks back then weeks to travel.

    I skirted past Anza-Borrego several years ago coming back from Phoenix. We'd made the trip so many times that I wanted to take a route we'd never done before. My girls and wife all slept during that part of the trip--none of them seemed very interested. Someday I'd like to go back there and actually spend some time seeing the park.

    Never heard of the fireballs, but what a sight that would be!

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. Hi Arlee!
      And to think those good folks thought the hardships were worth it. In some cases they were, I guess.
      Ha! Traversing the desert can be endlessly boring for most. In this post I barely skimmed the top of a stack of fascinating fun facts about this valley of historical and archeological treasures, but I plan to share more in a future post ;-)
      I'd love to see those fireballs too!

  4. I've heard about the lady in white. So sad.

    Maybe those fireballs were from a volcano. Lava bombs.

    1. Hi Chrys!

      You know, the idea of volcano activity occurred to me as well. Given the seismic activity in that area, perhaps the fireballs really did - or do - come from within the earth!

  5. How freaky would it be to see four mules and a man slumped over? This is why I love to take ghost tours when I visit a location. So much history we wouldn't have heard otherwise.

    1. Hi Stephanie!

      I can picture it as if I'd seen it myself! All I can think is that he hadn't finished his mission and that it was important to him.
      I love ghost tours too! ;-)

  6. All my road trip memories involve me wishing the trip was over! I don't think I'd camp in Earthquake Valley--would you??? There were recent reports of people seeing fireballs (or something similar) in the sky. Crazy!

    1. Hi there, Quanie!

      Nah, can't say as I would camp there since there are no hook-ups for say, A/C! But the very word "Earthquake" makes me uneasy and that doesn't help - ha!

      Really? Do you remember where the recent fireball reports originated from? Sadly, one has to consider the source sometimes as a great many stories are born in Boonie party campfire circles (grin).

  7. Fascinating history lesson, Diedre! Spooky happenings all around, it seems. "Jackass Mail" made me LOL. ☺
    You find the best stories to tell!

    I'll have to try re-subscribing to your blog with another email address. Still not getting any notifications when you have a new post. :(

    1. Hi Debbie!

      Glad you enjoyed! Jackass Mail gave me a grin as well ;-) It might not have been as amusing back when they actually used mules for transport and had to wait months on end for delivery - funny how much a little spice adds to a stew, huh?

      No worries, my friend. I'm late every where I go these days as I try to put finishing touches (or a trash lid) on a story for the next anthology.
      See you soon!

  8. Some fascinating stories here! The Lady in White is pretty heartbreaking. Fireballs, eh? Stumped on that one but sounds impressive.

    1. Hi Nick!

      These are a few of my favorites as well! I can only imagine how impressive those fireballs would have been to the folks back then. Nowadays there are people like me hoping to see and explain them ;-)


Any thoughts? Join the conversation, comments welcome here!