John Grasson: The Desert’s Lost Treasure

Some of you might have heard that we lost a good friend on December 21, 2021. John Grasson was a friend and colleague in the study of the Southwest deserts, a fellow Army veteran, a radio personality, a go-to source for information on the legendary “Lost Ship of the Desert,” a fellow desert rat, and just an all-around good guy.

A few days before Christmas, John Grasson apparently made a left turn at a busy intersection, and was hit on the driver side of his vehicle. According to news sources, he lived for about 20 minutes before succumbing to his injuries.

Everyone has moments of passion in their life, but not all find what they’re passionate about, and fewer pursue it. John Grasson did. His passion was the search for a ship that was reported to have been found on dry land in the desert, near the Salton Sea.

The time frame was likely in the 1600s, when Spanish explorers were sailing up and down the coast of California. Waterways were different then, and our friend could tell you the when and where.

Over the years, John was featured on various science and history television shows, such as Unexplained and Unexplored: Ghost Ship of the Damned;  Myth Hunters: The Lost Ship of the Desert; America Unearthed: Vikings in the Desert; and a profile about his desert discoveries in Newsweek magazine, newspapers like The Desert Sun, Midnight in the Desert radio show, The ‘X’ Zone podcasts and museum presentations, such as the Mousley Museum of Natural History. There are few, if any, who would disagree that he was the undisputed expert on the subject.

John belonged to a team called Legend Detectives of which former California State Assemblyman, Steve Baldwin, is the organizer. The team is dedicated to researching some of the great Old West mysteries, such as the Lost Ship of the Desert, Peg Leg Smith’s Lost Mine, the Lost Silver Mine of El Cajon Mountain and the Lost Brant Mine. They filmed a pilot episode of a TV reality show, similar to The Curse of Oak Island. Steve, with the permission of John’s family, acquired all of his voluminous research. Two pick-up trucks full to be exact.

John’s quarterly online Dezert Magazine was published from 2010 to 2014 and featured the vast original Desert Magazine series from 1937 to 1985, which John archived so people could enjoy reading them online for free. John described himself as “an explorer of legends and lore, not a treasure hunter.”

When we began The Desert Way in 2013, it was John who helped us set up our website and taught us the basics.

John joined us for a featured appearance together for Midsummer Scream at the Long Beach Convention Center discussing our favorite ghost towns on July 30, 2016, with KCET‘s Sandi Hemmerlein presiding. John’s topic, of course, was The Lost Ship of the Desert.

John was a master of voices, akin to Mel Blanc. He could make any story funny. As a younger man, he worked for a radio station in Augusta, Georgia, and used his voice skills to enthrall listeners.

He was born in Yuba City, on July 26, 1957, and grew up in Ridgeville, Ohio. Right after high school, he joined the US Army as a cook and spent time in Germany. After his discharge, he went to Los Angeles in 1985, hoping to become a comedian. He played some of the city’s famous clubs.  John was a member of the Billy Holcomb Chapter of E Clampus Vitus and lived in Banning for the last 16 years. He was 64 years old when he died.

Looking back on our friendship, I can vividly recall one fact above all others about John Grasson. He spoke the truth, and never had a bad thing to say about anyone. Now that right there made him unique. We last talked in November of 2021. Jaylyn and I invited him to Texas, and were anxious to show him the amazing history of the area. John was onboard with the idea.

I can just imagine a heavenly scene. The spirit of John Grasson walks up to gates of St. Peter. A surprised St. Peter says, “Well, we weren’t expecting you so soon, but you’re thrilled to finally meet you. Hey, come on in and meet the crew of this Spanish Galleon. They’ve got the most incredible story of how they went aground in the desert, and they’re real anxious to tell you about it.”

Show producers have promised his research will carry on. John Grasson’s knowledge, heart of gold and keen wit will remain with us. However, there is no denying the desert lost a priceless treasure the day John earned his wings.

Adios for now, our friend.

(Photo composite courtesy of John Earl, 2022)

One thought on “John Grasson: The Desert’s Lost Treasure

  1. Thank you for the very nice piece about our desert (or ‘Dezert’) amigo, John. When he was starting the Dezert Magazine, we met to discuss my past friendship with Choral Pepper, who was the editor/publisher of Desert Magazine in the 1960s. John and I communicated regularly since, and I was one of his editors! John’s ‘day job’ was selling mattresses and we had purchased one from him not long before the terrible accident. He was always nice to talk to, even if not about a lost ship in the desert!

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