The thing about ghosts and haunted places is that you either believe in such spectral sightings or you don鈥檛. Ghosts have existed in the human mind, in songs, literature, and myths for as long as there have been humans. No city or locale seems to be without its own hauntings or visions, including Imperial Valley and the surrounding deserts.

Locally there have been sightings of a ghostly young woman trying to hitch a ride out on Dogwood Road. Glowing fireballs have supposedly been sighted in the jagged mountains that surround Imperial Valley. And of course, given thousands of years of Native American occupation, their spirits are part of the landscape.

Probably the best-known haunting in our region is the historic Vallecitos Stage Stop fourteen miles west across the county line. Originally known to the Kumeyaay people as Hawi, meaning 鈥渨ater snake,鈥 the stage stop was first used around 1854 as a stop on the San Diego to Yuma mail route. Fresh horses, a chance to rest, and a steady water supply made Vallecitos an important stopping point. Later the combination sod and adobe structure served both the famous Butterfield Overland Mail beginning in 1858 and the James Birch San Diego to San Antonio Jackass Mail.

Of all the bone-weary travelers who have made stops at the isolated building, one never left. Her name could have been Eileen O鈥機onner. No one knows for sure. According to most accounts, a young woman from back East was en route to Sacramento for her wedding day when the stage made a stop at Vallecitos. Might have been in the late 1850s or perhaps later. The bride-to-be took sick and after two days of severe pain, died within the brown walls of the stage stop.

To prepare her for burial, her trunk was searched for appropriate funeral clothing. A carefully folded white wedding dress was found. The young woman was dressed in her lace adorned white wedding dress and buried behind the stage stop. At the time, a rustic wooden cross marked her final resting place. Although it seems her spirit is not at rest.

Stories about the ghost of a young woman in her wedding dress have swirled around the old adobe for more than ninety years. Several years ago Jim Blakely, then the supervising ranger at the Agua Caliente County Park, said he had not seen the ghost himself, but plenty of other visitors reported her presence.

Beginning in the early 1900s visitors to the historic relic of a building reported seeing the vaporous, gauzy image of a woman drifting across the desert. She usually made her appearances in the late evening although some saw her visage just before sunrise. During the restoration of the adobe in the 1930s several workers quit the job site after being disturbed by what they called the White Lady. She seemed to silently float across their camp. When the men called out to her she glanced at them and disappeared. They reported she seemed to be intently staring off towards the distant mountains, perhaps in search of her fianc茅. More recently, park rangers reported that on occasion items on display inside the old building appear to have shifted overnight in the locked building.

Unlike the serene and silent appearances of the White Lady, in 1934 a San Diego newspaper reported that campers at the stage stop were rudely awakened by the sound of invisible horse hooves thudding on the desert hardpan. This equine spirit is reported to be the ghostly apparition of a long dead bandit who met his death at the stop. Oh, and then there are also those who have reported an entire stage coach rambling across the old Butterfield Stage route.

Today, the Vallecitos Stage Stop is part of a County Park open to visitors, hikers, and campers. Take a short day trip out to view it or pull up in your RV and stay a spell. If you see the White Lady or hear the thud of horse hooves around midnight take solace that you are not alone.

As October comes to an end, we invite you to join us this Saturday, October 28, 2023, for a FREE COMMUNITY EVENT. Come back to your favorite haunt, the Imperial Valley Desert Museum for a family friendly fun filled day. Come dressed up with this year鈥檚 costume and partake of the festivities! We will have Halloween themed games, movies, face painting, activities, and indoor trick or treating. IVDM Lowlanders also returns with a hike to Dolomite Mine on Sunday October 29, 2023 to explore its remains鈥..

We look forward to getting spooky with you!

The Imperial Valley Desert Museum is located in Ocotillo, California. It is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. 鈥 4 p.m.

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(1) comment

Carlos Acu帽a

Loved this piece! But where are the road maps and or dirt trail maps to reach the Vallecitos site? Boo-hoo.

Be well.

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