Priscilla Mangnall
THE WAY WE WERE
Grand Junction Free Press History Columnist

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December 15, 2011
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PRISCILLA'S COLUMN: Ride Captain Ride upon your mysterious Viking Ship in the desert

On Nov. 12, 1975, the local newspaper reported a strange ship, sailing in the desert, and north of town. Little was known about who built it, or how or when. It just appeared. Bob Grant took a photo and the rest is history.

The mystery ship was first reported as being "a carefully constructed wood structure, strongly resembling an ancient ship and complete with a mast and figurehead, having been sighted on the 'shores' of Mt. Garfield, about one-quarter mile off Interstate 70. Though obviously the product of an inventive mind, no one is the area knows who created the structure, when it first appeared or what it's supposed to mean."

Forty feet-long and sitting on Bureau of Reclamation land, the ship has long been the subject of lore and speculation. Upon closer inspection at the time, it was determined the structure was much more that a childish prank or a jumble of junk, it was a work of art. The base of the "ship" was made of fence and gate boards. Rising from the middle was a discarded utility pole, crossed at the top for the mast, complete with rope and sheets stretched across to form the sails. The bow was completed with an artistic rendering of a unicorn-like head, much like those seen on Viking ships of old. To complete the masterpiece, the ship was embellished with small, wooded discs along the top of one side, each depicting an ancient symbol. All agreed that a lot of work was put into this vessel, but why? When? And by whom?

After the initial report and photo, the creator of the Viking Ship stepped forward. It was Loma resident Rollie Rogers. Rogers, in his late 20s at the time, had been dreaming for the past five years of creating this work of art. The wild idea came to him while doing his student teaching at Central High School. Employed in 1975 as a carpentry instructor at School District 51's Occupational Training Center, Rogers began collecting his materials. It took him two years to prepare, prior to its completion. On Sunday, Nov. 9, 1975, Rogers, his wife, Bill Silva and Mike "Lizard" Adams started hauling truck loads of materials to the desert, just below Mt. Garfield. As the report states, "At day's end, the ship stood christened and ready for its maiden voyage."

Soon after Captain Rogers' vision and inspiration had come to life, he and his wife left for Australia. It was just something he and his wife wanted to do, leaving it as a gift to the Grand Valley.

Is Rollie Rogers still around? Mike "Lizard" Adams or Bill Silva? I was told by historian Emma McCreanor that none of them stayed in the area. Emma published a Bob Grant photo of the ship and its builders in her book, "Mesa County, Colorado - A 100 Year History." So it is written in history.

Serendipitous art, found art and accidental art. My artist friend and founder of Grand Junction's Art on the Corner program, Dave Davis and I have been talking about this ship for many years. He was here at the time. A former Mesa College student from Boulder, Dave was often accused of having been the creator of the Viking Ship. We agreed that once the builder is revealed, it will take some of the mystique from the mysterious creation. He shared, "I call it Guerilla Art, this kind of intuitive design art, art makes a community what it is, something that just shows up."

Dave's friend Megan Hurst, who now lives in Boston and is the editor of Glimpse Magazine wrote a poem, dedicated to him in 1976. She still thinks he built the ship.

Maybe after this story appears, so will Captain Rollie Rogers or some of his crew. I apologize to any of you that did not want to know the facts. Too many have wondered and the real story was like Dorothy of Kansas. The answer was there all along.

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Reach Priscilla at 970-260-5226, or email priscilla.mangnall@gmail.com.

We are alone except

for snake eyes beaming by

every twenty minutes or hour,

their wakes invisibly mingling

with ours, like molecular

conversations.

Our cocoon floats,

escorted by the moon,

our private spotlight

as mountains,

trees and deserts fly by

at varying quicknesses.

The sky opens wide.

Lunar landscape beside us,

and there, a Viking ship

frozen on sandy seas

Stained luminous

in moonlight, and dwarfed

by steep cliffs and

cascading foothills,

Skirted by a ribbon of black

highway snaking off to meet

the invisible horizon

and circle the moon.

Derelict and noble.

Otherworldly, if not

for its dependability.

This ship, with hubcaps

for shields,

in a waterless land,

a fixed mark,

On the trip to my parents house,

And my first

taste of wonder

at four.

====================

The entire experience reminds me of another set of famous lyrics that appeared in 1968 and were performed by Blood, Sweat and Tears. I feel the lyrics along with the mysterious Viking Ship somewhat define our generation as well.

Ride, Captain ride

upon your mystery ship

be amazed at the friends

you have here on your trip.

Ride Captain ride

upon your mystery ship

on your way to a world

that others might have missed.


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The Post Independent Updated Dec 15, 2011 11:07PM Published Dec 15, 2011 11:04PM Copyright 2011 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.