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Rock throwing.
Heat-addled child tosses rocks at Peg Leg's pile.

Liar Peg Leg Smith Monument

Field review by the editors.

Borrego Springs, California

Finding an official monument to a liar seems good enough reason to drive across southern California mountains and deserts in blistering heat. We're looking for the site that celebrates a Gold Rush era con artist named Thomas Long Smith, AKA "Peg Leg Smith." It's in Borrego Springs, an "almost-became-the-next-Palm Springs" kind of place, a treeless depression sandwiched in the Santa Rosa and Vallecito Mountains east of San Diego.

Peg Leg Smith was a "mountain man, prospector, and spinner of tall tales," who lived from 1801 to 1866. A born Kentuckian who staggered West and never returned, Smith claimed he found pure gold nuggets in the Borrego Springs area. Peg Leg would tell anyone who'd listen about the "fabulous wealth" hidden in the hills. It was hidden because Peg Leg couldn't exactly remember where the mine was....

Official Historical Marker for Peg Leg Smith.

We drive around a bit, looking for the monument, which is supposed to be east of town. There's a Peg Leg Road, but no obvious interpretation kiosk or visitor's center. No signs at all. Nothing.

It occurs to us that the whole idea of a Liar's Monument could be a chapter out of the Snipe Hunt manual. We drive back toward town, seeking directions, hoping the laughter won't be too cruel. At the little Borrego Springs airport, a nice lady in the office -- who probably can't fib per FA regulations -- turns us in the right direction.

A little ways up Henderson Canyon Road we see the monument: a large pile of rocks, and further past the desert scrag, a more official-looking stone historical marker. A wooden sign in front of the rock pile advises:

"Let those who seek Peg Leg's gold add ten rocks to this pile."

Peg Leg Smith Monument.

The temperature is 114 degrees Fahrenheit, but not enough to deter us from throwing the required rocks (which we brought with us from the airport, per the nice lady's advice).

Near the dirt parking area is a bent metal mailbox, which contains an assortment of romance paperbacks, a few old magazines, and a visitor registry. Many write "Where's my gold?" or similar sentiments. In one entry, a couple who fell in love at the liar's rock pile returned on their anniversary....

Peg Leg died without ever finding his Lost Mine. If the mine ever existed, it might be only "a few miles" from the monument. We think Peg Leg actually had a wooden leg, in case you wondered -- but it could also be another lie. Maybe we'll ask back at the airport....

A local man, Harry Oliver, brought Peg Leg back to life when he formed a Peg Leg Club in 1916. The rock pile was created in the late 1940s by "Desert Steve," who developed an appreciation for the Great Deceiver. An annual Liars Contest has been held in Borrego Springs for many decades on the first Saturday evening in April (later moved to "desert tourist" season a month earlier) when contestants gather 'round a chuckwagon and spew five-minute-long fabrications that Peg Leg himself would have appreciated.

2021, 2022: The Peg Leg Smith Liars contest was cancelled during the pandemic.

Also see: Peg Leg Smith Rock

Liar Peg Leg Smith Monument

Henderson Canyon Rd, Borrego Springs, CA
8 mi E on Hwy 22, couple miles past airport, as Pegleg Road curves east, fork left onto Henderson Canyon Road. Pile and monument is a few hundred yards on right.
Save to My Sights

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