Zzyzx

Zzyzx Road Sign August 2012On Interstate 15 from Los Angeles to  Las Vegas, just 6 miles shy of Baker, home of the world’s largest thermometer, one encounters this sign:

How would something get the name Zzyzx (pronounced Zizz-zəxs)? Zzyzx Road is a 4.5-mile-long road leading to what was once the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa established by Curtis Howe Springer in 1944. He gave it that made-up name claiming it was the last word in the English Language. As of June 14, 1984, Zzyzx is officially recognized by the United States Board on Geographical Names and is, in fact, the last name in their alphabetical list.

Although the land is owned by the Federal Government, Springer obtained use of the property by filing mineral claims under the General Mining Act of 1872. Over time he turned Zzyzx is to a sort of combination religious retreat and health spa, as well as a base from which to sell various miracle cures and record his syndicated evangelical radio program. (Springer at various times claimed to be an ordained Methodist minister, an M.D. or a Ph.D. although he was none of these.)

By the 1960s Springer began to allow “donors” of large sums of money to his ministry to build homes on his mineral claim. This drew the attention of Federal officials who discovered that Springer had never demonstrates that the claim contained minerals that could be extracted for profit, and so his claim was invalid. He was arrested for unauthorized use of Federal land and for violations of food and drug laws, and was convicted in 1974.

In 1976 the Bureau of Land Management signed a cooperative agreement with California State University to have the University manage the facilities and land of Zzyzx as the Desert Studies Center. The Desert Studies Center provides the opportunity for individuals and groups to conduct research, receive instruction, and experience the desert environment. Springer’s resort  was converted into facilities that provide housing for up to 75 individuals in dormitory rooms, and two Research Residences (self-contained with kitchen and bath) that are available for up to 5 individuals each. Meal service is available, as well as classroom, laboratory and library facilities. With the passage of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, the Desert Studies Center was placed into the Mojave National Preserve, and the National Park Service became the federal partner with the signing of a new cooperative agreement.

The facilities of the Desert Studies Center are only available to research and education groups, so I was fortunate to be part of a workshop based at the center organized by PhotoAlliance and  lead by the well-known photographer and educator Robert Dawson. Zzyzx and the surrounding area is truly stunning, as I hope the following photographs show.

Original Street Signs of Zzyzx

Stinson_Cowhole Mountain across Soda Lake from Zzyzx IMG_0065_2017_03_20_DXO
Cowhole Mountain near sunset, viewed from Zzyzx toward the east across the white mineral crust of the dry Soda Lake. Soda Lake and nearby Silver Lake (near Baker, California) are the remnants of Lake Mojave, a large inland lake (now dry) at the terminus of the Mojave River. The frothy-white surface crust on the lake bed is a result of evaporative concentration of alkaline salts, mostly sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate. Soda Lake forms the eastern boundary of Zzyzx.
Stinson_Sunset sky oveer Zztzx pond IMG_2017_03_20_0074_5_6_two HDRs combined
Looking toward the sunset over Lake Tuendae. The Desert Study Center’s dormitories can be seen through the palm trees to the left. Although artificial, Lake Tuendae is protected as one of the few remaining habitats of the endangered Mohave tui chub (Gila bicolor mohavensis).
Stinson_Zzyzx at Night_MG_2017_03_21_0618
The main building of the Desert Studies Center just before “lights out”, taken across Lake Tuendae, an artificial pond.
Stinson_Toward Los Vegas_MG_2017_03_210634_DxO
Cars and trucks stream along Interstate 15 all night as Las Vegas lights up the sky in the distance.
Stinson_Sunrise of Soda Lake 2
Sunrise over Soda Lake
Stinson_Saucer Cloud and Bush_MG_2017_03_21_0498_openWith
Lenticular-shaped cloud suspended over a desiccated bush in Soda Lake
Stinson_Across Soda Lake IMG2017_03_20__0084_openWith
Soda Lake shortly after sunrise.
Stinson_Four Palms at Zzyzx_MG_2017_03_21_0528_openWith
A row of these unusual palms line the Boulevard of Dreams, the “main street” of Zzyzx.
Stinson_Desert Flower tight crop_MG_2017_03_21_0555_openWith
Many beautiful flowers bloom in the Mojave Desert. Some remain dormant underground for years until the conditions are right. As a result new species are still being discovered.
Stinson_Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad at Zzyzx_MG_2017_03_21_0614_openWith
The former right-of-way of the defunct Tonopah & Tidewater Railway demarks the western boundary of Zzyzx. Construction of the line began on July 30, 1905 and was completed October 30, 1907. The T&T tracks ran from the Santa Fe Railway railhead in Ludlow, California to Gold Center, Nevada. Using shared tracks it reached Beatty, Nevada. However, it never reached its namesake town of Tonopah. Operations ended in 1940. Shown here is a stretch of the right of way heading north across Soda Lake. Today it is used as a jogging path for people at the Desert Studies Center.

Zzyzx still contains decaying remains of Springer’s resort that have not been repurposed for use by the Desert Studies Center. The center also preserves many relics from the Springer era.

Stinson_Car Door Zzyzx_MG_2017_03_21_0558
Door from a car used by Springer’s resort was a moving advertisement.
Stinson_Bath House Zzyzx_MG_2017_03_21_0536_openWith_picc
Bathhouse adjacent to the main spa pool
Stinson_Swiming Pool at Sunrize Zzyzx_MG_2017_03_22_0637_openWith
Sunrise through what remains of the windows of the spa pool.
Stinson_Sunrise and tanks_MG_2017_03_22_0668_openWith
Springer build a row of one-room apartments overlooking Soda Lake, call “Sunrise Apartments”. The tanks over the hill support the Desert Studies Center. The Center is completely self-sufficient.
Stinson_Sunrise Apartments IMG_2017_03_21_541_542
View from the inside of the decaying Sunset Apartments.
Trash of Zzyzx _MG_2017_03_210574_openWith
Trash of old Zzyzx strewn across the desert

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