sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Zzzyx and Magical Thinking

Along US Interstate 15, the road-more-often-traveled, between Barstow and Baker California, there is an off-ramp in the middle of nowhere. Exit 239 leads to the road less traveled (the Mojave Road) and to an abandoned spa, now owned by the California State University system and operated as the Desert Studies Center.

CSU doesn't want people visiting these days, but that restriction is a new event in the history of a very old place.

The Soda Spring area has been used by humans for thousands of years. It's also a water stop on the Mojave Road that leads from the Colorado River to Los Angeles. It's part of the larger/longer Mormon Road. If you follow this blog, there has been a lot of mention of the historical Mojave Road (last leg of the Mormon Road or Old Spanish Trail which leads from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles), and which still exists as an unpaved dirt road. In antiquity, the Mojave Indians and other tribes used this road for trading and made their trips on foot, never having adopted the horse. 

The US Army garrisoned all of the water sources (that they knew about) along the Mojave Road to control the local Indian populations. During the War of Northern Aggression, the Army built a small fort/redoubt there. At the time, it was called Bitter Spring. (See the Bitter Spring Campaign of 1860). The site was used for salt mining and the salt flats have a road across them that vehicles can traverse today. If you get off the road, even in summer, you can go to your axels in mud...I've seen it happen and it's not pretty. During the winter it's even more important to stay on the road (a metaphor for life?).

The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad put a train station (water and whistle stop) in the area and called it Soda Springs.

Soda Springs
Curtis Howe Springer, who claimed to be a doctor at times and a Methodist minister at other times (he was neither) gave the made-up name Zzyzx to the area. He established the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa in 1944 at the spot, which was federal land.  Springer had a syndicated radio show for many years and used that platform to promote the location (selling government land that he didn't own, to stupid people) as a 'magic spot' on the planet.   He used the springs to bottle the magic water, said to cure all manner of illness (think of Springer as a barker for a medicine show). Scamming people, he used the money to build a spa and then used the spa to bilk more money out of people. The promise of magic appeals to many people today as then.


Springer had a boat that guests could use to row around Soda Springs Lake (see left). It's odd to see a boat in the middle of the desert. Grist for art philosophy? Maybe.

In 1974, the Bureau of Land Management kicked him off the land, closed the spa and the somewhat interesting history of Zzzyx entered a new phase - the one that you see today a few miles from the I-15 off-ramp or as you drive in your 4x4 along the Mojave Road.

There is a lot of standing water in the desert. Most people don't understand the concept of an "oasis", which is as old as time and feel that the desert is a dead place because that's all that they see as they race down the Interstate. The Road Less Traveled offers its own subtle surprises, and if you want to call that magic, I won't disagree with you.


21 comments:

  1. Snake oil, y’all!

    Go Springer. What a scapegrace!

    Well, you know full well if I’d have seen a sign to “Zzzyx" I’d have gone straight there. Genius name. In fact, I want to go.

    Of course he had a boat. A boat in the desert is a symbol of hope and promise. It’s also lends a sense of freedom to unknown magic. And naturally, people would want to go right into the middle of the magic springs in a rustic boat because that’s what people are like. Magic is an illusion we create in our mind that has the power to become very real. Belief is all you need...
    #TheArtPhilosopherWord

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    1. There's no such thing as magic, but the crutch that magic provides can spur a lot of --- stuff --- both good and bad. Zzzyx (formerly Soda Springs) and desert oasis sites provide grist for art philosophy.

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  2. We have an entire political philsophy which bases its existence on magic: liberalism. Liberals truly believe that money will come their way just by voting for the guy who says he can deliver.

    And it's free money, of course. Ask a liberal where all of this money comes from, they don't really have a good answer ('Obama's stash, among others).

    Politicians on the left should perhaps change their party name to Zzzyx and mothball the tainted name 'Democrat.' And find a place somewhere in the platform for snake oil distribution.

    In truth, the money they seek comes from the Money Fairy, and there is no limit to that stash.

    Life is good if you are a liberal, and are in power. When out of power, however, life is hell on earth for these believers in magic.

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    1. The hefty dose of reality that the Trump Administration and the Supreme Court is dishing out is clearly a cause for liberal tears (said by some to be sweet). The backlash of anguish in a lack of magic and other people's money is epic.

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  3. Great story. I think the "Zzyzx Road" sign would be just about my all time favorite road sign.

    Urban legend is that he chose that name because it would be the last in a dictionary, and it was the last place on Earth.

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    1. I don't think that's just a legend. I think that's precisely what he was thinking...and it worked, for a while. Now there's just the sign and 100K people passing a day wondering what it all means.

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  4. Great posts. Your posts of this type are a great read.

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    1. I'm glad that you enjoy them. They're a reflection of my travels in the Southwest. I don't need much encouragement to go and explore.

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  5. Speaking of water, here is some more interesting history---

    http://eccentricculinary.com/californias-vanishing-lakes-and-the-hunger-of-the-mines/

    Here is a link to the original map that can be enlarged---

    http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~1635~180047:Map-Of-The-San-Joaquin,-Sacramento-

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    1. That's an interesting article and from what I know, a completely accurate one. The impact of mining on the southwest was not as profound because the land wasn't as welcoming as California's Central Valley. But in their own way the Mojave and Sonora Deserts are a better places to explore because there is a much smaller human footprint to this day.

      As you suggest, water has everything to do with everything. The Amargosa River is another intensely interesting place to explore. It's mostly underground (east of Death Valley) and when it surfaces, there are oasis points - not unlike the Mojave River. The surface of the land is like the surface of the moon, but people have planted orchards and trees that have deep roots that find the water, and the orchards flourish. Such is the secret of water and people who know where to look for it.

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  6. I'm captivated by the magic spirit of Zzzyx and want to go in search of that Lost City.

    Some say Z's a metaphor for Hillary's lost campaign, others say it's a real place, a city lost in the jungle.

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    1. The Federal Govt. re-po'd the "lost city". In the world of heartbreaking losses, the liberals are still weeping over Hillary's tumble to defeat (vs. the forces of Truth, Justice and the American Way). And there is nothing sweeter than liberal tears.

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  7. That's a new one on me...LOL Didn't know that piece of history!

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    1. You're the one guy that I never thought I'd stump. I'm going to take a victory lap.

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  8. Enjoying these travel/history posts. Had never heard of Zzzyx. The history behind these places is fascinating.

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    1. I drove past the sign for years on I-15 between LA and Las Vegas, wondering what that name was all about, myself.

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  9. I've driven by there many times, and even spent some time looking up the history of the place.

    Any place with a name like that usually has an "interesting" history, and I was right.

    I enjoy exploring places like that, but alas, none of the passengers I had with me at various times had any interest, and we were always headed from "Point A" to "Point B" with no time for side trips.

    Thanks for the virtual tour and the expanded history lesson!

    PS - Sent you a link to Barber Shop Day on the Iowa.

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    1. I'm in selling mode on the house (have a buyer) and I'm in the process of finding a place to rent and moving so that the Muslim can move in. The mosque down the street is sales kryptonite for Muslims.

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    2. CONGRATS! We should be outta here by the middle of August!

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  10. LL I think it's a Michael Connelly book I read that the road you speak of was used. Something to do with a FBI agent turned serial killer

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It's virtual - it's a mirage - it's life