Thursday, April 11, 2013

Exit at Zzyzx

Like all the other mega-millions of travelers who whiz by the Zzyzx exit sign on their way to the slot machines of Las Vegas, we had always commented on the oddity of the name.  "What the heck is Zzyzx?"  Well, this time we decided to satisfy our curiosity once and for all.  We took the Zzyzx exit on Interstate 15, just south of Baker, and ended up spending a fascinating two hours learning about its history.

This vast landscape of dirt, sand and salt was once part of the ancient Lake Mojave.  During the Ice Age it was home to both humans and large mammals.  Its shores were lined with plants.  Today, temperatures in the summer soar into the hundreds and the area only gets three inches of rain per year.  That they have found huge piles of clam shells and stone tools dating back 10,000 years ago boggles my imagination like these facts always do.  Our planet has always changed and always will.

As we continued to drive down the road, we ended up at the California State University Desert Studies Center.  Here, we encountered a more recent historical ruin:  The Zzyzx Mineral Springs Resort.
In 1944, Curtis Howe Springer, a radio evangelist from Los Angeles, filed a mining claim here and built the Zzyzx Mineral Springs Resort.  He changed the name of the Soda Springs oasis to Zzyzx as part of an advertising gimmick. He wanted his resort to appear last on all directories as "the last word in health".  The resort reached its peak in the 1960's with hundreds of guests coming here to soak in the mineral pools.

Thirty years later,  Springer was arrested for food and drug violations, and the resort was closed.  However, Zzyzx remains the last name in terms of alphabetical order of any place in the United States.
Inadvertently, Springer saved an endangered fish, an actual relic of the last Ice Age,  from extinction.  By the 1940's this fish was only found in one nearby spring.  He caught several of them and relocated them to the pond on his site and their numbers increased.  Today the Mojave Tui Chub is being studied by the scientists who live here.   They have moved the chubs to other ponds and it appears that the species has been saved.

This little pond is teeming with life--most of it microscopic.  Several American Coots have made the pond home.  Evidently the Pacific Tree Frog breeds here, as well.  While we walked around the pond, we saw several colorful dragonflies.

The Soda Springs oasis has sustained people of many cultures for thousands of years.  The Mohave Indians came here to rest during hunting and gathering trips.  Their footpaths eventually became roads for wagons.   In the early 1900's, a soda extraction facility operated here.  Sodium compounds were extracted and shipped by rail for processing.  So what the heck is Zzyzx?  Not just one thing, but many things.   Its odd name is coated with layers upon layers of history.  Definitely worth taking the exit!

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