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Zzyzx, The Last Word - By Design | Mojave Redemption #8

When we arrived at Zzyzx the previous evening, we’d expected to drive right into the town of the old Mineral Springs and Health Spa - so you can imagine our surprise when we encountered a locked gate across the road. It didn't matter all that much since it was dark and we weren't planning on exploring until the next morning anyway, so we found a campsite that was reasonably private near the base of the Soda Mountains. After our normal routine, found ourselves snoozing through our warmest night of the trip - understandable give our elevation of only 951 feet above sea level!

Morning brought another nice day and a cloudless sky meant I got a few extra minutes of sleep - only jumping out of the tent as the sun crested Cowhole Mountain to our east.

After a quick breakfast that consumed the last of our milk and cereal (perfect timing) and the breakdown of camp, we retraced our steps to the gate we'd discovered when we arrived the night before. It turns out that while the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa has been closed since 1974, the California State University system now manages the land in and around Zzyzx and uses it as their Desert Studies Center. Visitors must park in a nearby lot and are then welcome to walk around the small town - being respectful of its current residents, of course.

The history of the resort is an interesting one. In 1944, Los Angeles radio evangelist Curtis H. Springer decided to make the mineral springs - which had been a common stop for American Indians, Spanish explorers, and even the railroad - into a health resort. As a gimmick to be the last listing in any directory, he and is wife ended up naming it the Zzyzx as it’s “the last word in health,” and the last word in the English language. The resort was a huge success, with guests frequenting the “healing waters” and Springer shipping his “medical products” all over the world. (wikipedia, Hiking the Mojave Desert)

Walking through town, the CSU system has done a great job of restoring and maintaining several of the buildings, and it looks like a fabulous place to hang out for a while studying the desert - if only I'd known it existed when I was attending!

An oasis on the edge of Soda Lake.

The main street - Blvd of Dreams and the living quarters for CSU Desert Studies.

The healing waters of Lake Tueandae. Now a magnet for all manner of birds and other wildlife.

In addition to browsing around the empty streets at this early hour, we had one other task we wanted to accomplish on this - our last morning in the preserve: Hike out to Travelers Monument in the Dry Soda Lake. While this might seem at first to be less glamorous than some of our other explorations, it was in fact quite cool to walk across the lake bed.

Reminiscent of Devils Golf Course in Death Valley, the salty crust was over a foot tall in places, and here - unlike Death Valley - walking is allowed on the lake bed. Naturally, we did our best to stick to existing trails and tire tracks anyway, but it was a special experience to be out there in the middle of it all.

After a mile or so of hiking, we reached Travelers Monument. It was a place we'd missed the last time we'd run the Old Mojave Road since we'd routed around the muddy lake bed, and it was a fitting place to end this years amazing trip. Looking through dozens of the rocks on the pile left by previous visitors, it was an almost reverent time to see all the travelers who'd been by this very spot.

Guess you'll just have to visit to see what this says. I will say, it's probably true.

Our last destinations now in the books, we headed back to the truck, and out to the highway - mostly satisfied. We'd seen a ton of what the Mojave Preserve had to offer. We'd run into only a few other folks - all great - over the course of the week. And of course, we'd had a great time doing it. Perhaps predictably, my hope that we'd "see it all" was obviously unfulfilled - this place, like so many others we've visited, is full of secrets that could take a lifetime to uncover.

As a matter of fact, just as we were nearing the highway for the long trip home, we spotted a herd of Bighorn Sheep - our first experience seeing them despite having traveled through much of their range. Twice.

Even this simple encounter was a good reminder to us that this is surely not be the end of our relationship with the Mojave National Preserve. Until next time, get out there and enjoy!


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  1. Keith Upton
    Keith Upton March 30, 2020

    Another great report that made me mark some POIs on my map for future trips.

  2. Desert Studies Center
    Desert Studies Center August 22, 2021

    Just FYI. It is illegal to camp along Zzyzx Road - it's Mojave National Preserve Wilderness, and park rangers patrol the road. There is now a gate that locks at night.

    • turbodb
      turbodb August 22, 2021

      Interesting. When we were there a few years ago, we saw nothing stating that it was wilderness or that there was no camping. The gate was - as I mentioned - already in place, and of course, we didn't camp in the parking lot. Do you have a reference for the closure/wilderness designation? I'd love to link to that in the story for future readers.

      Additionally, I just checked the MOJA wilderness map, and it appears that the wilderness covers Soda lake, but ends just east of Zzyzx road, at least north of Zzyzx. I'd love clarification (since it seems that the original comment was attributed to the DSC with no identification of the actual author). 👍

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