If you’ve driven Highway 15, you’ve likely noticed the sign along the highway for Zzyzx (pronounced zeye-zix) Road. The off-ramp is located just a few short miles from the bustling metropolis (sarcasm) of Baker. The road sign has spawned much media interest in recent years. Films have been based on Zzyzx, musicians have written songs, and authors have used the name for fictional stories and places in their books. Despite all the attention that the name brings, most still don’t have any idea what lies at the end of Zzyzx Road.
The area known as Zzyzx today, was originally utilized by the U.S. Army in the 1860’s as a fort along the Mojave Road. Originally given the name Fort Soda (also known as: Hancock’s Redoubt, Fort Soda Lake, and Camp Soda Springs). In August of 1867, the fort became a short-lived outpost of Camp Cady. In May of 1868, the Army abandoned the outpost permanently.
Around 1870, George Hertzel settled the abandoned military outpost and utilized the site as a rest stop for travelers along the Mojave Road. Hetzel gave it the name “Soda Station”, and opened a trading post, as well as lining the warm water pools in the area with rocks, creating a swimming hole.
1900, would begin a rather short-lived mining operation to Soda Station. The ore from the mountains in the area proved to hold few valuable minerals.
The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, reached Soda Springs in November of 1905. With the T&T’s arrival, Soda Springs was now connected to the rich mining districts of Goldfield and Bullfrog, as well as the neighboring communities of Shoshone, Tecopa, and Death Valley Junction.
Shortly after the T&T began servicing Soda Springs, The Pacific Salt and Soda Company would begin mining the dry lake playa for minerals that would be made into washing soda, baking soda, and caustic soda.
The process was done by channeling spring water through ditches into shallow ponds. The water would be evaporated by the sun. The sludge that would be formed would the scraped off of the ponds, and allowed to further dry. They would then ship the sludge on the T&T for final processing elsewhere.
In 1912, The Pacific Salt and Soda Company would end mining at Soda Springs. They cited the high cost of processing and shipping the sludge.
In 1914, yet another attempt was made at mining the playa. This attempt last until 1916, and was ended due to flooding of the playa, that would last for two years.
From 1916 – 1944 Camp Soda would lie in a state of abandonment.
In 1944, Curtis Springer, an evangelist and doctor, placed several mining claims at Soda Springs. Instead of utilizing the land for mining, he built the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort. Springer came up with the name Zzyzx, as the last possible word in the English language.
Springer at the time had a nationally syndicated radio program, he used his program to promote the resort as well his miracle-healing concoctions of juices, teas and tonics. Springer never charged his guests for accommodation at the resort, but donations were encouraged.
In the 1950’s, Springer began to sell off plots of land to his well-off clientele, despite his not owning the land that he was selling. Springer must have thought that he was getting away with it all, that is until the 1970’s, after a series of complaints had been lodged with the Federal Government about his magic potions.
In 1974, Springer was arrested by the United State Marshall Service for the misuse of the land, as well as violations of food and drug laws. Springer spent several months behind bars. Upon release he relocated to Las Vegas, here he lived out the rest of his life. Springer died in 1986.
In 1976, California State University struck a deal with the Bureau of Land Management, to create the Desert Studies Center. The Desert Studies Center still occupies the site today. Students, teachers and scientists are housed in the old resort buildings, while doing research, and taking classes at the Center.
The grounds are open to the public for viewing. The buildings from the Health Spa era are still standing and in use today. The ponds, palm trees, and abundant amount of wildlife make Zzyzx a true oasis in the desert.
Interested in visiting this site?
BOOK OPTION: Zzyzx is featured in Secret Places in the Mojave Desert Vol. III. Detailed maps, and GPS coordinates are included. Order your copy now.