Day 7: Zzyzx


There must be something special in the salts at Soda Lake. I had strange, vivid conspiracy dreams all night. If anybody knows anything about an effete millionaire's club called VTriptick7 and the brutal death of Loren Anderson, let me know.

Here's what I saw when I woke up:

The clouds looked like a bird's wing feathers, and made me think of the night taking flight ahead of the sun. As it got lighter, I started to notice things in the rocks I hadn't seen the day before.

When I see the death's-head I know I'm among friends. I'm sure the Indians who travelled this old trail savvied it as well.

I built a little rock stove out of a big 4-wheeler's fireplace, fired it with mesquite twigs, and boiled up some coffee. I was quite happy with the 100+-mile ride I'd had, and decided to concede the last 37 miles to the 4-wheelers, for the time being. I'd bail at Zzyzx, and ride the back roads into Barstow. I felt like I was quitting while I was ahead, and saving the rest of the Mojave Road for another day. Maybe if I hadn't lost so much time to headwinds over the weekend I would've felt differently, but I was happy with the morning's decision.

Now, according to my old Guide, Zzyzx is off-limits from the Mojave Road - to motorized travellers. All along I'd been seeing government signs around proclaiming "wilderness area - no motorized vehicles". The signs don't say so, but it seems that by some bizarre bureaucratic intellectual contortion, the authorities consider bicycles to be "motorized" vehicles. This all struck me as such a despicable penny-parsing legalism I decided not to be bothered with it, but backcountry riders should keep it in mind. Once you contravene a feral government regulation, there's no turning back!

I took my sweet time packing up, savoring my last hours on the Mojave Road, but eventually I headed north toward Zzyzx.

I had to push and slog through just 100 yards of blow sand, and I can't imagine how long it'd take to cover 6 miles of it. Once beyond it, I got up on the old cinder roadbed of the Tidewater & Tonopah Railroad, which runs straight through Zzyzx.

Except for the fence. I had to get off onto a parallel jeep trail, which led to an opening in the fence with a big, heavy chain across it. There was an old weather-chipped sign instructing me to go to Baker for permission to enter.

I should mention that access is open from I-15, for anyone who wants to visit. No permit required. The place is currently occupied by a desert studies center. Visitors are requested to stay out of the students' hair.

Back in the old days, Zzyzx was known as Soda Springs, and it was another waterhole on the Mojave Road. It got its present name in 1944, when the deserted site was "claimed up" by Dr. Springer, a California entrepreneur who specialized in mail-order health foods. The good doctor saw potential for a health resort around the desert springs, and wanted its name to be the last word in the English language.

The doctor made his home and headquarters at Zzyzx, and built the resort of his dreams, but in the 1960s the sky fell in on him. He was investigated by the State of California, and the IRS, and the Bureau of Land Management began proceedings to evict him from his mineral claims at Soda Springs. He was forced off his claims in 1974.

The doctor built much, and built well. Some of the structures are being maintained, while others are abandoned and crumbling. Here's a click-through tour of the site as I found it.

It's likely that somewhere here an Army surgeon, Dr. Merril E. Shaw, is buried in an unmarked grave. While travelling through Afton Canyon in 1867, his party was ambushed by Indians, and he was shot in the neck. The travellers busted through the ambush, racing out of the canyon and across the desert to Soda Springs, chased by the Indians. They reached safety at the springs - 150 soldiers were camped there - but the doctor's wound was fatal, and he died the next day, a long way from anywhere.

After taking a quick spin down the Boulevard of Dreams at Zzyzx, I hit the dirt road north along the lakeside, back to modern civilization at I-15 - and still a long way from anywhere.


Mojave Road index
After-Log: Riding to Barstow