Sunday, April 2, 2017

The desert is the last refuge of the con man

For most people making the trip between Southern California and Las Vegas, the sign for Zzyzx Road is just a landmark, a funny name indicating progress through the Mojave Desert. Only a few actually take the exit because only a few know there’s something out there by the usually-dry lake bed. I was one of the clueless until recently. When I learned the story I had to go see.

Curtis Howe Springer, a fake minister and fake doctor from Alabama, filed a mining claim at what had been Soda Springs. Instead of mining he established a fake hot spring (the water was heated by a boiler), gave it a fake name and sold fake miracle cures. The misuse of the mining claim got him and his suckers followers evicted and the quack cures got him thrown in jail for 49 days. Zzyzx fell into disrepair until it was converted to the CSU Desert Studies Center. Researchers made use of the offices, housing and other infrastructure but had no need for the spa facilities, which continue to crumble. I like to imagine the ghost of the Reverend Doctor Springer wandering around Zzyzx, ranting about how an enterprising fellow can’t run a good con anymore without authorities getting in the way.

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