Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Weird S**t (Stuff) in the Mojave Desert


The Raven (my van) in the Mojave Preserve

Marco and I are just back from our traditional winter solstice trip to the California desert.  It occurred to me that there’s weirdness out there.  I suspect that something about the Mojave attracts the somewhat odd and off-center, present company included.

First, to get the issue of spelling out of the way, it's controversial in some circles.  Having waded through Google search results, I offer the following.  In Northwest Arizona, there’s Mohave County, Community College, and County Hospital (now defunct). The native tribe of the same name seems to use both spellings in different contexts, likely because it’s an English-ization of another word entirely.  Places in the California desert, though, are spelled Mojave.



So, there we were, visiting Zzyzx, in the Mojave National Preserve, when this pattern occurred to me. According to the Wikipedia article, Curtis Springer made up the name Zzyzx, claiming it to be the “last word in health.” He established the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa in 1944, which was 12,000 acres surrounding the springs. Springer also imported animals from around the country to attract more families to visit his ranch. He operated Zzyzx until 1974, when the land was reclaimed by the government. It's now operated as the CSU Desert Studies Center.

Scotty's Castle, Death Valley

There are other examples of odd human undertakings in the California desert.  Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley National Park is a familiar example, among other (mostly abandoned) dwellings very close to the middle of nowhere.

A view of the Aiken Cinder Mine

The somewhat more attractive view from the Aiken Cinder Mine

You can’t swing a cat out there without hitting an abandoned mine site.  We’ve gone out of our way to see many, and this last trip we camped near the Aiken Cinder Mine in The Mojave Preserve.  Roads can be bad, but once you arrive there’s often scenery along with history.

Gas Island Shoe Tree. Rice, CA

Perhaps my first inkling of what you might call odd Mojave public art is this collective shoe display off highway 62 east of Joshua Tree.

Amboy Crater public art

Climbing Amboy Crater in Mojave Trails National Monument, you get a great view of art projects in its base.  These seem to be modified from year to year.

Marco and the Intaglio, Blythe California

We started our trip with a little stop-off at the Blythe Intaglios, just north of the California city.  These seemed interesting, and perfect subjects for drone photography. There’s some controversy about their age, from 900 BCE to 1200 CE. Unfortunately, the fences didn’t go up until the 1970s, and by then there had been considerable damage from unpleasant people driving over them and leaving tracks.  Marco was kind enough to pose for scale.  Weird may not be the word for these, but I can get behind “unusual.”

Mojave River, Mojave Road, Rail Bridge in Afton Canyon

Then there’s the Mojave River.  We spent some time nearby at Afton Canyon Campground in Mojave Trails.  It’s a beautiful, stark place and far from quiet.  Freight trains pound through all day and night.  This campground is traditionally the western end of an adventurous 150-mile off-pavement drive called the Mojave Road.

An older image of a "sailing stone" on the Racetrack Playa

Most everyone has heard of the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley.  Until recently the tracks left by moving stones were mysterious, but now the movement of rocks is thought due to a specific combination of rain and high winds.  Still weird.

Coyote Melons, Mojave Trails National Monument

Desert Gold Flowers in December (!) Mojave Trails National Monument

Nature threw me a few curves this year, too.  Because (I assume) of the very heavy rains last fall, there were flowers in December (like these desert gold Geraea canescens in Mojave Trails) and, oddly, coyote melon (cucurbita palmata) all over the place, from 600 ft to 6000 ft elevation. I’ve spent hundreds of days out there and never seen these gourds there before.


I’ll just toss in the Ivanpah Solar Array. It qualifies.

There are more oddities I’d like to see, including the Mojave Phone Booth, Mojave Mailbox, and the Mojave Megaphone.

And, of course I’ll keep stumbling on things; there’s so much to explore out there.

More from this trip are on the website, in the Winter 2023-24 Gallery.

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