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Lake Tuendae, Zzyzx Springs, California, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"

A work made of chromogenic print.

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  • A work made of chromogenic print.


March 2005


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork


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Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Lake Tuendae, Zzyzx Springs, California, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


United States (Artist's nationality)


Made 2005


Chromogenic print


No markings recto or verso Curtis Howe “Doc” Springer called himself a physician and a Methodist minister, although he was neither. He created the name “Zzyzx” for the health resort he built in the Mojave Desert, hoping it would be the “last word” in resorts. Zzyzx was a Christian resort predicated upon a belief in the curative powers of its mineral waters—and the destructiveness of alcohol and arguing. Smoking, however, was acceptable everywhere but the dining room, bathhouse, sundeck and pool area (the prohibition in these areas related to concerns about the hazard of combining bare feet and burning cigarette butts). The project began in 1944 when Springer filed a mining claim on an area of land eight miles long by three miles wide on the site of Hancock’s Redoubt, an 1860 army outpost. Using laborers from skid row in Los Angeles, whom he paid with food and showers, he built a hotel on the street he called the Boulevard of Dreams, an airport (Zyport), and a health spa that included a cross-shaped pool and a mechanical exercise horse that had been in the White House during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge. Zzyzx also had a radio station from which Doc Springer’s nightly broadcasts were beamed to 221 radio stations in the US and 102 abroad. On the air Springer played religious music, preached his folksy religious philosophy, and sold his quack curative products: Hollywood Pep Tonic; Antediluvian Desert Tea, a peppermint herb brew; Zy-Pac, mineral salts from the bed of Lake Tuendae, which users were directed to rub on the scalp, then bend over and hold their breath as long as possible; and Mo-Hair, a purported baldness cure. It was Mo-Hair that particularly incurred the ire of the American Medical Association and was instrumental in Springer’s 1969 arrest and sixty-day jail sentence. At the same time, the IRS, the FDA and the Bureau of Land Management began legal proceedings against him. In 1974, Springer and a few hundred of his followers were ejected from Zzyzx, despite his willingness to pay the government $34,187 owed in back rent. He died in Las Vegas in 1986 at the age of ninety. Zzyzx is now referred to by its earliest name, Soda Springs, and is used as the Desert Studies Center of the California State University system. Lake Tuendae has been discovered to be the home of a tiny endangered fish, the Mojave Tui Chub. From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


Image: 26.5 × 33.2 cm (10 7/16 × 13 1/8 in.); Paper: 27.9 × 35.5 cm (11 × 14 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

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