Zzyzx Rd is 6 miles SW of Baker, CA (photo: Megan Edwards)
If you’ve traveled between Los Angeles and Las Vegas on Interstate 15, no doubt you’ve seen the Zzyzx Road sign pointing towards the unknown. If you follow Zzyzx Road off the highway, you’ll discover the paved road quickly turns to dirt and gravel with a few bumps, twists and turns. After about four miles, you’ll reach its destination, the California State Desert Studies Center, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In fact, it’s in the middle of the 1.6 million-acre Mojave National Preserve.
Lake Tuendae at Zzyzx (photo: Rob Fulton)
What’s the story behind the oddly named Zzyzx (pronounced Zye-Zix)? It began in 1944 when a self-proclaimed radio evangelist and medicine man named Curtis Springer built a health retreat in the arid Mojave Desert and named it Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa. The name was designed to be the last word in the English language and the retreat was to be the cure-all for every ailment under the sun. At the time, Springer had a radio show in Los Angeles and used the airwaves to intensely promote the resort and his miracle-working concoctions of juices, teas and tonics. Free bus rides to Zzyzx were offered each Wednesday to remedy-seeking hopefuls anxious to soak in the springs. Guests weren’t charged for lodging and meals though donations were strongly encouraged.
Zzyzx guest rooms, now part of the Desert Studies Center (photo: Rob Fulton)
By the 1950’s, Zzyzx Mineral Springs was a flourishing success. Springer began offering lots for sale on the adjacent property, taking advantage of well-to-do clients that wanted year-round use of the healing waters. Sizeable donations continued to roll in. There was one slight problem. Springer did not own the land he was selling or the land on which his resort was built. Yes, he was essentially a poacher! Around this time authorities were also getting complaints about the magic potions Springer was selling. The flimflam man’s bluff was busted. In 1974 Springer and his followers were evicted from Zzyzx and the land reclaimed by the government. Springer was arrested for food and drug violations and spent several months in jail before retiring to Las Vegas. Curtis Springer died in 1986.
Desert Studies Center housing units at Zzyzx
Since 1976, the Desert Studies Center has occupied the former Zzyzx Mineral Springs Resort site. As part of the California State University system, the research facility attracts thousands of students, teachers and scientists who want to learn about desert habitats, flora and fauna.
Next time you drive down I-15 and approach the Zzyzx sign, consider a detour to the infamous site. Just beware of any smooth-talking strangers trying to sell you a plot of land!
More Information: Zzyzx
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