Quack-Founded Town With Last Name in the Alphabet
On the edge of a dry lake bed, you'll find a bizarre pseudo-town: "Zzyzx" (pronounced "Zye - Zex," rhyming with Isaac's). Travelers between Las Vegas and Los Angeles sometimes stop in the Mojave Desert along I-15 to pose next to the novel highway sign for Zzyzx Road. But few realize that heading several miles down a narrow, mostly paved route will deliver them to an oasis with an oddball history.
We headed south to Zzyzx. It looks exactly like one might expect of an oasis -- a clump of tall palm trees and a riot of green and water, out of place in the wasteland.
Before it became Zzyzx, the "Soda Springs" was a popular stop for Indians in search of fresh water. Then came Spanish explorers, then a US Army outpost -- Camp Soda Springs -- a godforsaken posting in the 1860s, protecting government supplies from the (thirsty) Indians. Later there were miners who harvested lake minerals, and then the railroad passed through (highlights are mentioned on an E Clampus Vitus historical marker near the entrance, and on interpretive panels around the property).
The Z's arrived in 1944. LA radio evangelist Curtis H. Springer, self-proclaimed minister (and quack doctor), decided the mineral springs were the ideal location for a health resort. He and his wife filed a mining claim on a 12,800 acre parcel of what were public lands. He named it "Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort," touted as "the last word in health" and the last word in the English language -- a gimmick so it would be the last listing in any directory.
Springer made a fortune promoting his useless medical products, shipping them all over the world to cure various ailments, even cancers and baldness. He and his wife had failed in a string of earlier health spa attempts, but Zzyzx was a concept whose time had come. The charismatic Springer recruited skid row bums from his Los Angeles mission to live in a tent encampment to help build Zzyzx. He planted rows of palm trees to enhance the oasis atmosphere.
In its heyday, Zzyzx must have been a great destination. The "natural" hot springs feeding the cross-shaped mineral baths were completely artificial, heated by a hidden boiler. The enterprise grew to include a 60-room hotel, church, a private airstrip (the Zyport), and even a castle built along streets with names such as the "Boulevard of Dreams." Springer added a radio station that provided his syndicated program of music, scripture, and rantings nationwide.
Senior citizens came to Zzyzx for decades seeking the healing waters, attendance peaking in the 1960s, all donating to Springer's ministry. Springer even bottled the water and sold it to passing motorists.
Inevitably, Dr. Springer went too far with his nutty utopia -- even pulling money into his coffers from gullible followers who wanted to build homes in Zzyzx. In 1974, the government woke up and realized the "King of Quacks" (a name bestowed on him by the American Medical Association) had no legit claim to the land, evicting him and his followers. Federal marshals arrested Springer, who spent a short stint in jail for FDA laws he'd broken with his bogus medicine claims.
Springer retired to Las Vegas and died in 1985. The kingdom of Zzzyzx were taken over by the Bureau of Land Management.
Today, the site is operated as a protected habitat for the Mohave tui chub -- Springer had stocked his pond (also artificial -- dubbed "Lake Tundae") with the fish, and they'd died off almost everywhere else. A group of California State University campuses manage Zzyzx as a Desert Studies Center, with apartments, offices, and a small gift shop.
Most of the concrete buildings still stand. You'll find a mix of well-maintained structures run by CSU, and then complete derelict buildings along the shore. The old pool house is roofless, long empty. There are a couple of low concrete buildings, doors and windows gone... one with a mysterious row of unattached toilets.
The current stewards of Zzyzx don't seem to object to daytime visitors wandering, though we counsel caution when peeking in the old structures. After leaving, we called a local authority, who advised: "Oh, Zzyzx -- that place is overrun by scorpions!"