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The Mystery of Zzyzx Road

I was in Baker. A truck-stop of a city in the south-eastern chunk of California and I got hungry. I was on my way home. Baker sits at the mouth of Death Valley to the south and is the small podunk between Primm and Barstow. Not that Primm is any bigger, but at least it has some rollercoaster's.

One thing Baker is home to is an internet legend. One of those "Funny Signs!" pictures that's circulated its way through chain mails and internet forums. Zzyzx road. lol.

I had passed the road and the famous sign on the interstate plenty of times, but this time was different. I had it all figured out. After I finished my sandwich, I was determined to find out...

The Secret of Zzyzx Road!

I approached the famous boulevard and considered foregoing the excursion. It was, after all, in the middle of the damn desert. Gulping away my insecurities, I pressed on, flipped on my right-hand turn signal, and exited the interstate. I was met with warnings:

DO NOT ENTER. WRONG WAY. ONE WAY. No return. My fate had been sealed. There was no turning back. I turned right.

Damn. Bad luck. Or was it the looming fingers of fate stretching towards its victim? A dead end was all I found to the right. Flipping around, I plowed on.


A bridge had been constructed to cross the interstate. I wondered if it was safe to venture over. I had no choice. I plodded on.


Successfully crossing the bridge and turning due east, I was met with a ribbon of pavement in disrepair. Who knows when Zzyzx had last claimed a victim? What horrors were witnessed on this small strip of road? Who had previously met their end in this wasteland? I shook off my nervous daydreaming and pressed my foot to the gas.

Curses! Following the road's devilish curves, and facing due south, my last semblance of hope, the pavement, dropped out from beneath me. Dirt...

I plodded on carefully. The gravel road seemed to be made out of speed bumps that had been broken down into smaller speed bumps and then constructed into a road. For about a mile only desert and rock met my gaze, but what's this? a spike of green? An oasis?


No, not an oasis, but an old, dying oasis. A dry lake bed. The road mockingly curved left and right, etching its path past mountains and south towards my destiny.


More curves. More teasing plants. More vicious gravel nipping at my Camry's heels like small rabid dogs when suddenly, a sign of man's intervention. Palm trees appear in the distance... well as along the road. Palms of this type don't simply grow here naturally... Someone planted these. These three stood as sentinels as if guarding the way to something bold and powerful.

More palms stand as stonehenges-- nay, PALMhenges along the way. I was nearing my goal... I could feel it...

...and then at once, a halt. A barrier between me and my goal. The gate that might as well be to me as the Berlin Wall. An iron gate of mocking failure. I do not give up so easily, however.

California State Desert Studies Center? I doubt that... There's something else going on here. Something more.

Pulling off to the side into a parking area, I disembarked on foot and captured parts of this "Studies Center"...

2-lane avenues with landscaped medians? Even though they are far gone in disrepair, it still seems a bit fancy to me for a mere desert studies center. What's on that plaque?

Intriguing. This is a place of great, amazing, interesting historical things and happenings.

Soda Springs indeed. A ranch house overlooks a spring while a building of unknown use sits seemingly empty to the right.

Desert Studies Center? That's what's at the end of Zzyzx Road now, but that's not what it has always been. It's no moon. It's a space station. And by "space station" I of course mean a Christian fundamentalist Health Spa:


wikipedia posted:

The name Zzyzx, pronounced /ˈzaɪˌzɪks/ (pronounced as "Zeye-zix" with the accent on the first syllable, rhyming with "Isaac's", not "physics"), was given to the area in 1944 by Curtis Howe Springer, claiming it to be the last word in the English language. Springer made up the word's pronunciation. He established the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa at the spot, which was federal land that he had no permission to use. He used Zzyzx until 1974, when he was arrested by the United States Marshals for misuse of the land as well as alleged violations of food and drug laws, and the land was confiscated by the government.

Since 1976, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed California State University to manage the land in and around Zzyzx. A consortium of CSU campuses use it as their Desert Studies Center.


I wanted to see what was at the end of the famous road, so I did. Thanks for coming along.

Panorama of Lake Tunedae and Zzyzx Road


Zzyzx: An Unlikely Home of Hucksterism and Miracle Cures

By Cecilia Rasmussen
June 16, 2002 in print edition B-4

The way to Zzyzx, Calif.–marked by green and white signs pointing to a road off a desolate stretch of Interstate 15 southwest of Las Vegas–is a road less traveled these days.
This 4 1/2-mile byway with a name like a word on a Scrabble board shoots off seemingly to nowhere, offering travelers glimpses of Mojave Desert history and the days of a radio evangelist-health food huckster and his “Boulevard of Dreams.”
Zzyzx (pronounced Zy-Zix, to rhyme with Isaacs) Mineral Springs and Health Resort was a town created out of nothing in 1944 by one of the Mojave Desert’s most fabled characters, Curtis Howe Springer.
In a region devoted to health and fitness fads, Springer was an early master, coupling religion with the marketing of “miraculous” health food and water cures. His enduring inspiration, though, was to name his headquarters Zzyzx, figuring that by having the last word in the phone book, he’d have the last word in his business.
The self-proclaimed “old-time medicine man” and self-ordained preacher gained notoriety in the 1940s and ’50s not only for Zzyzx, but also for his special line of health foods. He claimed curative powers could be derived from concoctions of carrots, celery, turnips, parsley and brown sugar.
For more than 30 years, believers, health seekers and the just plain curious were drawn to Zzyzx by Springer’s promises and the products he pitched on half-hour radio broadcasts carried by 221 radio stations in the United States and 102 overseas.
He hawked such curative wonders as Manna, a “Hollywood Pep Cocktail”; Antediluvian, a peppermint-flavored desert herb tea; and a $25 cure-it-yourself hemorrhoid kit, along with enthusiastic testimonials from their users. Interspersed with all this was gospel music and a homespun philosophy all his own.
Springer claimed that his success began in 1924, after he sang a solo for the Pittsburgh experimental radio station that evolved into KDKA, the nation’s first commercial radio station. Over the next two decades he preached, sang and managed resorts in six states before coming to California.
In 1944, when he and his fiancee, Helen, arrived at Soda Springs, along with his daughter, Marilou, they filed a mining claim on federal land they described as a “mosquito swamp,” a patch of 12,000 acres 8 miles long and 3 miles wide south of Baker.
All that was left of an old 1860 Army post and a railroad station were a few abandoned buildings, so on the promise of food and showers, Springer recruited cheap labor from Los Angeles’ skid row and built a two-story, 60-room hotel he called the Castle on the Boulevard of Dreams.”
The bed-and-board labor arrangement, he said later, “proved to the government that I am helping humanity; that is why my foundation is tax-exempt.”
Over a very few years, he created food-processing and printing plants, a recording studio, a dining hall, a chapel, a cross-shaped swimming pool, his own private airstrip called Zyport, and a man-made lake called Lake Tuendae, which he said was an Indian word that means where the waters come together.”
Then Springer opened the doors of Zzyzx, a Christian resort espousing the curative powers of its mineral waters, the evils of drink and the destructive nature of arguing. Smoking was acceptable: Smoke anyplace on our 12,000 acres,” the rules read, “except our dining room, bathhouse, sun deck or pools. It’s not pleasant to step on a hot cigarette ‘butt’ in one’s bare feet.”
He advised users of Zy-Pac, the mineral salts he collected from the lake bed, to rub them over their scalps, then bend over and hold their breath as long as possible. The resulting flush on the cheeks and scalp, he claimed, was proof of the salts’ beneficial action.
In return for an “appropriate” donation to the Springer Foundation, guests could partake of Springer’s spiritual and physical regimen. Permanent residents, mostly elderly and disabled, listened to Springer’s booming voice through two sermons daily, soaked in mineral water and mud, basked in the sun and followed an eclectic diet that included rabbit meat, fruit and homemade ice cream.
And all this he advertised in newspapers, magazines and brochures distributed across America. He spent three days a week in Los Angeles to promote his regimen.
He stayed in a suite at the Alexandria Hotel, where he ordered ingredients for his food products, mailed out his weekly radio tapes to myriad stations, and returned listeners’ phone calls.
He offered free bus rides every Wednesday morning from the Figueroa Hotel at Olympic Boulevard to his desert resort.
Many curiosity seekers, elderly and homeless people rode out just for a free meal.
Those who dialed Springer’s Los Angeles number heard a cheerful recorded greeting: “Hello, this is your old friend Curtis Springer coming to you from Zzyzx Mineral Springs out in the heart of the great Mojave Desert.”
Zzyzx was a thriving commercial enterprise by the 1950s, but by the late 1960s, state and federal authorities had begun to complain when Springer started marking lots and letting people who donated large sums build houses on them.
It was still public land, and Springer had merely staked a mining claim; he didn’t own it.
On another front, in 1969 Springer was called the “King of Quacks” by the American Medical Assn., which led to his arrest for making fraudulent claims for his products. He was convicted of falsely advertising such products as Mo-Hair, which he claimed was a cure for baldness.
Longtime colorful criminal attorney Gladys Towles Root, who wowed juries with get-ups and hats like Cruella De Vil’s, represented Springer.
Dr. Murray Zimmerman of Whittier, who testified as an expert witness, said recently: “After I testified against Springer on his baldness cure, he reached into his pocket and paid his $2,500 fine like it was a $2 traffic ticket. He was on the radio again that night conning and charming his listeners.”
Two years later, after several appeals, Springer served 49 days of a 60-day jail sentence. In 1974, after a years-long legal battle with the U.S. government over his mining claim, Springer was found guilty of squatting on federal land.
Although he offered to pay the Bureau of Land Management $34,187 in back rent, the government refused and evicted him and his followers, of whom a few hundred remained.
Springer and his wife then moved to Las Vegas, where he died in 1986 at age 90.
Like Walter “Death Valley Scotty” Scott, who helped make Scotty’s Castle in nearby Death Valley famous, Springer’s Zzyzx Mineral Springs is a testament to the man who helped bring fame to his scorched corner of the Mojave National Preserve.
Springer’s end-of-the-road recreational resort is now an educational retreat, home to the California Desert Studies Center, a California State University field station in the heart of the nature preserve.
Scientists from all over the world conduct desert research there, and students and educators use the resort’s chapel as a classroom and Springer’s private office as a library. Lake Tuendae is home to a tiny endangered fish called the Mojave tui chub.
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