On Interstate 15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, just 6 miles shy of Baker, home of the world’s largest thermometer, one encounters this sign:
How would something get the name Zzyzx (pronounced Zizz-zəxs)? Zzyzx Road is a 4.5-mile-long road leading to what was once the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa established by Curtis Howe Springer in 1944. He gave it that made-up name claiming it was the last word in the English Language. As of June 14, 1984, Zzyzx is officially recognized by the United States Board on Geographical Names and is, in fact, the last name in their alphabetical list.
Although the land is owned by the Federal Government, Springer obtained use of the property by filing mineral claims under the General Mining Act of 1872. Over time he turned Zzyzx is to a sort of combination religious retreat and health spa, as well as a base from which to sell various miracle cures and record his syndicated evangelical radio program. (Springer at various times claimed to be an ordained Methodist minister, an M.D. or a Ph.D. although he was none of these.)
By the 1960s Springer began to allow “donors” of large sums of money to his ministry to build homes on his mineral claim. This drew the attention of Federal officials who discovered that Springer had never demonstrates that the claim contained minerals that could be extracted for profit, and so his claim was invalid. He was arrested for unauthorized use of Federal land and for violations of food and drug laws, and was convicted in 1974.
In 1976 the Bureau of Land Management signed a cooperative agreement with California State University to have the University manage the facilities and land of Zzyzx as the Desert Studies Center. The Desert Studies Center provides the opportunity for individuals and groups to conduct research, receive instruction, and experience the desert environment. Springer’s resort was converted into facilities that provide housing for up to 75 individuals in dormitory rooms, and two Research Residences (self-contained with kitchen and bath) that are available for up to 5 individuals each. Meal service is available, as well as classroom, laboratory and library facilities. With the passage of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, the Desert Studies Center was placed into the Mojave National Preserve, and the National Park Service became the federal partner with the signing of a new cooperative agreement.
The facilities of the Desert Studies Center are only available to research and education groups, so I was fortunate to be part of a workshop based at the center organized by PhotoAlliance and lead by the well-known photographer and educator Robert Dawson. Zzyzx and the surrounding area is truly stunning, as I hope the following photographs show.
Zzyzx still contains decaying remains of Springer’s resort that have not been repurposed for use by the Desert Studies Center. The center also preserves many relics from the Springer era.