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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Aug 28, 2016
zzyzx05

DianneErskineHellrigelI’ve driven to Vegas dozens of times. Five miles southwest of Baker is an off-ramp sign of a road called Zzyzx. I would always giggle at the Zzyzx Road sign when passing it. I wondered who the heck would name a road Zzyzx (pronounced “Zye-Zix”) in the first place. Such an odd name.

On this trip, I decided actually to pull off the road and get a photo of the sign. Then I decided to drive down the road and see what I could find.

Such a silly name must have been made up. And I had plenty of time to kill and lots of daylight left before I hit Vegas.

The word Zzyzx was a name that was made up by a renowned crazy quack named Curtis Howe Springer in 1944. He wanted a name that would be the very last name in the English language. I think he succeeded.

Springer established a health spa and mineral springs at Zzyzx. There was a natural spring in the area called Soda Springs. He bottled this water to sell to thirsty travelers in the desert. He set up his wife and himself in a ranch, filed mining claims for 12,800 acres of land on this spot, and imported animals to make his ranch more appealing to visitors.

zzyzx04Springer spent a good deal of time as a Los Angeles radio evangelist. He proclaimed that he was a preacher, even though he had no religious training at all. He also claimed to be a doctor, which helped in his advertising when he set up the area of Soda Springs as a mineral springs and health resort. The area was supposed to be “the last word in health,” just as Zzyzx was the last word in the English language.

Springer claimed to have degrees from many academies and universities with names he’d made up. He claimed to be the former dean of Greer College (which never existed), and founder of the Springer Schools of Humanism (nonexistent) and honorary president of the National Academy (also nonexistent). He was the editor of his own magazine called “Symposium Creative Psychologic.” He discussed subjects like “success,” “Picking a Husband For Keeps” and health-related matters.

zzyzx02Springer and his wife made a fortune selling his “snake oil” products. He shipped them all over the world. His products were supposed to cure cancer, baldness and every malady you can imagine. He was a charismatic character and the epitome of the snake-oil salesman. Although previous attempts at more traditional health spas had failed the Springers, Zzyzx seemed to catch on, and travelers from near and far scampered off to spend time at the ranch.

As the ranch became more and more popular, Springer had to build a 60-room hotel, a church and even an airstrip. He hired Skid Row bums to build it. He even built a castle, planted rows of palm trees, and the spring became a lake which he stocked with Mohave tui chub, now an endangered fish. Street names such as “Boulevard of Dreams” were fit even for Vegas.

Once he accomplished this beautiful oasis in the middle of nowhere, he added on a radio station where he could provide music, preach scripture, and rant non-stop. His station broadcast nationwide. This crazy crackpot was known often to salute the U.S. government with his middle finger.

As with all good things, Zzyzx came to an end when the government came in and busted the “King of the Quacks,” a name given to “Dr. Springer” by the American Medical Association. Springer went to jail for medical fraud and other violations. After his stint in jail, he retired to Vegas and lived there until his death in 1985.

The area of Soda Springs was taken over by the Bureau of Land Management and is now inside the beautiful Mojave National Preserve. The site is protected habitat for the endangered chub, and Cal State University has a Desert Studies Center there.

The newer buildings are well maintained and occupied. The older concrete buildings still stand, some without roofs, and some in terrible condition.

If you choose to visit Zzyzx, note that there are rattlesnakes and tons of scorpions here, so be on the lookout for them. There also could be classes in session, so be courteous.

Bring your camera and you’ll have a tall tale to tell, something similar to a story that might have been spun by good old Springer himself. Have fun. I sure did.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

zzyzx06zzyzx03 zzyzx01

 

 

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24 Comments

  1. To keep drivers alert!!!!

  2. the town wanted to be last in the atlas

  3. Great article! I’ve always wondered about this sign.

  4. Thanks, always wondered about the name.

  5. Ralph Green Ralph Green says:

    Not much there now. Pretty well deserted

  6. Zzyzx (/ˈzaɪzᵻks/ zy-zəks), formerly Camp Soda and Soda Springs, is an unincorporated community in San Bernardino County, California, United States, within the boundaries of Mojave National Preserve. It is the former site of the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa[1] and now the site of the Desert Studies Center. The site is also the location of Lake Tuendae, originally part of the spa, and now a refuge habitat of the endangered Mohave tui chub.

    Zzyzx Road is a 4.5-mile-long (7.2 km), part paved and part dirt, rural collector road in the Mojave Desert. It runs from Interstate 15 generally south to the Zzyzx settlement.

    The settlement is in area codes 442 and 760 and ZIP code 92309. The nearest town is Baker, California, 7 miles (11 km) north on I-15. Las Vegas, Nevada, is the nearest major city, about 100 miles (160 km) northeast

  7. Have passed it many, many times myself, it’s a doozy!

  8. It always made me think of Rush, yyz lol

  9. Great camping for herpetologists. Thank you Bobby Espinosa.

  10. Dena Jones Dena Jones says:

    Googled about it on my way home from Vegas once. It was very interesting to read about the origin of this area!

  11. Went… Very interesting place…

  12. These pics were about a year ago … There were people in some classroom there… Felt very eerie

  13. Pulled off on that road many times! 🌸

  14. Very interesting…who knew!

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