From A to Zzyzx
If you've ever driven from Los Angeles to Las Vegas (which we like to consider our shadowy sister city of Sin), then you've seen this sign. But did you know the story behind it? The rich essay of hucksterism, snake oil, and one con man that lurks beyond the curtain of Zzyzx Road? Our first big revelation is: it's pronounced like ISAACS, not PHYSICS. And whoever said LAist wasn't educational?
Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort, where the road used to lead to, sprang from the very active imagination of Curtis Howe Springer, a self-proclaimed doctor and preacher. He used to broadcast on the radio, selling cure-alls and dispensing his own brand of wisdom before he and his fiancee Helen moved out to California and filed a mining claim on 12,000 acres of land south of Baker, home of the world's largest thermometer (what a treat).
The remains of an 1860 Army post and railroad station were all that remained, so Springer used to come to Skid Row in Los Angeles, promising food, showers, and a roof over your head in exchange for some good-old character building hard labor. Over the next several years the relatively free workers added things to Zzyzx like a 60 room hotel, a cross-shaped swimming pool, a recording studio, printing presses, a man-made lake, and even a private airstrip which Springer dubbed "Zyport".
Then, the doors were opened to the masses, and he had a booming business going before you could say "quack!" Springer hawked everything from a diet regimen consisting of rabbit meat and homemade ice cream, "Zy-Pac" mineral salts, his baldness cure "Mo-Hair", and many other magic potions and elixirs that claimed to improve the health and well-being of the user. He spent three days a week in Los Angeles promoting the resort, and used to offer free bus trips out to his Shangri-La from the Figueroa Hotel on Olympic Blvd. We hope those buses had air-conditioning.
The Federal government had given Springer the mining rights to the land, but they weren't paying much attention to it, because by the 1960s Springer was selling lots of land on the property to people who gave a large enough donation to his cause. Apparently this finally irked the authorities enough to take him to court, and after several years of litigation the Feds took the land back from him in 1974. Springer and his wife moved to (where else?) Las Vegas where he lived until the ripe old age of 90. Maybe there was something in those waters after all.
Today the land and buildings that Springer built are the California Desert Studies Center, which is operated by Cal State. Visitors are welcome, and it's a nice break on the roadtrip, especially when you're heading back after losing $500 on roulette. Suckers.
A very special thanks to the Death Valley website for a cornucopia of information.