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Monday, November 27, 2017

Southern California Vol. 3 - What the Hell is a Zzyzx?

About 20 years ago, my wife took me to Las Vegas for my very first time.  We decided to drive since from our door to the Strip is only about 4 hours or so.  It quickly became one of my favorite drives.  You leave Orange County with all its office buildings and planned housing developments and cross over Saddleback mountain into what's called the Inland Empire.  There, you'll see more housing and a lot more industry.  Giant distribution and production facilities for brands like Monster Energy Drink and Amazon line either side of the highway as you head further out into the desert.  

Soon you're getting out to areas where there just aren't any cities to speak of.  It's just desert and highway as far as you can see.  It's in this area that I'm reminded of growing up in Florida.  You start to pass billboards for things like the "real ghost town" and "the world's largest thermometer". Sure they're blatant attempts to get people to pull off the highway and spend a few bucks on cheap food and souvenirs, but they remind me of tourist traps I grew up around. Traveling through South Florida in the 1970's, you'd see billboards for Gatorland (which is still a thing and is pretty awesome), McKee Jungle Gardens (which is now a neighborhood) and Spook Hill near Bok Tower (where your car would roll uphill even when the engine was off!).  

That first time we traveled to Sin City, we passed an exit sign for the most oddly named road I'd ever heard of.  

I remember looking as we passed the exit and there was nothing on it.  Not a gas station or convenience store in sight.  It was just a road that went off into the hills and desert.  For years after that, it became one of those landmarks we looked for on the way out to Vegas.  I just figured it was a weird joke of some kind and never wondered much about where the name really came from.  It's a pretty fascinating story though and it involves this man.

Curtis Howe Springer was a radio evangelist who had developed a following in the 1930's despite his amazingly bad hair choice (well, I guess it was radio).  He'd been stationed in Pittsburgh but soon decided to head West because as some of his contemporaries had discovered, there was gullible gold in them there hills.  He staked his claim (literally, a mining claim) in the Mojave desert in 1944.  On the land there was a mineral spring and Curtis Springer set about building the resort he'd dreamed of.  He named it Zzyzx claiming it would be the last word in the English dictionary and also easy to find in the phone book.

He promoted the resort through his radio show and soon he had guests coming in by the busload.  Literally.  Because he offered free rides via his own bus that departed every Wednesday from Los Angeles.  People visiting Zzyzx Mineral Springs could stay in the onsite hotel.  They were encouraged to bathe in the supposedly healing waters of the artificial lake, swim in the cross shaped pool, soak in concrete tubs (pictured below) and of course, listen to Springer preach at the on-site chapel.  They were served meals that included his health restoring "Antideluvian Tea" and were encouraged to try some of the health promoting cures he'd developed using the mineral springs miraculous waters.

There was only one problem with all of this.  Well, actually two problems.  First, the cures were complete bunk and soon people started to call him out on it. That caused the local government to pay more attention to what Springer was doing and he lost more than a few court cases where he had to pay fines for duping former guests.  

The second (and bigger) problem was that his ambition got the better of him.  Springer began selling lots next to the resort.  He pitched it as a way for wealthy people to take full advantage of his healing mineral spring by having access to it every day of the year.  Unfortunately, Springer didn't own the land he was selling.  It belonged to the U.S. government and once they found out what he was doing, they booted him off the property.  That was in 1974.

Since then, California State University has used the land to house its Desert Studies Center, but you can still drive out on Zzyzx Rd. and see what's left of the Zzyzx Mineral Springs resort.  While there, marvel at a simpler time when people believed that mineral water could cure hemorrhoids and baldness.  While you're at it, consider that the man selling it to them had a haircut that made his head look like a cross between a guitar pick and a penis.

Speaking of marketing hucksterism, here's the point where I tell you to go visit my Amazon Author Page and pick up either my book The Wash, the anthology Murder, Mystery and Mayhem or one of my short stories.  They are every bit as good for curing hemorrhoids and baldness as mineral water.  I guarantee it!

Until next time, adios! 



Lisanne Harrington said...

You crack me up! Not only does Springer's hair look like a cross between a guitar pick and a penis, but then his face is actually judging you!

I had no idea there was any kind of story to ZZyzx Road. I also wonder about it every time we head to Vegas. Thanks for investigating and sharing the story. Maybe one of these days I'll pull off and take a look at the resort. Always looking for a cure for my...

Cary said...

Yeah, this is one of those cool, forgotten tidbits that are scattered all over the Southwest. I love finding out about this sort of stuff. Normally, you find out that it's named after some general that fought in the Mexican/American war but this one was much more fun than that. Also, the guy didn't die all that long ago. He did some jail time first but died in Las Vegas in the 1990's if I remember correctly.

Unknown said...

I so miss your intelligent sense of humor!

Cary said...

Thanks, Rik! If you ever make it back out to Orange County, let me know. I'd love to grab a bite and catch up.