If you’ve ever driven I-15 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, you’ve probably noticed the exit for Zzyzx (pronounced like sigh-six, only with z’s), which is about 40 miles into California from Primm, Nevada.
And if you’re like most people who have passed this exit, you’ve probably asked yourself who the heck names a place Zzyzx? And what the heck is down that road anyway?
Well, a lot of people ask the question, but fewer people actually take the time to drive down the road. Now that I’ve been to Zzyzx, I could tell you anything is down that road: A really incredible mask shop. The world’s greatest cheeseburger. A Harley-Davidson store that sees minimal business. A hippie commune.
Okay, so Zzyzx isn’t the next Venice or utopia. It doesn’t have a greasy spoon and isn’t a motorcycle hot spot. But it’s still pretty cool.
From the I-15 exit, Zzyzx Road goes south. For five miles, the graded gravel road passes by a dried up soda lake bed, which was used for caustic soda extraction from 1907-1912. It’s a weird sight: An expansive stretch of hot desert coated with crystallized salt, the heat rolling off the dried land, but in the foreground are these huge palm trees with thick, rough coats of peeling bark and a scattering of reeds growing out of an oasis. Though clearly dry and desolate, life continues to thrive on the road to Zzyzx.
It’s actually a misnomer that Zzyzx is a town. It’s not. Instead, at the end of the road is a parking lot with a couple of drop toilets and a sign explaining Zzyzx’s history. It turns out that this little spot in the California desert actually used to be a spa.
In 1944, the Zzyzx Mineral Springs Resort opened on the land, and people would travel through the area to soak in the natural springs located here. The owner of the resort named it Zzyzx and came up with the slogan “the last word in health” to guarantee his spa would appear last in any alphabetical listing. I think he succeeded.
For 30 years the resort was a happening place, and then it went belly up.
Today it serves as a Desert Studies Center for California State University. There are makeshift streets with whimsical names like Boulevard of Dreams that criss-cross the area. A number of buildings, which were undoubtedly the resort suites back in the day, now serve as dormitories / apartments for students, staff and employees. A lone store with a sign declaring it is “open by arrangement only” sits about halfway up the main road. There is a pool house, and a series of solar panels and a windmill provide most of the power that runs Zzyzx. There is a natural spring here, which is surrounded by reeds and cattails. Several palm trees line the road and circle the watering hole. A family of ducks lives in the spring.
We were in Zzyzx on Memorial Day, and we didn’t see anyone else. Perhaps the center was closed for the summer holiday, or everyone left to spend the three-day weekend somewhere other than a hot spot in the desert.
The air blew like a hair dryer, and swings on a deserted swing set in the middle of the main road swung back and forth, back and forth. Fragrant red, pink and white flowers drooped in the shade. We walked the quarter mile around the spring, snapping photos of a rotted boat and an isolated horseshoe court. There are placards around the spring with information about the area’s history, ecology and geography, which we read while swatting at the horse flies that assaulted our arms and necks.
Zzyzx isn’t a place to spend a day or even a few hours, but it is a worthwhile stop off of I-15, even if the stop is just to say you’ve been to the very last place in the travel dictionary (I would assume). CSU offers weekend classes in Zzyzx; signing up for one of those would be a great way to add context to your visit. In any case, for a small, isolated, hot place stuck in the California desert, it is an interesting case study in what you might find when you venture off the main road.