Well, Zzyzx, pronounced “zei-zix”, isn’t just a tongue-twisting and nearly unpronounceable use of the English language, it’s also a mysterious settlement nestled in the blistering heart of Mojave Desert, near the California-Nevada border. On route to Las Vegas for a weekend of sin and debauchery, thousands of people per day speed down Interstate 15 and pass by a perplexing off-ramp sign that juts up from the shifting sands and points the way toward Zzyzx road. It always seems to elicit the same response— utter confusion, but if you are one of the brave few who decide to stray from the beaten path and tempt fate by driving down this endless road, you’ll eventually come to a collection of enigmatic springs that were once part of a prehistoric quarry site.
Zzyzx, proclaimed as the final word in the English language, was established in 1944 as the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa after discovery of one of its numerous springs. It is said that the fresh water from one of these spring invigorates the body and has special, yet unexplainable, restorative properties. Due to word of mouth, a privileged few would make the pilgrimage there to anoint themselves in the healing waters and bottle extra for future purposes, one of which I am currently in possession of. In the mid-seventies, the Zzyzx Mineral Springs And Health Spa was abruptly shut down and the surrounding area reclaimed by the government, but its intriguing history reaches back much further than that.
Tales have been told about the these fateful springs as far back as 1860 when the area was a utilized as a US Army outpost. Various letters sent from the soldiers stationed there told stories of an invisible aura hovering over the place and mysterious electricity that seemed to reverberate through the sand. Some even describe amazing firsthand accounts of injured soldiers healing at an “unnatural rate” once they reached close proximity of the springs. It seems that the entire area caused a collective and contradictory feeling of calm and unease among the soldiers, almost as if good were colliding with evil.
Between the years 1905 and 1907 the Tonopah And Tidewater Railroad began to lay it’s rails across the Mojave Desert as a way to extract borax ore from the surrounding area. After scanning through databases from the local newspapers, I came upon a bizarre article from the same era describing a disturbing incident where a rail worker was severely injured when a stack of iron rails broke loose from its carriage, crushing his spine and causing irreversible paralysis from the waist down. After six days of labored breaths and death waiting by his bedside, the worker miraculously walked out of medical tent with only a few bruises and cuts to show for his harrowing experience.
Another intriguing story appeared sometime in the late fifties when the site was still being used as a mineral and health spa. A forty-eight year old man was reportedly horribly burned after a ruptured pipe from one of the mineral baths burst and blanketed him in boiling water. An eyewitness account attests that the man’s face, chest, and arms were badly burnt and his skin resembled “raw hamburger”. Because of the remote spa’s vicinity to the surround towns, there wasn’t a doctor for miles, so a female nurse, who had also been vacationing there, tended to his burns. She stated that in less than a week, the man “pulled out of his skin, like a reptile shedding” and looked as if the whole terrifying experience had never even happened. The man’s only complaint was that he was “unbearably thirsty”. This account comes from the actual nurse who watched over the man as he lay in agony and the same woman who eventually witnessed his rebirth—the man’s very own daughter.
The settlement formally known as “Zzyzx”, is now home to the Desert Studies Center, a field station for the California State University which supposedly conducts research on the desert environment, but what unnatural phenomenon have they really discovered there? Could the true fountain of youth and its life giving waters be hiding in a place known as Death Valley?