Curtis Howe Springer was a self-proclaimed medical doctor and Methodist minister, though in actuality he was licensed to do neither. He was, however, a popular radio evangelist in Pittsburgh in the 1930s, and the founder of Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Healing Center out in the Mojave desert of California.
Like many other hucksters of his day, Springer convinced his devoted followers to move out to the West Coast, where he promised a new, utopian way of living and an abundance of miracle cures. At the time, the West Coast had a slight reputation for its questionable businessmen, who built empires out of cheap land, religious fads, and get-rich-quick schemes. Springer was no different, having founded or managed six other failed resorts before striking it rich with Zzyzx.
In 1944, Springer, along with his fiancee Helen and their daughter, stumbled upon a “mosquito swamp” in the east Mojave. It was there, in the middle of the desert, where Springer envisioned his utopia. Not surprisingly, he acquired the land by filing a dubious mining claim for 12,000 acres. For the next few months, Springer split his time between the desert and Los Angeles, where he taped radio broadcasts and recruited builders.
To find his artisans, Springer bought a large bus and drove down to Skid Row, where he rounded up vagrants and offered them meals and shelter in exchange for construction. Some of the men left when learning of the “no alcohol” policy, but many stayed. Together, the men built a two-story hotel, an artificial lake, a cross-shaped pool and even an airstrip, which Springer named Zyport. Some of the builders stayed in the strange utopia for years, others, for the rest of their lives.
Springer advertised the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort on his syndicated religious radio show, and asked his listeners for “donations” for his special miracle cures. The potions, though only comprised of basic vegetables like celery and carrots, were marketed as the cure for everything from hemorrhoids to cancer. Guests at the resort were able to try Springer’s “life-prolonging” Antediluvian Tea, but his most popular remedy was an anti-baldness cream, Mo-Hair. Users were instructed to rub the potion vigorously on their scalp, then bend over and hold their breath for as long as possible. When the blood rushed to their head from lack of oxygen, Springer would cite their red faces as “proof” that his miracle potion was working its magic.
Springer publicized his desert utopia as the “last word” on health and vitality, and even gave the place its name, Zzyzx (pronounced “zi-zix”), because he believed it was the last word in the English language. For the next 30 years, hundreds of visitors came to his resort in search of a healthier lifestyle, but Springer’s dubious business practices would eventually catch up to him. Springer, in yet another hare-brained scheme, tried selling the plots adjacent to Zzyzx, despite never having purchased them himself. This act, along with lawsuits from bald men who Mo-Hair failed to cure, eventually brought government attention to the site, and Springer and his followers were evicted in 1974.
In 1984, Zzyzx was finally entered as a geographical name, and today, California State University runs its Desert Studies Center from the site. Though the center is used mostly by biology students and researchers, curious “desert-oriented” groups can plan an overnight stay, where dorm-style accommodations are available in the old resort.
Update as of May 2021: The area is currently closed to the public, review the National Park Service website before going.
Know Before You Go
To get there, take the Zzyzx Road exit - eight miles west of Baker on Interstate 15, then south on a paved road, which soon ends at a graded gravel road. There are toilets but no sinks at the visitor parking lot. Please note that this is not a ghost town, and respect the work of the active university research center.