Zzyzx Road begins and ends deep in the California desert. It branches off Interstate 15 about two thirds of the way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, making it a curiously-named landmark for millions of people who have driven through that parched region.
I’ve been driving by Zzyzx Road my entire life. I had heard there were ruins at the end, but like most people never took the time to actually see where it led. That is, until a few weeks ago, when Laura and I set out to explore parts of the desert that lie at the frontier of our mental map of the region.
Zzyzx Road runs for less than five miles before ending in a parking lot with restrooms and information signs. From there, I was surprised to discover, it becomes California State University’s Desert Studies Center. Though there was no one around during our visit, the facility is clearly in use; the grounds are clean and manicured, and the buildings appeared to be both offices and living quarters.
On-site information plaques explain that the Desert Studies Center occupies what was once the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort, which opened in the 1940s and closed in 1974. The resort had been built on the site of Soda Springs, a natural oasis that still feeds shimmering pools at the facility today.
At one spot, a deteriorating wooden boat sits in the shade of the palm trees, apparently a relic from the site’s former life.
A train once connected the resort to the rest of Southern California. Prior to that, the springs were used by Native Americans for thousands of years.
As we explored further into the grounds, we discovered ruined parts of the resort that had not been converted to the Desert Studies Center. An old pool and bath facility was filled with dry grass and had rusted, glass-less warehouse windows looking out at the salt flats and pink mountains.
It wasn’t entirely clear what the old facilities were used for. A series of cement slabs looked like something people might have laid on, and there was a room full of bathtub-like containers. But there was no information and the structures were really just crumbling into the desert (click to enlarge the photos).
Beyond the bathing facilities, there was a row of small, hotel-like rooms that were being reclaimed by the fan palms (again, click to enlarge).
Just outside the rooms, the ground was soft and covered in a layer of moist salt-mud.
By the time we had explored these ruins the sun was setting. We didn’t see anyone around, but stacks of chairs nearby and what looked like a small cafe suggested the outdoor spaces are very much in use.
In the end, Zzyzx Road was surprising. I expected to find a few scattered ruins covered in dust. Instead, we found a lush oasis and evocative buildings at the edge of an awe-inspiring expanse.
Related reading: There’s a wild west ghost town filled with rusting treasures
— Jim Dalrymple II