Welcome to Zzyzx, California -- Population: 1

3 min
The old sign off Interstate 15 pointing to Zzyzx Mineral Springs. (Courtesy Rob Fulton)

This story was originally published in October 2017 as part of  The California Report Magazine's "A Place Called What?!" series. It re-aired on July 3rd, 2020 for a special show called "Buckle Up: A (Virtual) Road Trip to CA Hidden Gems." Note: Rob Fulton spent more than three decades managing the Desert Studies Center as the only resident of ZZYZX. He passed away in a car accident in 2018, soon after this story originally aired. He’s remembered as an expert on the flora and fauna of his beloved Mojave Desert.

If you’ve driven on Interstate 15 near Death Valley, you’ve probably passed a sign for a town with a name you couldn’t pronounce: Zzyzx (ZYE-ZIX).

You won’t find any shops or restaurants or even houses in Zzyzx. But you will find the Desert Studies Center, a research station operated by a consortium of seven California State University campuses. Rob Fulton manages the center. He’s also the town's only permanent resident.

Rob Fulton has lived and worked in Zzyzx for 31 years. (Courtesy of Rob Fulton)

Fulton says Zzyzx got its name from Dr. Curtis Springer, a radio preacher who always insisted on having the last word -- Springer claimed "Zzyzx" would be the last word in the English language. In 1944, he established the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa.

"I think he thought it would be clever to invent the last word and then use it for the name of his mineral springs," Fulton says. "He would say things like 'Come to Zzyzx Mineral Springs: the last word in health.' "

A flyer for Dr. Curtis Springer's radio show. (Courtesy Rob Fulton)

Today, the only trace of the Mineral Springs are the buildings that now house the Desert Studies Center, where Fulton has lived and worked for 31 years.

An aerial shot of the Desert Studies Center, facing north. (Courtesy of Rob Fulton)
Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa in 1951. (Courtesy of Rob Fulton)

As the manager for the center, Fulton is responsible for everything from maintenance of the buildings to meeting the groups of people who come from all over the world to tour the unique ecosystem of the Mohave Desert.

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Being the only permanent resident "can be lonely at times" -- his other colleagues commute in from neighboring towns -- but he says it can also be "exciting."

Especially when it comes to getting groceries. When it's time to go food shopping, Fulton drives one hour each way to the nearest grocery store in Barstow. If he can't find what he needs there, he has to drive to Victorville, 100 miles away. While most of us couldn't fathom this kind of long-distance shopping, Fulton says he's used to it.

"It gives me some time to listen to the radio and think about other things while I'm driving," he explains.

The thing about Zzyzx that keeps Fulton happy, besides the natural beauty of the place, is that he is constantly meeting people who come to the Desert Studies Center.

"The diversity of students that come through ... interacting with them and their instructors, and the people that conduct research out of the field station ... it's an ever-changing landscape of different interests and reasons for being here. And that keeps it interesting."

A minerology group works in the lab at the Desert Studies Center. (Courtesy of Rob Fulton)

One thing he knows for sure? He's probably not heading back to the suburbs anytime soon.

"When I go back to suburbia now I really don't feel comfortable," Fulton says. "I mean, it's like I grew up in this but I don't relate to it anymore. That's kind of weird."