A lot of us Californians like to hit the open road, explore miles of highway, and venture off onto some back roads. Sometimes, we come across towns with some pretty bizarre and surprising names, from Rough and Ready to Bumpass Hell. For the first installment in our series "A Place Called What?!" we head to Zzyzx, California. Know an unusual place name in California? Tell us about it in the comments below, or send a note to email@example.com.
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.
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.' "
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.
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.
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."
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."