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.
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.