Anyone who’s ever driven between L.A. and Vegas has seen the sign for Zzyzx Rd. — and has probably wondered WTF it’s all about. Zizz-who?!
I’d always wondered, myself — I mean, my name is Wonderhussy, and I wonder about everything. So a few weeks ago, I packed up my high heels and breath mints, rounded up my photographer friend Shutterbug Studio, and headed out into the desert to unlock the secrets of Zzyzx.
Shutterbug and I often take off for the day on excursions like this, searching the farthest reaches of the Mojave for new
and exciting photo shoot locations. That’s how we ended up shooting at that abandoned brothel and that abandoned water park; the desert is full of funky shit baking away in the sun, waiting to be discovered — you just have to get out there and look for it. Maybe Zzyzx would be a cool new spot to get naked and create Art!
If you know anything about me, you know how much I enjoy posing nude outdoors. Shooting in a studio or hotel room is fine, but for a dramatic and unique backdrop, you just can’t beat the desert. And while “other” Vegas-based models and photographers tend to use the same tired-ass old locations over and over again (the fake ghost town at Nelson, the dry lake bed, Red Rock Canyon)… I get restless. Those are all great locations, but…after 999 photo shoots, you start to get bored and look for new places.
The problem is, during the mid-2000s housing boom in Vegas, all the cool decaying stuff within 50 miles or so was bulldozed to make way for plastic surgery clinics and shitty cardboard tract houses. Case in point: this badass old abandoned motel used to be right on Las Vegas Blvd., down around where the M Resort now stands. Unfortunately, by the time I started modeling for a living they had torn it down for that dumbass casino… and a fabulously picturesque and convenient location was forever lost 🙁
These days, you have to drive pretty far out into the desert to find interesting new shooting spots. And I mean way out there — all the good places within an hour of town have been pretty much done to death, so shooting at a new spot requires quite a bit of travel time. Fortunately, however, Shutterbug and I don’t mind spending an entire day cruising around the desert in his 4WD Jeep; as long as he has enough Pepsi and cigarettes, he can go all day! And as long as I have a Coke and occasional cell service to keep up with my daily non-stop avalanche of email…I’m good too 🙂
So, we decided to head south on the I-15 and check out Zzyzx Rd, about 2 hours outside Vegas. It worked out great, because Shutterbug had some winning lottery tickets he needed to cash in anyway, at the Lotto Store
out on the NV/CA state line (NV has no state lottery…so, as if there aren’t already enough opportunities to gamble out here, many locals make the 45-minute drive to the state line to buy lotto tickets in California. There’s this whole weird store devoted to them right over the state line — you go in and it’s like a methadone clinic, with people lined up around the block to get their fix. Bizarre!).
Anyway, after cashing in his tickets
there was still another hour or so to go…so I did some research on my phone. A quick Google search revealed Zzyzx (pronounced zizz-ix, if you didn’t know) to be a made-up word, invented by a 1940s health guru as the last word in the English language. Under that illustrious brand, he peddled a line of bullshit supplements and ran a sort of old-timey health spa out near a mineral spring on the edge of the Soda Dry Lake bed south of Baker, where people could swill mineral water and bake in the desert sunshine, curing themselves of a litany of ailments. Eventually, however, the Feds shut him down and forced him out…and the abandoned spa buildings have been crumbling in the desert sun since 1974.
An abandoned spa on a dry lake bed far enough from Vegas to keep all but the most dedicated methheads from defacing it?!?!? How much awesomer of a location could you ask for? Wikipedia did also mention that the California State University system now uses Zzyzx as a desert studies center…but ever the optimists, Shutterbug and I figured there would still be some areas we could sneak into, so we didn’t let that stop us.
Alas….for once, we struck out 🙁 I am disappointed to report that all the buildings at Zzyzx are indeed being used by CSU, and there aren’t any abandoned ruins to shoot in out there. Even the fountains and stuff are surrounded by university outbuildings, with busybody do-gooder desert conservationists-in-training hanging around everywhere you turn, so you can’t exactly drop trou and strike a pose. That’s great for the desert…but bad for nudies. D’oh!!!
After driving around for a few minutes scoping out the disappointing situation, we ended up settling for a few quick nudes out on Soda Dry Lake, just off the road leading out to the Zzyzx spa. That is a weird lake bed — jaggedy and crumbly, with a coating of blinding white powdery stuff on top, like coke-encrusted boogers. Not very comfortable to recline on, let me tell ya!
Well, now where to?! We didn’t drive this
far out into the middle of nowhere to go home empty-handed, so we decided to head back into the tiny little “town” of Baker to look around. Baker is one of those pit stops on the L.A.-Vegas route that’s really little more than a few gas stations and some fast-food outlets. They tried to gussy it up a bit and lure in a few tourist dollars by erecting the World’s Tallest Thermometer and opening an Alien Jerky store…but it’s still a pretty depressing, dusty little outpost with little to recommend it other than the fabulous Mad Greek restaurant (don’t ask me how those poor Greeks ended up in that godforsaken corner of the Mojave Desert, but it’s awesome). But the sign says “Population: 600…” so I figured there must be more to it; surely there was someplace worth shooting, somewhere in town!
Sure enough, right away we came upon the fabulous, abandoned Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel! I don’t think it’s been closed down very long — less than 5 years, I guess — but the decay definitely set in fast. The desert’ll do that! But despite the fact that it’s located right out on the main drag — Baker Blvd. — the place wasn’t in that bad of shape. I guess most people don’t stop in Baker long enough to dick around and deface a motel and whatnot — they just gas up and get the fuck out!
Anyway, we shot in and around the rooms for awhile (the doors are boarded up, but the windows are busted out and can be climbed thru), and then headed over to the old office, which was even easier to get into, as the sliding glass door was totally busted and wide open. Someone had inexplicably emptied a jar of pickles on the floor — and fairly recently, too, as the desert hadn’t yet sucked all the juice out of them! The strange shit you find in abandoned buildings….LOL!
The pool area was well-fenced-off, so we couldn’t really get in there without doing some major climbing…so we cruised around the back, instead, to a sort of open desert area that had a shit ton of busted-up, rusted-out old cars, RVs, boats, shipping containers and military transport vehicles. It was better than Disneyland — a photographer’s paradise!!!! I could have shot out there for days without running out of ideas. It was incredible!
Now meanwhile, we did pass a few methily-lettered “NO TRESPASSING” signs…but we never did see anyone there, or any dogs or anything, so I guess we were lucky. That’s one of the risks you run, shooting out in all these cool, abandoned places — aside from broken glass, rusty nails, spiders, rats and scorpions….you also have to worry about methheads and their vicious attack dogs. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!
Anyway, after shooting our fill among the rusted out cars and boats, we got back in the car and cruised around the rest of Baker, which wasn’t much — a few cinderblock apartment buildings, a bunch of trailers, a post office and a car repair place…and that’s about it. I can’t imagine who lives out there! It’s hotter than Hades in the summer, and it must be a pretty lonely place any time of year. Crazy!
Since there wasn’t anything else going on around Baker, we got back on the 15 and headed back up to Vegas. We made one final stop at the Halloran Springs exit, which I guess used to have a cafe and a gas station and a few houses…but nowadays it’s all abandoned and covered in fabulous graffiti, so we fired off a few more shots there before finally calling it a day. We poked around in the rubble of one of the abandoned houses, and it was a trip — it looked like a family with kids had lived there, but had suddenly been evicted, almost overnight. There were still clothes and books and toys and DVDs laying around everywhere, but the windows were all busted out and the desert was already starting to take over again.
It was kinda sobering; I think I caught a glimpse of my own future in the ruins of that cinderblock shack. Some day, when Lake Mead has dried up and Yucca Mountain is bursting at the radioactive seams, and the desert has finally sucked all the juice out of my pickle…some half-naked nitwit will probably go poking thru the ruins of my house, kicking aside dusty old feather boas and sunbaked trucker caps, looking for a good place to plant her fat ass and create Art. By then, who can say how many megapixels her photographer’s camera will shoot…and how many hairs she will have allowed to sprout on her pubis?? Styles change — but one thing is for sure:
The desert always wins!
All pics taken 3/30/15 in and around Baker, CA (except as noted)
Incoming search terms:
- Zzyzx Abandoned