Laura Sanderson Healy reports on a 'pioneering' road trip in the California desert with Mama Jane and nephew Benjamin
Looking over the photographs I took on a recent trip to the former Western movie set called Pioneertown, California, I realize it is the perfect No Crowds destination if you happen to be visiting either the stunning Joshua Tree National Park in the High Desert or the well-attended Palm Springs and its neighboring desert city resorts. Pioneertown is the perfect antidote whether you’ve been hiking, pool lounging or hitting the parterres of the El Paseo shops in Palm Desert.
There was nobody around the “Mane Street” when we visited, though a few storefronts were open (a pottery, a saddle store) and a lone horse stared at us from his dusty paddock. You can swing through saloon doors while admiring the Ghost Town effect of it all. Pioneertown was built in 1946 and Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were among its investors; both movies and television shows were shot here, where the authentic homes were lived in by actors. There are 350 residents today and there is a tiny post office on the unpaved street, selling Stars of the West stamps.
The real draw of this off the beaten track locale is Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, a vibrant bar/restaurant/music club founded in 1982 that boasts a talent list from the Arctic Monkies to Vampire Weekend to Gram Rabbit:. I was bound and determined to make a pilgrimage to this indie rock paradise, even if just for lunch, which proved to be delicious (barbecued pork sandwich plate and a Sioux City Sarsparilla soft drink). Pappy and Harriet’s location was once a façade for a cantina when filming was going on, and after that, according to its website, it served as an “outlaw biker burrito bar” until it was closed down.
My fellow travelers were my 86 year old mother and my 7 year old nephew, and we had a fine time playing pool in the saloon at Pappy and Harriet’s and promenading down the street. Things really get popping when they have festival days, but that might be a bit crowded.
To reach Pioneertown, take Pioneertown Road at California State Route 62 in the town of Yucca Valley and go four miles until you reach Pappy and Harriet’s. You’ll be traveling a meandering California Scenic Drive past cactus and tumbleweed.