Destination Inspiration: Pioneertown, California

Destination Inspiration: Pioneertown, California

Once a thriving Old Western movie set and real-life residence started by a who’s who of Hollywood’s western stars, this dusty, offbeat town is proving that it’s far more than a tourist trail gimmick. A tight-knit community is reviving the pioneering spirit of the Old and making it a worthy desert stopover.

This article appears in Volume 33: Collective.

bumpy, sun-bleached road cuts through the Yucca Valley between
Palm Springs and the Morongo Basin. It’s in this remote location,
among boulders, gnarled shrubs and Joshua trees, that a who’s who
of Hollywood’s western stars – Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Dick Curtis
– founded Pioneertown in 1946.

The concept was simple: tired of travelling to film, they built
a replica 1880s Old West town that could double up as a movie set
and real-life residence complete with the throwback Red Dog Saloon,
a post office and a six-lane bowling alley – now one of
California’s oldest in use. More than 200 productions would be shot
here including Annie Oakley and The Cisco Kid. But by the late
1950s, cameras had wound down and film crews packed up.

In many ways, it’s a blessing that plans to turn Pioneertown
into a resort were never realised. Its revival happened almost by
chance in the 1990s, fed by the growing popularity of Pappy &
Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, a honky tonk where hungry bikers
crossing the Mojave would refuel with Tex-Mex. Now, the restaurant
attracts artists and musicians from the world over – Paul
McCartney, Robert Plant, Lorde, Queens of the Stone Age, to name
but a few – as well as presenting off-venue shows for Coachella.
It’s a tribute to the performers that once stomped Pioneertown’s

And yet this dusty, offbeat town is far more than a tourist
amusement. Yes, there are re-enacted gun fights, corrals and
so-called cowboys kicking up spurs. Yes, there’s the Pioneertown
Motel – all cowhide rugs, horseshoes and clear views of the Milky
Way. But it’s also a living place called home by old-time desert
dwellers and young creative entrepreneurs who have blown in like
tumbleweed from LA, Silicon Valley, Portland and New York – it’s a
community so small in number and so close-knit that mail need only
be addressed with someone’s first name. There is a lively group of
resident horses too, along with the odd rattlesnake and coyote.

Give the wildlife a wide berth as you walk down Mane Street,
where timber-clad, spaghetti western-style cabins are occupied by
artisans peddling wares including handcrafted goat soap, wool and
leather goods, as well as a few eclectic vintage stores and a
state-of-the-art recording studio. True to its name, this New West
town is reviving the pioneering spirit of the Old.

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