A few days before I left for my California trip in December, I decided that we should tack on an extra day to the mini road trip that we had planned. I wanted to see Noah Purifoy's art and spend some time in Joshua Tree, but it wasn't until I discovered the Pioneertown Motel that I knew that we were destined to stay an extra night in the desert.
Pioneertown was founded in 1946 by a group of Hollywood investors, including Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Their goal was to create an Old West town that served both as a movie set and a functional town—with a motel, restaurants and even a bowling alley hiding behind the Old West facades. Throughout the '40s and '50s, more than 200 television shows and movies were filmed in Pioneertown.
Pioneertown is technically an unincorporated community located within the town of Yucca Valley, about 30 minutes north of Joshua Tree. The population was 350 in 2006, but in 2016 the New York Times reported that Pioneertown was in the midst of a renaissance fueled by its proximity to Los Angeles and music festivals, like Coachella. There are private residences (and at least one teepee) scattered beyond Mane Street, but we barely saw another person when we explored the "town" on a Tuesday morning.
The Pioneertown Post Office is said to be (according to a plaque out front) the most photographed post office in the US—a questionable fact that has been unintentionally backed up by this Google Maps street view capture. The Pioneer Bowl bowling alley was built in 1947 and Roy Rogers himself rolled out the first ball. At one time it was considered to be one of the oldest continuously operating bowling alleys in California but unfortunately it now appears to be closed.
The Pioneertown Motel can best be described as an Ace Hotel in the high desert, although after our less-than ideal stay at the Ace in Palm Springs, I should clarify that the Pioneertown Motel was even better than an Ace in every way. We did have the misfortune of being placed (yet again!) next to a room full of people that thought it was ok to throw a very loud party on a Monday night (complete with their own sound system because the rooms don't even come with a TV), but one call to the front desk shut that down immediately.
When we checked in, Jim asked if there was a place to grab dinner, and we were directed to Pappy + Harriet's. In the '70s, the facade for an Old West cantina was transformed into an outlaw biker burrito bar called "The Cantina." It closed after ten years and reopened in 1982 as Pappy + Harriet's, known for its barbecue and live music.
Pappy + Harriet's was crazy crowded, even on a Monday night and for good reason—famous musicians like Robert Plant, Vampire Weekend, Leon Russell, Sean Lennon and even Paul McCartney have been known to drop by. Mondays are open mic nights, and although no one famous dropped in during our 2+ hour wait for a table, it was still one of the most enjoyable evenings I've ever had.