In the 70s movie “Hearts of the West” a young Jeff Bridges plays a naïve would-be writer who travels west to collect money he’s sent to a conman and finds himself an actor in B-movie westerns, following a troupe of contract players who would travel from Hollywood’s “Gower Gulch” where the low budget studios were located, making the long drive out to the desert to shoot westerns in the likes of Red Rock Canyon. In 1946, at the height of western movies and serials, a group of cowboy actors got tired of making the drive and had an idea to build a film set where they could stay while shooting their “oater” epics.
Pioneertown in the high desert in Yucca Valley to the north of Palm Springs was built as a small western town movie set, with colorful exteriors facing the dry gulch street would represent saloons, stables, sheriff’s office and jails, while the interiors of the buildings would be used as working shops, including an ice cream parlor and even a bowling alley. The town was named after the Sons of the Pioneers western music group, which featured Roy Rogers before his own solo career broke out to singing cowboy fame (see National Cowboy Museum). Other investor participants included western “villain” actor Dick Kurtis and Bud Abbot of Abbot and Costello, and even the Hollywood gossip girl Louella Parsons, apparently buying herself a little access to the movie community. More than fifty movies and a number of television shows were filmed on the street of Pioneertown from 1946 until the end of the 1950s, when productions started to seek more sophisticated locations.
Pioneertown Lodge Motel
The Pioneertown Lodge was built at the same time just off the old west street with 18 rooms to provide living accommodations for the actors and crew when out shooting a movie and later TV series. The original participants had their favorite rooms, which could be rent out to others when they weren’t working. The rooms of the Pionnertown Lodge Motel are still open for lodging in the original country style furnished rooms named for their famed inhabitants, Roy Roger, Dale Evans, Gene Autry and John Wayne.
The Pioneertown Lodge Motel can get a bit busy at high season, but makes for a getway to view desert meteor showers, or a rustic visit to the high desert landscapes of nearby Josua Tree National Park. The location for Pioneertown was partly chosen because at about 4,000 ft elevation stays much cooler in the summers than the lowers deserts so filming could take advantage of the longer days when heat would make other spots unbearable, so Pioneertown still remains a comfortable escape.
Pioneertown Posse Performs Weekends
From April through October every Saturday the Pioneertown Posse, volunteer Old West re-enactor troupe of players in costume give live performances and 2:30pm on the town’s Mane Street across from the Bowling Alley. The group is made of up local residents who began their stage careers as the robbers performing in the annual Morongo Grubstakes Days. The performances of comedic antics and gunplay always ends with asking kids to make a pledge of the Pioneertown Cowboy Code of being good boys and girls, so reminiscent of the days and ideals of Roy Rogers, the years melt away.
Pappy & Harriets Pioneertown Palace
At the intersection of Pioneertown Road and Curtis Road at the edge of the western movie town is the legendary Pappy & Harriets Pioneertown Palace. First built as a Cantina set exterior with a modest bar, popular with bikers on the back country desert roads to Las Vegas inside. The building was taken over 1982 by Harriet and Claude "Pappy" Allen, as a “Tex-Mex” family restaurant. The Allen’s had connections in the rock & roll and country music world and music acts began coming out to the desert to perform in the saloon with the bill-of-fare now more known for its barbeque.
From the roadside Pappy & Harriets can seem almost like an abandoned adobe relic left over from the real estate market crash, but inside, the rich wood bar, colorful bottle glass windows and cowboy movie and music star photo covered walls make this one of the high desert hot spots with live music playing to sometimes packed houses on a rollicking night when the Ghost Riders pass over in the starry night sky.
To get to Pioneertown take Highway 62 - Twentynine Palms Highway from Interstate 10 just after the Palm Springs north to Yucca Valley left on Pioneertown Road. If you want to avoid the traffic on the I15 to Las Vegas try this detour for a nostalgic look back at Hollywood western movie history, or stop over for a night in Roy Rogers' room. © Bargain Travel West
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