The Wild West was an untamed land where with wide open spaces between, where one could travel endless and explore wild uncharted places. Of course, those days are gone. Or are they? This is a short tale of how we stumbled into the Wild West and Hollywood history without really meaning to.
We needed to get away for a couple of days and so we decided that our destination for our adventure would be Joshua Tree National Park. We headed out, driving from the California coast and into the Santa Rosa Mountains. Those mountains have a lot to see, both forest and desert. The endless oak trees shaded the road for many miles until they finally gave way to the desert terrain.
At last we arrived in the vast valley containing the towns of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and Indio. The valley itself was interesting, being true desert. Where the irrigation ended, the arid lands began. The road provided sweeping vistas of flat desert with rugged, brown mountains beyond them. Beyond those mountains awaited Joshua Tree.
The sun set while we were in the valley, but we continued onward into the park. The dark of night did not diminish the thrill of the desert much, its bizarre landscape unmitigated by the darkness. The trees the park is famous for cast silhouettes against the sky, appearing just as impressive, perhaps even more mysterious. The barren rock formations lent their own mystery to the scenery. The night passed with howling winds. The Joshua Tree desert has a high elevation, so the temperatures were cold when the sun was not up. Yet, even with the wind and the cold, we stood out in the desert landscape to experience the thrill.
The next day we toured the desert park, exploring trails, finding amazing vistas, and enjoying ourselves more than we had anticipated. When the dark of night threatened again, we headed off. This time, however, we wound up on a road we did not expect to be on. It wound into a barren, rarely traveled part of the desert. At the end of the road we found a town. But this was not just any town, it was a town from the historic Wild West. At least that was what it seemed.
A brief investigation gave away some clues to where we really were. The chief among them was a sign over the horse corral that read “OK Corral.” The town was small. Too small. The old west store fronts, while seeming two stories tall in design, were not really tall enough to contain to levels. The scene was much like you would imagine; a dirt lane with wooden buildings and porches lining either side. There was a bank, a general store, and a few other Old West staples. And yes, there was life.
A few people milled about, clearly not tourists. They explained to us that we had stumbled upon Pioneertown the old Hollywood set of the black and white TV show titled Judge Roy Bean. We learned the Wild West facades were fronts for modern homes, albeit small ones. The town population, if I remember correctly, was in the neighborhood of twenty some people.
The people then pointed to a large building at the end of the lane with a sign that said Pioneer Bowl. It was the one building whose sign told the true story. We entered and found a diner with a bowling alley attached. We sat at the bar and ordered dinner. The locals and the cook/bartender were friendly and told us the story of the town and even the history of some of the residents. It turned out that Roy Rogers had taken a liking to the “town” and built the bowling alley there. His cutout stood at the entry to the bowling lanes. It was a while ago, but I think there were only five or six lanes. We had a great time, mostly because of how welcoming the locals were. The atmosphere was fantastic too, of course. We finished our meal and hopped back in the car, driving off into the desert darkness once again.
When I considered writing this post, I wondered if I should share the name and location of the peaceful desert curiosity. I searched for the town again, this time on Google. I was quite surprised to find that Pioneertown had been discovered by the world at large. A relatively significant community surrounded it and posts online named it as a tourist attraction.
I suppose it is only natural for a location so interesting to become popular. I can only wonder what became of the small number of inhabitants, especially those who had sought out the unique solitude of the remote desert community. However that may have passed, it seems that there is no harm now in letting the world know it is there. If you are in the area of Palm Springs and Joshua Tree be sure to check out the amazing desert park and, if you have time, head up to Pioneertown for a tour and a bite to eat.