“Once you get past Palm Springs and into the desert, people start to vibrate at a different pitch than they do elsewhere.” – Anthony Bourdain
When you find yourself in California’s Pioneertown, you might think “Man, this feels like a movie set…” and you’d be spot on. At the crossroads of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, this old west town was established by a group of Hollywood investors, the likes of Roy Rogers and his Tinsel Town chums. But unlike traditional movie sets with static stables, saloons and jail facades, the Pioneertown facades opened up to motels and bowling alleys on the inside. Throughout the 40s and 50s, Pioneertown was featured in more than 50 films and TV shows. Today, this desert hot spot is an oasis of creativity and home to the most epic live music venue you’ve never heard of. Here are 10 reasons we love Pioneertown and nearby Joshua Tree National Park (because a trip to one really isn’t complete without the other).
10. The Pioneertown Motel
The anchor of Pioneertown’s “Mane Street” (get it…), the Pioneertown Motel is a nod to the Old West. This desert inn is surrounded by protected lands and flat-top mesas, but it also boasts air conditioning and waterfall showers. But you’re not too plugged in – you won’t find TVs or phones in this rustic abode. Set your “Out of Office” message and kick up your cowboy boots.
9. Hiking and rock climbing
Pack some water and hit the dusty trail – because there’s A LOT of them. Hike to abandoned mine shafts, deep into canyons for refreshing oases, or just scramble on the giant rocks. Whatever your pace, there’s no shortage of hiking opportunities in Joshua Tree National Park and surrounding areas. For the super adventurous, Joshua Tree is a world-class rock climbing destination. There are great slot canyons and trad climbs within the park itself, while you can find some epic bouldering in the rocks around Pioneertown. Just keep hydrated!
8. The Integratron
Here’s something you don’t see every day: The Integratron, a 38 foot tall structure designed by ufologist (a UFO expert) George Van Tassel after his encounter with creatures from Venus (yep, Venus). Originally designed to be an “elastrostatic generator for the purpose of rejuvenation and time travel,” this acoustically perfect dome attracts musicians, scientists, sound therapists, meditation groups, and curious passersby. It’s great to look at, but don’t miss taking a sound bath – quartz crystal bowls are played live to encourage deep relaxation and meditation. Out of this world, right?
7. Joshua Tree National Park
15 minutes from Pioneertown is Joshua Tree National Park. Two distinct deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado (also known as the Sonoran Desert, depending on who you ask), intersect to create J-Tree. The “low” Colorado Desert on the park’s eastern side is still 3000 feet above sea level and boasts some of the park’s heartiest cacti like Ocotillo (“oak-a-tee-yo”), Yucca (“yuk-uh”), and Cholla (“choy-ya”). The western half is home to the high Mojave Desert where the Joshua trees thrive on sandy plains amidst colossal granite monoliths and rock piles. These giant rocks are just like icebergs: most of the rock is still buried deep underground and will continues to force its way up through the surface for thousands of years. For us modern-day surface dwellers, the jagged formations that peek out draw climbers, photographers, road trippers (and other trippers) to stare in appreciation and awe.
6. Joshua Trees
Speaking of otherworldly, the Park’s namesake trees are so twisted and wild they’re said to have inspired Dr. Seuss. Botanists call them “Yucca brevifolia”, a member of the asparagus family, but the 19th century Mormon settlers called them “the Joshua,” because their human-like form resembled the biblical Joshua reaching up to the sky. But are Joshua Trees really trees? Arguments could be made either way – see for yourself. Either way, they’re part of what makes this desert landscape so mystical.
5. Fan Palm Oases
In desert heat, palm oases offer the much-needed gift of shade. Because they require a constant supply of water, they often occur along fault lines where underground water can come to the surface. We’re big fans of the aptly named Desert Fan Palm. It can tower up to 75 feet and they tend to cluster together; five Desert Fan Palm oases can be found in Joshua Tree National Park! These oases are great for spotting wildlife like quail, bighorn sheep, and coyotes.
4. Dark Skies and Endless Stars
It’s not always easy to find dark skies in Southern California, but Pioneertown is free from the city’s light pollution and boasts some of the darkest night skies. Many visitors to Joshua Tree National Park travel there to see the Milky Way for the very first time. In fact, the Park was recently designated as an International Dark Sky Park and hosts an annual Night Sky Festival, with lessons on astronomy and astrophotography. Add a campfire and you may never want to leave.
3. Spiritual Vortexes
OK, time to get really deep: Vortexes are real and they’re right here on Earth. A vortex is a place of increased energy, and Joshua Tree is said to be chock-full of them. People have been flocking to the site for centuries to channel the desert’s energy. Today, it’s a spiritual Mecca for artists and musicians, a haven for yogis, and call that beckons hikers and climbers from all corners of the world. Though we can’t definitively prove it, after taking in desert sunset, it’s hard to deny that there’s something different happening here. Maybe it really is in the water.
2. Cholla Cactus Garden
Also called the Teddy Bear Cholla (“choy-ya”), these unusual cacti are not as cuddly as they sound. But they do make for a stunning backdrop. Walk through the Cholla Garden in JTNP at sunrise or sunset to witness one of nature’s greatest party tricks: When the low light shines through the spikes, a halo of ethereal light hovers around the cacti, like a divine child of Mother Earth. Like Midas, it’s best if you look but don’t touch.
1. Pappy + Harriet’s
The wildest honky tonk you’ve never heard of attracts artists from all over the world. From Paul McCartney and Robert Plant to Arctic Monkeys and Lorde, there’s no shortage of talent passing through these doors on a regular basis. Combine this epic music with delicious BBQ and you’ll see why Billboard Magazine has named Pappy + Harriet’s one of the Top Ten Hidden Gems in the Country.