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Pioneertown is set among dramatic icons of the West—the Sawtooth Mountains, the San Bernardino Mountains, Joshua trees, and stunning buttes.  Pioneertown may remind you of many a scene in an old Western movie.  And that’s no accident.

This Old West town is no long-forgotten ghost town, and it didn’t spring up during a 19th century mining boom.  Pioneertown was begun in 1946 by Dick Curtis, a popular silver screen outlaw, as a movie set for the ubiquitous Westerns of the time.

Named for the Sons of the Pioneers, Pioneertown was designed to serve as a replica of an 1880s town in the West.  Built with real buildings instead of Hollywood-style facades commonly used on film sets, Pioneertown offered accommodations for film crews, and even a bowling alley where crews could relax when not filming (Roy Rogers ceremoniously threw out the first ball).

Original investors included Roy Rogers, the Sons of the Pioneers, Bud Abbot, Lou Costello, and Russell Hayden, who played Lucky in the Hopalong Cassidy movies, according to an excellent history by Harvey B. Legrone, Historic Pioneertown: How the West Was Once, available through the Morongo Basin Historical Society and at a number of local shops.

Now you can find hi-desert artists and artisans at work along Mane Street, but be aware—many of these Old West buildings are private residences, so please be respectful while visiting.  Be ready to encounter an Old West gunfight or historical encampment, and don’t forget the sarsaparilla!

Things to Do

Amble Down Mane Street

Stroll quietly down Mane Street and imagine Pioneertown’s heyday when Gene Autry might be filming on one side of the street, with Barbara Stanwyck filming on the other.  Keep your eyes open for the Cisco Kid, Judge Roy Bean, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Jr., a host of singing cowboys, and the Pony Express thundering into town.

Listen to the wind as you walk Mane Street.  You may hear Gene Autry and Edith Piaf singing a distant duet.  Both were here—Autry riding on the back of Champion, Piaf smuggled up here in the trunk of a car by her lover, French Algerian champion boxer Marcel Cerdan.

Pioneertown Bowl is closed, but inside, there are authentic comic western movie murals on its walls.  Hopefully it will reopen one day so visitors can bowl and shoot pool where Western movie legends once passed the time between takes.

Look to your left as you near Pioneertown and you’ll see the old Hayden Ranch and the Scarlet Lady.  Burned by the 2006 Sawtooth Complex Fire, the Scarlet Lady is not open to the public so be respectful of the Baron von Redl’s private Pullman car that once rode the rails and starred in many Westerns.

At the north end of Mane Street stands the OK Corral, and nearby is the Pioneertown Post Office, the most photographed Post Office in the West.  Keep an eye out for artist studios and fun little shops that carry everything from hand-tooled leather goods to MazAmar Art Pottery, where you can find something special that’s hand crafted with love, to take home and treasure.

Old West Shoot Outs & Shows

Mane Street hosts free seasonal weekend family friendly gunfight re-enactments with groups like the Mane Street Stampede and Gunfighters for Hire (2:30 p.m. most Saturdays and Sundays, April through October, hosted in front of the bowling alley), and occasional historical encampments.

A Legendary Adobe Roadhouse

Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace is a legendary adobe roadhouse featuring killer mesquite barbecue, drinks in Mason jars, and live music ranging from national touring bands and outdoor festivals to a lively Monday open mic night.  Sir Paul McCartney recently stopped by to  perform, and Robert Plant has sat in with the Sunday Band once or twice.  You never know who will wind up on stage.

If you stop at Pappy’s, go to the bar.  Behind the bar, you’ll see a bust of Pappy, and Buzz Gamble’s cowboy boots.  You can buy Pappy a shot of whiskey or toast Buzz, a blues legend who once went to prison for stealing over 14 dozen donuts.  Thanks to local singer/songwriter funeral director Shawn Mafia for rescuing the boots, and Johnny Paycheck for his song, The Great Donut Robbery, which keeps the legend of Buzz alive.

Pappy and Harriet’s is so popular with visitors, many locals no longer frequent it on weekends in tourist season.  We love it though.  And remember—get the cheese fries.  Trust us. 

Pioneertown Mountains Preserve

North of town you can turn off on a dirt road for the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve where you can hike up and around Pipes Canyon.  This 25,500 acre preserve is owned by The Wildlands Conservancy.  It is open daily from sunrise to sunset and offers hikers the opportunity to explore the transitional ecosystem where the mountains descend to the hi-desert.  Some guided hikes are available, and the preserve is an excellent location to look for spring wildflowers along a cool mountain stream.  The area is at a higher elevation, so dress accordingly.

Back Road to Big Bear

The Pioneertown area offers a back road (U.S. Forest Service dirt) to nearby Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains suitable for four-wheel-drive vehicles (a federal interagency pass is required if you intend to stop en route and they can be purchased at Joshua Tree National Park visitor centers).

This road is the scene of one of the more unusual sporting events in the world—the Pioneer Pass Golf Tournament—a cross country golf competition that runs from the mountains down to the Pioneertown area.  This ain’t country club golf. 

A great deal of the area near Pioneertown was devastated in 2006 in the Sawtooth Complex Fire that burned a 100 square mile swath from the desert into the San Bernardino Mountains, and more recently by the Lake Fire.  Look for signs plant life and animals are making a strong comeback in burn areas, and please be careful with fire and cigarettes during your visit. 

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