A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it main street of dusty cabins and old-timey storefronts rising like a mirage out of the Mojave Desert, Pioneertown has all the makings of an Old West ghost town, except for the fact that it’s thriving. This is due in no small part to the Pioneertown Motel—a motorists destination at the gateway to the great California High Desert and a living tribute to the golden age of Westerns.
EXPLORING THE SAPCE
Hollywood imaginations of the twentieth century told a romanticized story of the American West which endures to this day: go west, young man, to the eternal promise of freedom and fortune. The star of this story is invariably the Lone Cowboy—the gun-slinging outsider, the man without a home on a horse without a name, riding from town to town breaking hearts and settling scores. In the movies, the leading men playing these rogue outlaws on-location in the desert needed somewhere to hang their hats at the end of the day, and it was in fulfillment of this need that the original Pioneertown Motel was born.
Built in 1946 as a “waypost for movie stars of old Westerns,” Pioneertown Motel previously hosted the likes of Gene Autry, and has expanded in recent years to include a 24-hour lodge, 19 guest rooms, and even an old land lease office converted into a guest cabin. The town itself is a fabrication, built as a permanent movie set in the same year. If you close your eyes, I’d imagine you can recreate the “boomtown” set from memory: the low-slung clapboard saloons and general stores, haphazardly assembled and just as quickly abandoned to the tumbleweeds and dust storms as opportunity moved along down the road. This is exactly what you’ll find in Pioneertown, but lovingly maintained and in perfect working order.
A pre-trip viewing of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood would probably get you in the right frame of mind to visit—the vibe here is equal parts nostalgic Western kitsch and modern western comfort, and there’s a touch of lawlessness and 1960s freewheeling spirit in the air. Work jackets and dusty boots are welcome, if not encouraged, in both the Motel and the recently reopened Red Dog Saloon down the road, where you can sit at the same bar that Roy Rogers allegedly brought his horse Trigger into on more than one occasion.
Whatever the reason for your visit, a stay at Pioneertown Motel opens up a lot of possibilities—day trips into Joshua Tree or hiking in the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve can flow seamlessly into live rock & roll at Pappy & Harriets, the best BBQ & Beer joint in town. The shopping is also excellent, should you want to bring a bit of the desert lifestyle back home with you, and the wellness-minded can recalibrate with yoga or a sound bath in the Integratron in nearby Landers.
A wild place that defies attempts to tame it, the desert constantly reminds us how tenuous our control over nature is, and yet we continue to return to it. The myth of the West endures because the desert still strikes a primal chord in travelers and seekers, awakening dreams and expanding the horizon of possibility. Pioneertown Motel sits at the edge of the open desert, preserving the Western ideal of our collective consciousness while tempting us to go beyond it, to discover what we came to find in the harshly beautiful expanse beyond.
If you want to go full cowboy during your stay, head over to one of three local ranches for horseback riding tours of the Mojave Desert.
The decor at Pioneertown Motel taps into local talent including furniture maker Dan Anderson, and artists Wilder California.
Looking for authentic Old West charm? The Red Cabin is an original 1946 structure located down the road on Mane Street. Reservations can be made through AirBnb.
A long list of movies, TV shows, music videos and have been filmed at Pioneertown since its opening, including portions of Ice Cube’s “I Rep That West.”