Weekend Escape: Old West lives in Pioneertown

Before the summer heat becomes suffocating, head to the desert near Pioneertown, Calif., a former Old West movie set about 25 miles northwest of Joshua Tree National Park. You may get the jitters when you see “no service” on your phone, but bury the device in your bag, take a deep breath and marvel at the shapes of clouds — or the lack of them — or trace the cracks in the orange-tinged boulders in the surrounding high desert. The tab: $497.55 for two nights’ accommodations, including tax and $75 cleaning fee. Meals, including groceries, were $177.

The bed

We rented the Rancho Mojave casita through, a home rental site. The hideaway ([323] 424-7190,; rates from $195 a night for two), on a dirt road in the Rimrock area, had a kitchen and two beds: one queen, squeezed into an alcove inside the front door, and a king in a room just off the kitchen. The bedroom offered desert views through sliding patio doors. With the morning sun warming our bones, I found it an inviting spot to lounge. The rest of the casita, appointed in Southwestern style with hard, wood chairs, one sofa bed and a TV with DVDs, could have used more comfortable chairs indoors and out. Other lodging options are few: Across from the casita is the eclectic Rimrock Ranch Cabins (50857 Burns Canyon Road, Pioneertown; [760] 369-3012,; rates from $62 to $232), which rents four updated 1940s cabins, an Airstream trailer, a modern structure and a house across the street. The Pioneertown Motel (5040 Curtis Road; [760] 365-7001,; from $80 to $120 a night) has 17 rooms.

The meal


Unless you return to Yucca Valley and the other towns along California 62, you’ll find one eatery: Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace (53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; [760] 365-5956,, a bustling burger-and-barbecue joint that attracts bikers, locals and tourists. The draw here is not the food, which is fine, but the live music. We stopped in on a Saturday night, and the wait for a table was more than an hour. Visit “Mane Street” before sundown to stroll the 1880s-style movie set where western Hollywood luminaries — including Gene Autry, Leo Carrillo and Roy Rogers — shot scenes. Before your arrival, stop at Café Ma Rouge (55844 29 Palms Highway, Yucca Valley; [760] 365-4100, We sampled two of the five quiches on the menu.

The find

Don’t miss a hike in the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve (51010 Pipes Canyon Road; [760] 369-7105,, which protects 25,500 acres of desert wilderness under the auspices of the Wildlands Conservancy. I didn’t expect to see wildflowers in the middle of a drought and a landscape charred by a 2006 wildfire. But on a 6.6-mile round-trip hike to 5,500-foot Chaparrosa Peak, pockets of purple mat and spires of yucca brightened the scorched path. No other soul — save lizards and birds — shared the trail.

The lesson learned

Breathe, as the sign on the Rimrock Ranch barn door says, and find your inner hermit. A digital detox may be disquieting, but once you do, peace is within easy reach.


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