“Howdy Pardner,” Welcome to Pioneertown
Last week the mid-day temperatures in the Palm Springs area of California finally dipped below 100 for the first time in months. We always tell people that even when the thermometer heads north of 100, it isn’t all that unpleasant. Low humidity makes the experience like a nice dry sauna and not at all like the “Flashdance Splash” people experience in tropical Florida in the summer.
That reasoning works until about 120 degrees — after that it’s just damn unpleasant.
Get out of town
Did you know that when you live in and around Palm Springs, or visit during the summer when it really heats up, there are nearby places to go for relief?
The Coachella Valley is surrounded by high mountains. You can cut 20 or more degrees off the day’s highs by driving a few hours from the Springs.
The top of the Palm Springs Tramway, the little town of Idyllwild, Big Bear Lake, and the old west movie set of Pioneertown are all nearby and easily accessible by car.
These places all have lower temps because of their elevation. While Palm Springs is at an elevation of 479 feet, the getaways we mentioned are located at elevations of 8,516 feet, 5,413 feet, 6,752 feet, and Pioneertown is at 4,000 feet.
Off to Pioneertown
One hot day we wanted to take a short ride to cool off. Pioneertown is the closest mountain destination to Palm Springs and it’s less than an hour’s drive. However, at only 4,000 feet we did not expect to experience the really cool temperatures of the higher elevations — but it was still more comfortable than the Valley floor.
Cowboys built it
This is a little-known but often seen town in western movies and TV shows after 1946. Back then, several cowboy actors including Roy Rogers and Gene Autry invested in a real rootin’- tootin’ 1870 era wild-west movie set, and called it Pioneertown.
The real thing
Unlike many other western sets, Pioneertown has complete buildings, not just faux facades. The original buildings were often used for various purposes by film crew members and their families during shootings.
There is even a bowling alley that can be disguised during filming. The building structure was built for the recreation of the movie crews and local residents. Roy Rogers bowled the first strike on the first throw at its grand opening in 1946 – in cowboy boots.
The old structures still house tourist shops and a free museum featuring videos of the movies and TV shows filmed in the town. Some notable early TV shows include Gene Autry, the Cisco Kid, and Judge Roy Bean.
The movies filmed on location were not always westerns. A number of horror flicks and dramas were also produced there.
In 2020, Pioneertown’s “Mane” Street area was recognized as a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places.
We met briefly with the mayor and his son..
Food and entertainment
Although Pioneertown has less than 500 residents and is somewhat in the middle of nowhere, there are two places that serve food.
Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, is a longtime local landmark built near the town’s only gas station. And YES it is true that Sir Paul McCartney DID perform a live concert on the Palace’s tiny stage before an audience of 300 ardent fans in October 2016. Why? You will have to ask him.
The other eatery is The Red Dog Saloon on Mane Street. The Red Dog is seen in many westerns. You can watch an episode of the Gene Autry Show featuring the saloon on the Red Dog website!
Both establishments serve liquor.
If you decide to stay overnight there is the Pioneertown Motel. We did not check it out.
If you go
For more information about Pioneertown click HERE.
Directions: From Interstate 10 in the area of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway find California highway 62 North and follow the signs to Pioneertown. It’s an easy 30-minute drive from the junction of Interstate 10 and 62.
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Copyright © 2021 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
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