Even though Pioneertown counts fewer than 500 residents, this quaint Western-themed community hangs on with the tenacity of a cactus thorn buried deep, but instead of a sharp pain, visitors are left with fond memories of desert beauty where quirky is an everyday thing.
First established in the late 1940s as a convenient locale for Hollywood to film Westerns, Pioneertown is about 125 miles east of Los Angeles, a few miles west of Joshua Tree National Park and about 40 miles north of Palm Springs. Cowboy movie and television legend Roy Rogers helped found the town and it was named after a band he was in, “Sons of the Pioneers.”
For those who don’t wish to stay in one of the few local hotels (reviews for some on tripadvisor.com are mixed) a number of short-term rentals can be found on websites such as airbnb.com and vrbo.com. Those options are located beyond town and offer apartments, cottages and homes accessed by dirt roads that wind among the hills and boulders of the area.
Staying in one of these places is transformative. As soon as you close the car door, thoughts of city noise, traffic congestion and hectic lifestyles disappear. The stars fill the sky at night in a glittering array and during a full moon you can easily see your shadow from the reflected light.
Another advantage to staying outside of town puts you, in many cases, just a doorstep away from a wonderful hike. The terrain is very much like that at Joshua Tree National Park, but one does not have to contend with the 1.6 million visitors who enjoyed JTNP in 2014. In Pioneertown you often have the hiking trail all to yourself.
Wilderness hikes promise that gems of discovery will be found along the way. Animals, wildflowers (in season), and amazing Joshua trees stand guard among the sandstone boulders. And if one knows where to look, or has a friendly local guide, you might even catch a glimpse of some petroglyphs left by earlier First Americans.
For those more spiritual, there are a number of active Buddhist temples near the area, and a one-of-a-kind venue known locally as “God’s Way Love,” it is the creation of a man known to all simply as, “Garth” is a Pioneertown landmark. Actually, his name is Garth Bowles and his creation is known as “Boulder Gardens,” an on-going transformation of land he has been working on for a number of years.
Within the confines of Boulder Gardens are trails, water features, sculptures and meditation areas where travelers and visitors can commune with nature in a peaceful and accepting environment. There are accommodations, but they are rustic, and visitors range from those seeking solace and a place to meditate to those with lifestyles that fluctuate from bohemian to slacker.
At first glance, particularly for folks from a big city, Pioneertown may not seem to have much to offer. But once you let the pace of urban living slip from your thoughts, you begin to see a place where important things are all around you and the wonders of nature can fill your imagination and soul.