The High Desert is the grandfather of the wild American West, the birthplace of the California mystique, and a destination for those seeking visions and untamed beauty. A wild, unruly and wondrous place, it is home to cougars, bobcats, rattlesnakes, wildfires, flash floods, hail storms, heat waves, birds of prey and more species of scorpion than anywhere else in the world. But it is also home to glorious wildflower blooms, rugged rock formations, songbirds, wide varieties of cactus, surreal sunsets, rare gems, healing minerals, cool, pleasing breezes, a peaceful quietude, sweeping, breathtaking views — and legend has it: an underground river of gold. The light is bright and unflinching. Your lips chap. It seems to exist at a different time — or outside of time altogether — domesticated dogs still yip and howl at the deepening dusk. The day seems infinite. Your boots are always dusty.
The comforts of the modern world do not really apply here. You are not here to linger, to revel in warm showers or fancy dinners. You accidentally leave your phone in your room but realize you don’t need it or miss it. When you leave Pappy & Harriett’s, vowing to play more guitar, you crane your neck to look at the stars, elbows akimbo, mouth agape. You are here to remember what your senses are for, what silence means, what the light can do. The desert reminds you what it feels like to be a thinking, breathing human being in the wilderness, on this planet, in the Universe.
Pioneertown Motel fosters this desert experience, existing as a waystation between a traveler and his or her freedom. It is not disembodied from the greater desert landscape, but rather a focused lens into the area’s storied past and singular marvels. For those seeking solace and inspiration, Pioneertown Motel can be both a beautiful respite from the elements and a catalyst for interaction with the landscape, as well as the diverse swaths of humanity that come through PTM’s doors — each different from the other but united in what they seek.
The idea of the “American West” took root in the sandy, wild landscape of the western United States. The film tycoons who founded Pioneertown loved it for its versatile terrain — scenery of seven western states could be duplicated by immediate surroundings. The true origin story of Pioneertown is hotly contested. The legend of the place often overshadows its true historical trajectory, and the more people you talk to, the more scrambled it gets. Alice “Honey” Fellers who wrote the book, Pioneertown, Then and Now, was quoted saying “Psychologically speaking, Pioneertown is not a town. It is a legend.” What we know is that Pioneertown began in 1946 when perennial movie bad guy Dick Curtis — a strapping man with a black mustache — whoa’d his horse on a grassy knoll and proclaimed, “This is the place.” Other accounts say an old lady owed him twenty-five dollars and repaid him with a deed to an unseen homesteader plot. Along with Curtis, Roy Rogers, Philip N. Krasne, Gene Autry, Russell Hayden, and the Sons of the Pioneers (for whom the town was named) were some of the original investors and personalities who helped build and invent Pioneertown. More than 50 films and several television shows were filmed there, most notably The Cisco Kid and The Gene Autry Show.
Promoted as a scenic, smog-free, 32,000 acre “all-inclusive filming location,” Pioneertown featured a variety of fully-built circa 1870s western movie set buildings along “Mane” Street, including corrals, stables, a sound stage, storage facilities, a Chinese restaurant called the Golden Stallion, two saloons, a 6-lane bowling alley built because Roy Rogers loved to bowl and a motel, originally christened The Townhouse, was part of an original plan conceived by Curtis, Rogers and Hayden. Even its two sturdy-looking buildings assembled from what may be old railroad ties, had doubled as an army fort in one of the first films ever shot at Pioneertown.