Weekend Getaway: Pioneertown and Joshua Tree
It’s Friday at noon, you’re ready to leave the office in the dust, and get off the grid, quick! You head east on the 10 and pick up Highway 62 after passing the dino-icons of Cabazon and a whirlwind of windmills. In less than two hours the landscape changes from a concrete jungle to a scratchy, sand-papered desert. As the summer heat dissipates, the coming autumn brings balmy temperatures down to the low-80s by day. At night and and in the early morning, the temperatures dips further, into the 60s, making such times perfect for hiking and climbing.
You are in Yucca Valley, home of Joshua Tree National Park and the incomparably odd trees it was named after, as well as the kitschy, quaint wild west wilderness of the high desert.
You’ll dance to your heart’s content at a variety of music festivals – Desert Stars Festival and the Joshua Tree Music Festival are the titans -, you’ll encounter the mix of military from the Marine base in nearby 29 Palms, musical free-spirits, hippies, cowboys and solitary spiritualists at the incomparable Pappy and Harriet’s roadhouse on the edge of 1950s-movie-set-turned-old-west-homage, Pioneertown. Not weird enough yet? Make sure to experience the sonic geomagnetic vortex that is the Integratron to turn it up a notch.
At Joshua Tree National Park you’ll find unusual high-desert plant life – like the park’s namesake tree, which you might recognize from an album cover or three – as well as limestone-heavy rock climbing, bouldering sites, and a series of caves destined to be explored. The area attracts more than just rogue athletes, nerdy geologists, and intrepid campers. The surrounding town of Joshua Tree, as well as its neighboring 29 Palms and Pioneertown communities, is inhabited by locals who relish their folksy, mystic, wild-west heritage. Gravitational pull draws oddballs to the previously mentioned Integratron, a structure in Landers, 20 miles north of the park. The Integratron is a large, wooden dome built to amplify the magnetic field of the earth and transport sonic waves for enhanced time travel and contact with UFOs – yes, you read that right. The dome’s designer cites Nicola Tesla, biblical temple architects, and direct instruction from extraterrestrials as co-architects of the structure. Today, desert mystics and curious tourists can arrange a “sound bath” with crystal bowls played inside the resonant chamber. When you’re done, head back to Pioneertown,where you’ll recognize “Mane Street” from just about every cowboy movie you’ve ever seen. Built as a movie set, the hollow shells lining the dirt road have become another desert attraction and spawned the incomparable roadhouse, Pappy and Harriet’s, where LA-based musicians and world-famous rockers swing by for nightly performances. Forget Instagramming the show to give away your whereabouts. Cell service here is non-existent.
Don’t be daft! You’ve got to visit the park. Early mornings are perfect for exploring and rock climbing. Enter through the West Entrance at Park Drive and tie off at Hidden Valley or Ryan Mountain. For an evening visit, enter at Indian Cove Camp Grounds and climb a nearby jumble of boulders, admiring the setting sun over an alien landscape before you settle down for some stargazing under the endlessly clear skies. Intrepid night-hikers will enjoy winding their way in and out of the caves.
Pappy and Harriet’s hosts incredible local talent and internationally-known music nightly. The Desert Stars Festival will take place Sept. 25-26 and tickets will go on sale June 16. While you are there make sure to try out the abundant homestyle cooking and plentiful tequila shots.
The Joshua Tree Music Festival rides into town October 8-11. The fest takes place at Joshua Tree Lake Campground, just outside the park, where camping is encouraged. This years line-up includes Xavier Rudd & The United Nations, Ben Miller Band, Marques Wyatt and more.
Head to the vortex of mystical energies at the Integratron for a pop-up sound bath. Call ahead for a reservation to enjoy the calming sounds of crystal bowls being played live at tones designed to align your chakras. Straight from the Santa Monica GLOW festival, artist Victoria Vesna’s participatory work, Octopus Mandala, comes to the Integratron Oct. 4-5.
The Natural Sisters Cafe serves up vegetarian and vegan food for a casual, yet delicious, meal. Don’t forget to try the carrot cake. 61695 Twentynine Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
You’ll want to take foodie Anthony Bourdain’s word for it and step into the casual JT Country Kitchen for your Thai fusion greasy spoon Saturday morning breakfast. 61768 29 Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
The chic corner-store cafe Ma Rouge is a coffee shop that boasts house-made, organic pastries, sandwiches and quiches. Stop in for breakfast or lunch. 55844 Twentynine Palms Hwy, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
Back at Pappy and Harriet’s, bring a big appetite for mesquite-fire-grilled chicken, steak or fish. Standard Tex-Mex is also on-call. The kitchen closes at 9:30 pm, but the bar serves up generously appointed cocktails in Mason jars until closing at 2 am.
Pappy and Harriet’s rival saloon, the unsurprisingly named Joshua Tree Saloon Grill and Bar, provides a casual ambiance just outside the national park on the main highway. 61835 29 Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
The Pioneertown Motel offers 17 gingham country-styled rooms just steps from the vacant storefronts of Pioneertown’s Mane Street for around $80 a night. Not to mention it’s a stone’s roll (not even a throw) away from Pappy and Harriet’s.
For a more mid-century modern feel, the eclectic personality of Rimrock Ranch, a few miles past Pioneertown, beckons. The original ranch cabins were built to house the crews shooting westerns nearby, and still retain the personality of the upscale 1950s. The ranch also features an outfitted airstream trailer, a vintage lodge and a breathtaking minimalistic hideaway, the Hatch House. Rooms run between $125 and $250 a night. A summertime “cooling pool” and barbeque pit are the perfect additions to make you feel even more at home.
Find a place for yourself on Airbnb. This Poolside Getaway in Yucca Valley is a mid-century, stand-alone 2-bedroom house renting for $150 a night. For a splurge, check out Rock Reach House, an all-steel 2-bedroom home build among the boulders with an open-air bathroom and shower. Off-Grid itHouse, named for its fully-green engineering, is a two-bedroom solar-powered retreat just outside Pioneertown. Both are priced around $350 a night.