If this incongruous structure of Pioneertown reminds you of an Old West cowboy flick, your memory serves you well. Back in 1946, when the public couldn’t get enough of Western movies, silver-screen cowboy stars Gene Autry and Roy Rogers (and other investors) saw an opportunity, and created this 1870s-era frontier town–style movie set about 48 kilometres north of Palm Springs, in hard scrabble desert near Joshua Tree National Park. The site, called Pioneertown, had camera-ready façades resembling saloons, jailhouses, and stables. Inside, the buildings doubled as tourist attractions, with a bowling alley, an ice cream parlour, and motel. The site that’s now Pappy & Harriet’s was used as a “cantina” set for Westerns well into the 1950s.
“It reminded me of the first Star Wars when they walked into the bar and saw all the aliens just drinking and having fun.” — Linda Krantz, co-owner, Pappy & Harriet’s
When Western movies died, the building became a burrito joint popular with outlaw biker gangs. In 1982, Harriet and her husband, Claude “Pappy” Allen, turned the site into the more family-friendly (but still quirky) Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, where you could relax with a cold one, order some Tex-Mex food, and listen to the couple and their granddaughter Kristina sing. When Pappy died in 1994, Pioneertown lost its way, until two women from New York who had visited and loved the site found out it was for sale.
“When I first walked into Pappy & Harriet’s as a customer, it reminded me of the first Star Wars, when they walked into the bar and saw all the aliens just drinking and having fun,” says Linda Krantz, who bought the business with Robyn Celia in 2003. Fixed up but forever eclectic and low-key, Pioneertown still brings together a colourful mix of people. “From bikers to grandmothers to hipsters to cowboys,” notes Krantz. Pappy & Harriet’s now attracts a mix of really good musicians and performers, such as indie-pop favourites Miike Snow and the Shadow Mountain Band. For a just-about-perfect day, hike a Joshua Tree trail, then head here to dig into a bowl of signature carne asada chili (rumoured to be made with a secret blend of tequila and coffee), and dance, clap and hoop it up while the band plays into the night.
The thwack of a golf club, the hum of the wind buffeting towering sand dunes, the splash of a dive into a perfect pool—the desert region is a sensory feast.
Following winter rains, springtime wildflowers paint the desert with colour.
Death Valley National Park holds the record for hottest temperature ever recorded (129°F/54°C in 1913), while the deserts of Joshua Tree National Park have giant boulders and alien-like yucca plants. At Anza-Borrego, California’s largest state park, discover amazing springtime wildflowers. The oasis-like Palm Springs region (2 hours east of L.A. and 3 hours northeast of San Diego) has golf resorts, midcentury modern architecture, and every spring, the epic Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
For all of the desert’s natural splendor and outdoor destinations, creativity comes with the territory, too. Throughout the year, the region finds ways to celebrate art, design, music, and film...