If there's anything left in 2005 to the concept of the West, it's here in Pioneertown, a nearly abandoned, half-century-old film set on a piece of parched desert land. You reach it by driving half an hour down a winding road through largely empty hills. Today, the idea of Gene Autry or Roy Rogers making movies out there seems nearly as remote as the closing of the frontier.
The band we saw served up such standard fare as "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Born to Be Wild" interspersed with cries of "God bless America" and offers of "some Southern-fried rock 'n' roll for y'all." I have a sneaking suspicion that these good ol' boys are accountants during the week.
I doubt many go to Pappy and Harriet's strictly for the food. Still, as someone who experiences L.A.'s near-vegetarian tendencies as a type of purgatory, I found this place to be red-meat heaven. "Our tender meat is smoked and grilled over our outdoor mesquite fire," the menu says. Unable to decide between the baby back ribs and the beef tri-tip, I ordered a platter with both and was glad not to have had to take sides on the matter.
After checking out Sunday, we hit a kitschy shop called Spin and Margie's Trading Post, run by two city slickers transplanted to Joshua Tree. It sells an array of hip books, retro signs and funky crafts. There are some fine antiques shops around too, especially in Yucca Valley, and we tramped through a few, appraising their out-of-print books, used ice skates and 1930s grandfather clocks. I love wondering about the origins of such objects.
Our last major stop was the Pioneer Bowl. This is one of the oldest bowling alleys in the country: Roy Rogers threw out the first ball in 1947, and little has changed since. The staff dresses in period garb, antique pinball machines ping away in a back room, and charmingly goofy murals from the '40s are on the wall beside the lanes. We just missed a cowboy reenactment outside.
Thanks to all the Wild West atmosphere, I logged what may have been an all-time low score.
We could have spent a lot more time bowling and could have killed several hours at the cool and relaxing Water Canyon Coffee Co., on Yucca Valley's main drag. Sara is a cappuccino fiend, so this brief stop was essential, and it allowed us to postpone our reluctant return home.
We would have liked to have done more hiking; there are huge regions of the park I've never seen. This wasn't our first trip out here, and it won't be the last. But it may be the only one from which we didn't return lobster red.
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Pioneers at the inn
Expenses for two on this trip:
Roughley Manor, two nights in a suite with tax $349
Crossroads Cafe, dinner and lunch $44
29 Palms Inn, dinner and lunch $95
Pappy and Harriet's, dinner $61
Water Canyon Coffee Co. $15
Pioneer Bowl $10
National Park entrance fee $10
Distance from L.A. 140 miles
WHERE TO STAY:
Roughley Manor, 74744 Joe Davis Road, Twentynine Palms; (760) 367-3238, roughleymanor.com. Variety of rooms in the 1928 farmhouse, barn and cottages. Doubles $135-$150; suites, $160. Breakfast and tea with dessert included.
WHERE TO EAT:
Crossroads Cafe and Tavern, 61715 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree; (760) 366-5414, crossroadscafeandtavern.com. Relaxed, colorful place for coffee, beer or food. Salads, sandwiches $5-$10.
29 Palms Inn, 73950 Inn Ave., Twentynine Palms; (760) 367-3505, 29palmsinn.com. Casual decor, including seating outside around the pool. Entrees $14-$23; salads and pastas less. Inn has 23 rooms, cottages and bungalows, $50-$295.
Pappy and Harriet's, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; (760) 365-5956, pappyandharriets.com. Ribs, steaks and chicken in Wild West-saloon setting. Entrees $13-$25, sandwiches less. Upcoming shows: Bluesman Leon Russell tonight. Honky-tonk songwriter Mike Stinson, June 3. Americana songstress Rosie Flores, June 4.
WHERE TO PLAY:
Joshua Tree National Park, nps.gov/jotr. With almost 800,000 acres, there's room to roam. Our favorite hikes are Mt. Ryan, Indian Cove and 49 Palms Oasis; maps and directions are at the entrance station. $10 entrance fee per car is good for a week.
Pioneer Bowl, 53613 Mane St., Pioneertown; (760) 365-3615. Bowling as time warp. Open weekends only, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Information about it and other Pioneertown sites, pioneertown.com.
Spin and Margie's Trading Post, 61731 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree; (760) 366-3195, deserthideaway.com. Kitschy gift shop next door to a hotel with four suites.
Pioneer Crossing Antiques, 55854 Twentynine Palms Highway, Yucca Valley; (760) 228-0603. The best and largest of the antiques shops we visited.
-- Scott Timberg