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Clocked Out: 24 hours in Pioneertown

Tacos at Red Dog Saloon, Joshua trees, an old film set, a show at Pappy & Harriet's and a campground steps away from it all.

Clocked Out: 24 hours in Pioneertown
Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Prepare to get your boots dusty, I’ve got a 24-hour desert trip that will cost you no more than $200 if you play it right.

The recipe:

This last Friday, a close friend and I boldly ventured out in sweltering heat to see one of our favorites take Pappy’s outdoor stage — Jessica Pratt. There are plenty more opportunities to see a show and repeat our itinerary this summer. Here’s what you’ll do.

(Note: I had far too good of a time to remember to take good photos, so bear with me).

The town

Pioneertown is exactly what it sounds like, a massive old-west film set. In 1946, this high desert strip was built to serve as a functioning 1880s-themed film set and town just a short drive from Los Angeles.

Oodles of western films and’ TV shows were filmed here over the decades, including 1950s series “The Cisco Kid” and “Annie Oakley.” The town was nearly named “Rogersville” after Roy Rogers himself, of course, since he was one of the town’s original investors.

Kat Schuster was laid off from the Long Beach Post on March 22, yet she still authors Clocked Out and serves as editor of the Watchdog without pay. Thank her for her work.

Today, the unincorporated Morongo Basin community hosts two saloons, a botanical shop, a vintage shop, a small film museum, an art studio, an old jail, an area to feed chickens and ducks, and more spectacles.

You might even run into a 94-year-old denim-clad fellow aptly named Cowboy Lou, who will let you to pet his adoring appaloosa horse named Braveheart (he likes carrots).

Braveheart. Photo by Kat Schuster.

It will be hot out there this summer, so you won’t want to arrive too early unless you’re planning on camping inside Pappy’s or Red Dog for the day. Either way, make sure you arrive an hour or so before sunset to set up camp and wander around the town.

The corrals

If camping isn’t your bag (or you just want to avoid the heat), get yourself a room at the rustic Pioneertown Motel ($175/night). Otherwise, saddle up for a $35 evening at the Pioneertown Corrals (there are actual corrals in the campground in case you want to bring your steed).

They do not allow fires, so don’t bother with bringing any wood. Just bring a tent, plenty of water and some light blankets for a warm night.

If you’re seeing a show at Pappy’s or catching another band/DJ at Red Dog, your campsite will be a short stumbling distance from either.

The venue

A fuzzy video still from Jessica Pratt’s June 21 show at Pappy & Harriet’s. Photo by Kat Schuster.

For my most recent visit to Pioneertown, I indulged in my usual itinerary, which always involves a show at Pappy & Harriets, the Mojave Desert’s most magical (IMO) BBQ biker bar and music venue, which opened in 1982.

Though I’ve seen many shows on Pappy & Harriet’s indoor stage, this last Friday was my first time getting to experience the outdoor stage. Getting to see (my queen) Jessica Pratt up there beneath the spotlight of a full moon was an ethereal moment to say the least.

If you haven’t discovered your dreary-dreamy ‘24 summer soundtrack yet, find it in Pratt’s latest album, “Here in the Pitch.”

Tickets for this show were $45 a piece and well worth it, despite the swelter which actually made for a wonderfully balmy evening.

While we waited for the punishing sun to sink, we sipped a couple of these here cocktails called the Cactus Flower inside the restaurant. It was campo azul, reposado tequila, lemonade, cranberry and lime. Refreshing and refreshing.

There are plenty of shows coming up this summer — from a night with Chris Cohen on July 28 to Drugdealer on Aug. 18 and dozens of bands in between. Check out the lineup and buy tickets here.

Just a girl and her Cactus Flower.

After the show, we headed back inside to grab two more Cactus Flowers and a massive plate of veggie chili nachos.

The ‘Dog’

The town’s Red Dog Saloon, which recently reopened to the public as a full-service bar and restaurant, was among one of the first structures built there. While it was once used as a film set, it has almost always been a functioning bar near the Pioneertown Motel.

“After filming wrapped, Gene Autry would kick up a poker game in Room # 9 at the Pioneertown Motel and then the singing cowboys would head over to the “Dog.” Live piano roared, the singing cowboys sang, [danced] and drank the night away under the stars.” - The Red Dog

We headed straight over to the Dog after we set up our tent beneath a shady tree on the campground and helped ourselves to almost every $5 taco they had on the menu. While my friend could vouch for the chicken tinga taco with fire-roasted tomatoes, avocado and cotija, I was obsessed with the bar’s vegan mushroom rajas taco, with pasilla peppers, mushrooms and onions.

And of course, an ice-cold frozen margarita was in order.

After we left Pappy’s later that evening, we headed back to Red Dog for a nightcap, where we sipped fernet (to help us digest those nachos no doubt) and met some odd characters before setting off on the very, very short ramble down Mane Street to the campground to sleep it all off.

Bonus: The cafe

In the morning, we crammed our tent back into its impossible little bag through hangover and heat and drove back down Pioneertown Road. Where that road meets 29 Palms Highway, you’ll find a quaint air-conditioned establishment called Frontier Cafe, the perfect place to stop on your way out of town to find breakfast, coffee and more delicacies.

They have a $12 breakfast sandwich that I’m a huge fan of.

Happy trails.

Tell me about your favorite quick trip a short distance from Long Beach. Email me at Kat@lbwatchdog.com.

Did you enjoy this column? Enjoy more Clocked Out itineraries and day trips when you become a Watchdog.


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