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COUNCIL DISTRICT OF THE MONTH: DISTRICT 4
The historic 29 Palms Inn, a 9,000 year old Oasis, and the finest pizza you'll ever have make up Twentynine Palms City Council District 4.
The most interesting City Council district in terms of local history, businesses, and outdoor adventure is District 4. Currently represented by Mayor Karmolette O’Gilvie, who won her city council seat by two votes in 2018, the boundaries for District 4 encompass (mostly) everything east of Adobe Road and south of Highway 62. This includes the Utah Trail entrance to Joshua Tree National Park and the Observatory. Notable neighborhoods in District 4 include Hansen Tract and South Utah Trail.
This coming November, two candidates will go head-to-head for the seat to represent District 4. Karmolette O’Gilvie, a registered nurse who is currently Mayor of Twentynine Palms, and rookie Octavious Scott, a Hi Desert local and veteran, are the two names on the ballot for voters in District 4 to choose from.
If elected, O’Gilvie, a Democrat, will serve her second four year term. In a community where talk of term limits for City Council has gained notoriety due to a history of incumbents running unopposed, Scott, a Libertarian, decided to throw his name in the hat, opting to run on a platform focusing on affordable housing and youth programs for Twentynine Palms families.
Here are some things to do while in District 4:
Twentynine Palms Schoolhouse and Old Schoolhouse Museum (6760 National Park Drive)
The very first schoolhouse and public building established in the Morongo Basin, the original Twentynine Palms schoolhouse was built in 1926 across from what would later become Luckie Park. The County Superintendent declined the homesteaders’ and miners’ request to build a schoolhouse, so they rallied and built the schoolhouse themselves after fundraising $300 and putting in sweat-equity. A whopping eight students attended the school that first year and they rode to school on feral burros left behind by miners. The last graduating class the schoolhouse saw was in 1954. The building was then used as a storage space for a number of years. After needing to clear space for expansion on the property, rather than demolishing the building, the schoolhouse was purchased by the Twentynine Palms Historical Society from Morongo Basin Unified in 1990 for exactly one dollar.
The building was moved across town to its current location on National Park Drive in 1992, which involved an entire theater of players including SoCal Edison, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and multiple movers and contractors. In order to operate as the museum it is today, the building also had to be renovated to be code-compliant, which included installing air conditioning, swamp coolers, and public restrooms.
In what was previously the original 7th and 8th grade classroom now lies the Twentynine Palms Gift Shop, where patrons can purchase Mojave Desert and Twentynine Palms-themed books, gems, and jewelry. Tourists and locals alike can also find brochures pertaining to local events in and around Twentynine Palms, such as the Twentynine Palms Weed Show, which takes place annually the first full weekend in November, and the Desert Institute’s Old Schoolhouse Lecture Series. Profits from the gift shop go directly towards the museum.
The Twentynine Palms Historical Society (6760 National Park Drive)
The Twentynine Palms Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and archiving all things Twentynine Palms. Founded 40 years ago in 1982, the organization is fully funded by volunteer donations and grants. The Historical Society is the group responsible for spearheading the purchase and ultimate move of the original schoolhouse building back in 1992. An extension of the Old Schoolhouse Museum, the Twentynine Palms Historical Society is composed of a nine-member board that meets the first Thursday of the month. Meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. and are open to the public. Currently, Les Snodgrass is the president.
Along with the Schoolhouse Museum and gift shop, the Historical Society property also holds a library that is open to the public with a semi-secret climate-controlled archive room. Hosting swaths of Twentynine Palms memorabilia, from photographs, yearbooks, historical VHS tapes, and early homesteader antiques, the archive room also has copies of every single Desert Trail published to date. “Contained in the archival and library collections are numerous items of historical and genealogical significance pertinent to the Twentynine Palms area,” according to the Historical Society website.
The museum also includes familial histories of all the original homesteaders of Twentynine Palms, including the Bagley family, owners of the first general store in the Morongo Basin, and the Smith family, of Smith’s Ranch Drive-In Theater. Unfortunately, the archive room is not open to the public, but the Historical Society Library is open to the public Wednesday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. “Requests to do research at other times may be submitted by email addressed to 29PalmsHistorical@gmail.com or by telephone at 760-367-2366.”
Out There Bar (73839 Twentynine Palms Highway)
Traveling east on Highway 62, just past Circle K, you will see a vibrant pink building with a large flag hanging out front that says “OPEN.” Out There Bar, with a name fitting for its remote desert location, opened in Twentynine Palms in October of 2021. Touting themselves as the last cold beer on Highway 62, Out There Bar is easily the most intriguing bar in Twentynine Palms. Where divey meets desert chic, OTB is a place where locals, tourists, and SoCal celebrities can find themselves a cold Pilsener, a tantalizing Mezcal Paloma, and a killer vibe.
The building has been occupied by a series of restaurants and bars throughout its history. Built in the 1960s, the structure was originally an A&W drive-thru while Downtown Josh was the first bar that opened there, followed most recently by Fine Line Cocktails which closed in 2020.
Desert conditions mean the bar has survived the duration of harsh storms, sweltering heat, and extreme winds typical for the Hi Desert. “The building has character like an old pair of jeans that need to be patched once in a while,” says co-owner and Twentynine Palms local Ian Raikow. In the summers, the swamp cooler adds a fitting touch to the desert persona the building has embraced over the years.
Bar patrons can find live DJs multiple times a week with music spinning from White Label Vinyl on Wednesdays, Dusty’s Diner on Sundays, and other guest DJs. Outdoor movie nights on the back patio thrown in with occasional live music from local bands, promotional events, and a television for Dodgers games ensures the space remains lively and vibrant.
Out There Bar is open six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday. On Fridays and Saturdays, you can expect them to close at 1:30 a.m. when bartenders Christi Waldom and Eric Rapin make the shout for last call.
I Fall To Pizzas (Twentynine Palms, CA 92277)
Run by Twentynine Palms locals Misti and Mark Pendergrass, I Fall To Pizzas is a mandatory must-try for any pizza connoisseur. Touting themselves as “Neapolitan-ish” style pizza (because they don’t abide by all the rules for traditional Neapolitan style pizza), Misti and Mark started their pop-up pizza shoppe here in Twentynine Palms in January of this year.
Originally from small towns in Tennessee and Indiana, Mark and Misti were drawn to the solace of Joshua Tree National Park and Twentynine Palms. The couple took the plunge and finally moved out here by way of Chicago eight years ago. Misti started making pizzas in high school and although she formally moved on to become a registered nurse, her passion for pizza making remained and she completed her cooking courses at Kendall College in Chicago.
With an array of specialty pizzas all named after women in country music, their most popular pizza is their Patsy. Named after Patsy Cline, this embodies the classic cup-style pepperoni with mozzarella. Their next most popular is the Kitty, inspired by Kitty Wells, which is a traditional plain mozzarella pizza. Pendergrass adds, “Our third most popular is our June (for June Carter Cash), which has pepperoni, mozzarella, roasted jalapenos, and grilled pineapple. Almost all our pizzas have our signature spicy red sauce.” For the ideal finishing touch to your pizza, add in some hot honey to get the perfect blend of sweet and savory with a hint of spice.
You can find I Fall To Pizzas at both public and catered private events throughout the Morongo Basin, including the annual Pioneer Days festival this upcoming October 13th through 16th. Follow them on Instagram @I_Fall_To_Pizzas to find them at their next local pop-up event.
Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Trail (9697 Utah Trail)
Traveling south on Utah Trail, immediately adjacent to the Joshua Tree National Park entrance, is the observatory and nature center. In 2007, with the help of Jerri Hagman and Jerry Mattos, seven and a half acres of pristine desert land was purchased by the Basin Wide Foundation to preserve native plant and animal life and promote a deeper appreciation of the vegetation of the Mojave Desert, Colorado Desert, and the night skies above. Since the groundbreaking and blessing of the land on September 30, 2007, the grounds have grown to over 15 acres and has been visited by thousands.
The Sky’s The Limit Observatory & Nature Center is an always-open, available-to-explore spacious campus with a multitude of offerings, including an Orrery — a 20-billion-to-one walkable scale model of the solar system, a Meditation Garden featuring nature trails dedicated to preserving native desert plants, education workshops, and a myriad of astronomy-themed sculptures by San Bernardino native and self-taught artist, Simi Dabah. Hosting events such as The Night Sky Festival, Telescope Clinics, and Free Star Parties, there is always something to do or see whenever you plan your next trip to the Sky’s The Limit Observatory.
Oasis of Mara (74485 National Park Drive)
Although the 29 Palms Inn was established in 1928, the land it sat on had been cultivated by Native Americans for thousands of years leading up to White settler occupation in the 19th century.
The Serrano people were the primary stewards of the area, taking advantage of the bountiful water source the Pinto Mountain geological fault line created, allowing them to establish irrigation canals to grow food. Members of the Cahuilla, Chemeheuvi, and Paiute tribes also used the Oasis. Anthropologists and historians estimate the Oasis has been occupied by both humans and animals as far back as 9,000 years and originally stretched about one mile across. The Serrano called the Oasis “Mar-rah,” translating to ‘place of little rain and much grass.’
In 1875, ignoring the rights of the Serrano and Chemehuevi who called the Oasis home, the State of California filed a claim on the land. It was then sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad, unbeknownst to the Chemehuevi and Serrano people.
A delegation from the Federal Indian Service was sent to the Oasis in 1909 to convince remaining Native Americans to move to reservations in surrounding areas. Jim Pine, tribal leader of the Serrano tribe, stated they did not wish to move to an outside reservation and wished to stay at the Oasis. When Native American Superintendent Clara True attempted to establish a reservation at the Oasis, she was rejected by the federal government.
By October of that year, the Native Americans were forced to flee the Oasis permanently after the Willie Boy manhunt took place. William Mike, Chemehuevi tribal leader, and daughter Carlota were both killed and a posse searched for Willie Boy for over three weeks. Although there are conflicting accounts of the event, it left many Chemehuevi and Serrano people fearful of retaliation from the white settlers. Seven months later, Indian Service removed any remaining Native Americans and forced them to live on reservations.
Since then, ownership of the Oasis has changed hands over the years. The water supply had dwindled after the establishment of the Desert Queen and Lost Horse mines siphoned it out of the Oasis to aid mining projects. Harry Johansing donated the eastern portion of the Oasis to Joshua Tree National Monument in 1950 and the area served as the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center’s first location. Today, you can talk a walk along the half-mile Oasis of Mara trail and see the remnants of what was once a flourishing oasis and water source for centuries.
29 Palms Inn (73950 Inn Avenue)
In the mid-1920s, after an individual named W.P. Roberts purchased the Oasis of Mara from the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Gold Park Hotel was established just east of Utah Trail, adjacent to the original site of the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center. Realizing that the western side of the Oasis was much more fertile and still had abundant water, Roberts decided to move the Gold Park Hotel to the opposite side of the property, thus formally establishing the 29 Palms Hotel in 1928. Harry Johansing and David Faries then purchased the property from Roberts in 1929. Shortly after, the name changed to the 29 Palms Inn when caretaker Grace Brock was asked to take over hotel operations. The hotel began to flourish under Brock’s management, with the construction of additional adobe bungalows, cabin quarters, and bathrooms with hot showers, which were seen as a luxury for the time.
Although Johansing and Faries disolved their partnership in 1938, Johansing maintained ownership of the Inn and the Oasis, and eventually his daughter Mary Claire Van Lear moved out to Twentynine Palms with her husband to help manage the property in 1939.
The hotel and western end of the Oasis has stayed within Johansing’s family ever since. In 1950, they donated 58 acres of the eastern end of the property to Joshua Tree National Monument which is where the old Joshua Tree Visitor Center and current Oasis of Mara walking trail now sit off of Utah Trail.
Currently, the 29 Palms Inn consists of 25 rooms comprised of historical adobe bungalows, three houses, and two vacation rental units sitting on over 70 acres of property at the western end of the Oasis of Mara. This is the only location at the Oasis of Mara where one can still find active water. The 29 Palms Inn restaurant, open Wednesday through Sunday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., features a seasonally changing menu with organic fruits and veggies harvested from the hotel’s Faultline Farm. According to the Inn, “The farm utilizes rich bottom soils of a pond formed 9,000 years ago by action along the Pinto Mountain Fault.”