Native peoples once camped in the Oasis of Mara, a watering hole that made this stretch of the Mojave Desert more bearable. By the time gold hunters arrived in the 1870s, the original inhabitants had already hightailed it out of there. (Maybe they knew what a mess the Gold Rush was going to be.) Legend has it that miners counted the trees surrounding the oasis, naming it Twentynine Palms. (An 1858 survey team found 26 palms, but why quibble with a legend?)
Space and more space: that's what brings everybody to Twenynine Palms. (The constant sunshine and small-town feel don't hurt, either.) If you find that even the widely spaced residential and commercial buildings are a bit too confining, hop in your SUV and drive for a few minutes in any direction. Then, all you'll see are miles of open desert, punctuated by desert brush and surrounded by a few mountain ranges. Occupying the southwest part of Southern California, Twentynine Palms sprawls over 59 square miles of San Bernardino County. The city connects with the outside world through California State Route 62, which runs from west to east. The fastest way in from anywhere else is through the two local airports. Twentynine Palms Airport allows private pilots to come in, while Palm Springs International caters to scheduled airlines.
Renting an Apartment
The dozen or so apartment complexes dot mostly the northern half of a one-mile radius around the intersection of SR 62 and Adobe Road. Most of the shops and restaurants line the 62, and Adobe Road heads north to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. The base is off-limits to civilians like you, but its influence on housing is pervasive. You can't throw a Joshua Tree fruit without hitting a Marine. Many of the places to rent in Twentynine Palms go to servicemen and women who choose to live off the base. So you're likely to be saying "Howdy neighbor" to a member of the Armed Forces.
The biggest amenity you want to look for when renting an apartment is cooling, unless you're a desert lizard. It's typically included, in which case you also want all utilities paid. Otherwise, expect to owe the electric company big-time when the summer temperatures soar past 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
To keep you cool, your housing for rent may have an air conditioner, swamp (evaporative) cooler or both. A swamp cooler spits water vapor into the air and is less costly to operate. It's most effective in the low humidity of the desert and doesn't work when humidity is high. However, you have to check it often to ensure that the moisture pads are wet enough to work correctly. Air conditioners rely on refrigerants, require less maintenance and can work under any humidity level. However, they drain your wallet faster than a date you're paying for.
Check out the heat while you're at it or you'll be shivering when the temps drop below freezing, which happens several times a year.
Other rental amenities that generally come with apts for rent are a free parking spot, Internet access and cable TV. Don't expect anything more, such as pools or spas, which you will rarely find even in private homes -- the blazing sun quickly dries up anything wet. You can't even count on green lawns and colorful flowers. The landscape is naturally brown or gray (depending on the time of day and your sunglasses).
What to Do in Twentynine Palms
The vast distances and empty spaces make getting around by bus about as quick as riding a tortoise. You can brave this mode of public transport through the Morongo Basin Transit Authority, which connects Twentynine Palms with other communities. Your own car is the best way to navigate the distances. As a bonus, there are plenty of spaces to park, including the many empty patches of desert. Walking can be uncomfortable because of the distances and the heat, except at night or in the early morning.
At about 1,235 square miles, Joshua Tree National Park is physically the biggest wonder of Twentynine Palms, attracting over 1.4 million visitors a year. Only the Oasis Visitor Center is within city limits, but this ranger-run center is a useful first step in planning your trip to the land of Joshua Trees, rock climbing, hiking and camping under star-filled dark skies. A walking tour of the Keys Ranch can show you just how much hard work it took to keep up with the challenges of desert living.
You can engage in less expansive outdoor activities at recreation areas such as Luckie Park, which features a swimming pool, several lighted sports fields and courts for play in the cool of night, and picnic shelters.
The murals decorating several public walls should have revealed that the city sees itself as an oasis of culture. If they didn't, then check out the Art in Public Places Program, which encourages local artists to show off their works either through permanent installations or temporary exhibits. More home-grown talents display their abilities at the 29 Palms Art Gallery, which is run, oddly enough, by the 29 Palms Artists' Guild.
More culture, in the form of performing arts, appears in the six annual productions at Theater 29, which is also used for fundraisers and other community events. If you want to know where this love for art came from, view the historical artifacts at the Old Schoolhouse Museum, which is run by the local historical society.
When night falls, only a handful of nightspots, mostly of the dive bar variety, provide any entertainment. Those out for a good time typically head for the happening places in Yucca Valley or Joshua Tree.
If you're willing to wait a few months, you can enjoy several annual events where you can mix with the locals. In April, the Joshua Tree National Park Art Festival puts paintings, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics and photos up for sale at artists' booths. Then there's the Wild West Grand Prix, which races motorcycles on an eight-mile course at the Motorsports Arena. The past is honored with the parade, food, concerts and exhibits of Pioneer Days in October. In November, the Weed Show turns indigenous desert plants and found objects into works of art. End the year with the December Winter Light Parade, which also signals the lighting of the holiday tree at City Hall.