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The Eagle's Nest


"Aquila the Eagle"

Echos From The Past
(A Ghost Story)

(Prologue)

Have you ever lived through an experience and after it was over, wondered whether it was real, or only your imagination? You know, the mind can play strange tricks on your senses. I'm not talking about dreams, or hallucinations, but actual events where you can hear, smell and actually feel things that you know, at the time, can not exist. Events, that, after they are over, you firmly believe you lived through, although rational thought, and a clear mind, tell you that they just could not have happened.
My story is much like that. It begins..........

 

In the southeastern part of California, in the High Desert country of the Morongo Basin, there is an enigma, a place of mystery.

I found out about it's strange secrets while visiting a very special friend in the town of Yucca Valley.
One day, while Maria and I were comng back from town, she said to me, "There's the road to Pioneertown".
"What's 'Pioneertown'", I asked.
"It's an old movie set, built by Roy Rogers and some other investors back in the middle 1940's. I'll show it to you before you leave, but don't go there alone"
"Why"I asked, "why shouldn't I go alone?"
Maria just shook her head and whispered "Things happen there, unusual, unsettling things".
"What kind of unusual things?" I wanted to know.
"I'd rather not talk about it, but you really shouldn't go there alone".

As we got back to my motel, I brought up the subject again.
She still didn't want to discuss it, and I said "Well, anyway, just in case, tell me where it is, and how to get there."
She replied "We go down to 29 Palms Highway, make a left and drive until we get to the turnoff for Pioneertown Road. Then, up and over that mountain. But please, please, don't go alone."
Later, I stood at the door of the motel, looking at the mysterious mountain, and wondering why she had insisted that I not go alone.

The next morning I got up early..... early for me is 10am.... had coffee, called Maria and said "I'm going to visit Pioneertown, see ya' later".
I heard an audible intake of breath as she whispered, almost in terror. "Alone.....don't".
Laughing, I hung up the phone. I drove down the hill to 29 Palms Highway, made the left turn, and about a mile on the right, saw the cutoff.
Pioneertown Road is a well-paved, two lane road that winds up the side of the mountain, and looks like it leads to nowhere. As I started up the slow incline, I reached for the first of three cans of Coke that I had in the cooler chest, popped it open, and took a long drink. As my rental car shifted into a lower gear and the incline increased, I gave no thought to what might lie ahead.

 

When I left Yucca Valley, the "Time and Temperature" sign at the bank on Joshua Lane had read 100 degrees. Now, with the car struggling up the ever increasing incline, and the air conditioner running at full force, the needle on the temperature gauge on the dashboard was edging dangerously close to the top.
"Time to rough it", I thought, as I took the last mouthful from the first can of Coke, turned off the air, and opened the window. The first rush of hot air hit me in the face like a blast furnace, so I reached for the second can of soda and downed it in one long, satisfying drink.
"Gotta' remember to stretch the next one", I said to myself. "No telling what I'll be able to get to drink in Pioneertown".

As I continued up the hill, I started to take notice of the surrounding landscape. What forces of nature could have torn these rocks apart, and then put them back together again, so snugly that they don't even move?
At this point, I realized that something strange was happening. I don't know if it was the heat getting to me or what, but the different rock formations seemed to take on a personality and an entity of their own. As I looked at each one I started to name them.
"That one looks like a 'Gatekeeper'" , I mused, "those two look like 'Sentinels' and I'll call that one 'The Guardian'"
I suddenly realized that I was talking out loud to no one in particular.
"Hold on, BJ", I thought, "get a hold of yourself. The rocks are not people and you've got to cool down. Only one soda left, and that's probably warm by now".
"By now! How long have I been driving?", I shouted. "This was supposed to be a twenty minute trip and it seems like an hour".

And then I saw a group of rocks that really frightened me. It seemed to breathe on it's own and had a look about it of pure evil. I shuddered as I seemed to be looking directly at Satan himself. his dark eyes peering into space. It had to be 115 degrees in the car and I was breaking out in a cold sweat. As I accelerated the car to get away from the dark, sinister eyes of my imaginary monster, I felt like I was driving directly into the Devil's Canyon.

It was then that I noticed the old man with the horse and wagon coming down the road.
"Strange", I thought, "he looks like Gabby Hayes, with beard, beat up hat, and no teeth".
But as he came closer, I realized that he was just another old grizzled mountain man.
When he came along side, I called out "Excuse me, how much farther is Pioneertown?"
"Just up the road a piece, Sonny". And he pointed to a sign at the side of the road.
"Just follow your nose or the Joshua trees. They'll show you the way"
He never turned his head to speak, but looked straight ahead.
"Thanks", I said, and started to drive up the hill. I slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car to ask if there was a place where I could get something to drink. As I turned to call out the question, I saw that the old man, the horse, the wagon and even the sign had vanished into thin air.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I got back in my car and decided to give it maybe ten minutes more. After all, the old man, if he was real, and not just a figment of my imagination, had said "Just up the road a piece", so I thought, "What have I got to lose?"

 

Five minutes later, as I cleared the crest of the final rise in the road, I knew that I had reached Pioneertown. I pulled the car off to the side, set the emergency brake, and got out to look around.

It had been excessively hot in the car, but now a fairly strong wind was blowing, and although it was a hot wind, it did a pretty good job of cooling me down. As I stood and surveyed the landscape, I shouted out loud, "I'm at the top of the world". I put my arms out like a bird and spun around where I stood, my face to the sky as the hot wind dried my perspiring body. In every direction I looked, I saw nothing but wide open spaces.
"This is what I've been looking for". I thought to myself. "Peace and quiet, and plenty of room for the Eagle to fly."

I had long since finished the third can of warm Coke, and as I headed back to the car, I was, as the saying goes, "spitting cotton". I had to find something to drink. But not quite yet. The left front tire was as flat as the proverbial pancake. I opened the trunk.
Spare tire, but no jack.
"Damn cheap rental cars", I cursed. "I guess this means I walk to town".

A half mile later, the first place I saw looked like it might be some sort of restaurant. I approached the building and started across the street toward Pappy and Harriet's"Pioneertown Palace".

Just my luck. The door was locked and there was a small sign in the window that said "Closed". Peering through the dirty glass, I could see that the "Palace" had been long deserted. Overturned tables, broken chairs, and a layer of dust an inch thick. I turned to go, and noticed a Pacific Bell telephone booth just outside, and in it, a half empty can of Pepsi. I sniffed it to see if, indeed, it was soda, and sure enough, it was. But the strange thing is, it wasn't hot, not even warm, but slightly cool, as if it had just been brought home from a store and hadn't yet been refrigerated. I didn't give it a second thought, and finished the can in one breath. As I drank, I thought I heard the sounds of people talking and laughing and music from a honky tonk piano, the kind you see in the bar scenes in the old western movies. I finished the soda and as I did, the talking and the laughing and the music stopped, as quickly as it had started.
"I've gotta' find someplace to get that flat fixed and then get out of here", I mumbled to myself. "This is getting to be like some kind of a bad dream".

 

I shook my head in wonder,and headed for the back of the Pioneertown Palace, in the direction that the sounds seemed to have come from. Looking through the windows, I saw that it was an open air, Spanish style, courtyard cantina, but walled in completely, almost like a fortress.

As I turned the corner of the building, I caught the aroma of an outdoor barbeque and again the sounds of music and people having a good time. The smell made me realize that all I had all day was a cup of coffee and three cans of soda, three and a half, if you count the one that was in the phone booth.
I was hungry, and I thought to my self "At least maybe I can get something to eat and drink and then inquire about getting the flat fixed".

But each time I passed one of the many windows in the wall, and looked in to try to get a better look at the interior, the sounds stopped, although the smell of the barbeque lingered on. All I could hear was the wind.
I reached one very large opening in the wall and finally got an unobstructed view of the interior. There was nothing going on in this cantina, In fact, it looked like it had been a long, long time since anyone had been in it. The opposite wall was evidently the back entrance to the "Palace" and had an old beat-up sign that said "Under the Moon Saloon"

The rest of the interior was as beat up and decrepit as the saloon sign. Dilapidated benches and tables and a roof that was no longer a roof. Just the support beams. It was obvious that this part of the "Palace" had not seen any use in a very long time. But I had heard the sounds and smelled the aroma of the barbeque and this was the kind of place that would have been used for just that purpose. Or was the laughter and the music only echos from the past?

I could still smell the cooking meat, although the sounds of revelry had stilled completely, and I decided to find the source of the mystery barbeque. As I turned the corner of the next building, I saw the whole town laid out before me.
There were buildings of every description, a gunsmith, a saloon, the infamous Red Dog Saloon, another saloon, this one called The Likker Barn
At the end of one street was the hulk of an old covered wagon

In another part of town were several buildings that must have been houses, although it appeared that nobody had lived in them for ages. Rickety structures that looked like a good strong wind, the kind that blew constantly through Pioneertown, would topple to the ground.
At one house that looked better cared for than the others, the barbeque smell was more noticeable. The door was slightly ajar and I thought I heard the sounds of children giggling behind it.
"Hello", I said, as I knocked on the partially open door. "Anybody home?"
At that, the giggling stopped. I pushed the door still further open, continuing to call. As the door of the house swung back I saw that it was completely empty. But the aroma permeated the entire building.

 

As I turned from the house to go on my way, a slight movement in the doorway across the street caught my eye. The neat, well kept building was a church. one of the nicest I'd ever seen.
"That's a good sign", I thought to myself. "A church means people. and people means the possibilty of getting something to eat and drink and the flat tire changed"

I crossed the street and stopped to look at the heavy wooden sign hanging outside the church. It was hand carved oak or cedar, heavily varnished and polished, and read "The Church In Pioneertown".
Examining the sign, I heard a soft voice say "If trouble starts, son, come in here. You'll be safe in here".
I stood up and turned to the voice just as the door closed silently. Trying the doorknob, it opened just as silently.

Steppng inside, I heard the heavy iron bell in the belfry start to peal. Three steps backward and I looked up. I could just make out the bell and the clapper, and neither was moving, but I distinctly heard the bell ring.

Back inside the church, I looked around. There was no sign of the owner of the voice, and no place that I could see where he could have gone.

I'd gotten used to the strange happenings by now and nothing fazed me. I just took everything in stride and looked around. There were neatly placed prayer books and hymnals in the pews, a well worn, dog-eared bible on the lectern, and vases of fresh cut roses on the altar. next to lighted candles. I wondered why the candles would be left burning if no one was in the church.

But my main concern at that moment was finding something to drink, although I didn't really notice my hunger or thirst during the entire time I was in the church. As I walked out the door, I glanced at my watch. It was 1:45. Turning the corner, I heard the distinct whinny of a horse. And there, sure enough, in a fenced corral, it stood, a beautiful brown and white animal.

The sight of another living creature raised my spirits and I headed toward the corral. Maybe there was someone there who could help me. As I approached the brown and white beauty, he whinnied again, turned and trotted behind a barn. It was then that I saw what looked like a windmill
"Looks like some kind of a wind driven water pump", I thought. "Maybe I'll beat this thirst, after all".

Just my luck. If it was a water pump, there was no water to pump. Everything was bone dry. As I went toward the back of the barn, I heard the brown and white whnny again. Turning the corner of the building, I expected to see my friend once more, but it was gone, It had vanished, like the horse and wagon I had seen earlier, into thin air. As I looked around to see if I could find anyone, I realized that the only sound I could hear was the wind. It seemed that the whole town was completely deserted. And yet, I had the eerie feeling that I was being watched.

 

The heat and thirst were starting to affect my senses, and I was beginning to panic. I knew that invisible eyes were peering directly into my very soul. I wandered in a half daze back to the center of town. As I passed the church again, I heard that same disembodied voice saying, "Remember, it's safe in here."

In the distance I saw a building that I hadn't noticed before. It stood by itself and had a flag flying over it. At one end of the porch was a mailbox and I realized it had to be a post office. At the other end was a newspaper vending machine, which didn't strike me as strange. At this point, nothing did.
"The front door is open", I thought to myself, "Flag flying, front door open, dear Lord, please let there be someone inside."
I looked up and read the sign on the front of the building, "United States Post Office, Pioneertown, California 92268"
"They even have their own zip code. Now why does that seem perfectly normal."

I stumbled onto the porch, through the open door, and looked around
"Anyone here",I said, with a harsh, raspy voice. "I need water. Can anyone help me, please?"
Silence, just the sound of the wind.

The inside of the post office looked like it was open for business. All the usual things that are in a regular post office. Clerk's window, a drawer with money and stamps, a scale for weighing the mail, Wanted posters on the wall, and notices from the Postal Service. I looked through the door of a back room. No one there. On a table was a pitcher and bowl with a ladle in it for drinking water. Dry as the desert.
It was as if every living creature had been lifted out of the town and taken to who knows where. In a daze and a state of confusion, I careened out the door, back into the dry, dusty street. and fell to my knees.
"I wouldn't stay there if I was you," I heard a voice say. "When things start to happen. you're liable to get hurt"

With that I felt invisible hands lift me and help me to a small shed near the post office. A sign over the entrance read "Stage Stop" As I stood breathing heavily, leaning against the entrance, I could sense and then make out shadowy, ethereal figures pacing back and forth, moaning and crying.
Then a cloud of dust arose and I heard the sound of horse's hooves and wheels rolling.
A voice called out "All aboard. This is the stage for 'Purgatory'. Next stop Purgato......" The wind erased the rest of the sentence. Again the sound of horses and wheels, and when they had faded away, I saw that the stage stop was still filled with the ghostly figures.

By this time I was no longer in control of my senses or emotions. The combination of heat, thirst, and fear had pushed me to the brink of hysteria.
"Please, please get me out of here", I cried, tears streaming down my face.
I wanted to get back to the car. There, I felt I would be safe and, if necessary, I could drive back down that treacherous road, even if only on three tires.
As I stumbled back to the main street, I saw out of the corner of my eye, something that looked vaguely familiar. I had seen years before the very same thing in the movie "The Gunfight At The OK Corral"
Then voices shouting and yelling.
"They're at it again. The Earps, "Doc" Holliday and the Clantons down at the old corral."
Women and chldren crying and the sound of gunfire. I was in the middle of the original gunfight. I knew they were only sounds and sounds couldn't hurt me, but I wanted to get out of that madhouse before I went completely crazy. I started to run for the car, had gone about twenty feet when I felt a hot searing pain in my right shoulder. The force of whatever had hit me spun me around and I fell to the ground. I lay there, gasping for breath, looking to the sky and then, everything went black..........

 

When I came to, I found myself sitting in my car. The keys were in the ignition, the motor running, and the air conditioner was on.
How dd I get to the car? Who had helped me? I had no answers. I looked at my watch and it read 3:45. I sat for a few minutes, thinking about what had happened, just shaking my head.
"Well", I thought, "I'd better see about getting back. Maria will probably be worried sick. It's gonna' be rough driving on a flat, but if I'm careful and take it easy, I should be alright."
I opened the door, and as I turned to get out, the stab of pain in my shoulder was excruciating.
"I'm going to have to be extra careful with that", I thought.
I looked at the tire and couldn't believe my eyes. It was fully inflated.
I put the car in "drive", turned around and started the slow descent back to Yucca Valley. As I approached the spot where I had seen "Gabby Hayes", I was relieved to see the sign that said "Pioneertown".
"Good to see that", I mumbled. "At least I know that's real".
As I continued down the hill, I looked in the rear view mirror. I couldn't see the sign. It had disappeared again. Just then I heard what I thought was thunder, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It was laughter. Deep, resonant, evil laughter. I looked out the window and saw what appeared to be a large tortoise pushing it's head out of a pile of rocks. The head was moving and emitting thunderous peals of laughter. On the opposite side of the road was what I had seen as Satan's head. It too, was putting forth........."Oh, God", I cried. "It's starting again."
"Shoulder, be damned", I said. "I'm getting out of here", and I mashed the gas pedal to the floor.

Twenty minutes later, shaking with fright, I pulled up to my motel. Maria was there, outside the door. As I started to get out of the car, she walked right past me and headed for the first of the two San Bernardino County police cars that had pulled in behind me.
Then, to me she said, "Where the hell have you been? I've been worried to death"
Trying to control my shaking, I said "I'm alright. I just got delayed a little bit and I hurt my shoulder. Why?".
"I was going to have the police start a search for you"
"No need for a search. I've only been gone a little over five hours."
"Five hours? You've been gone for more than two days. What happened?"
It was then that I felt the growth on my face that wasn't there when I left.
"I'd rather not talk about it."

Since I seemed to be alright except for a sore shoulder, the police made out a short report and left.
Later, in a Doctor's office, where I was being treated for a bad sunburn, I told my story. He had explanations for everything, but continually looked at Maria and shook his head. When I came to the part about the horse, he asked,"What color was the horse?"
"Brown and white", I said.
"Sounds like "Skipper", Ed's old stallion, but couldn't have been him. He died three month's ago", and he shook his head again.
He examined my shoulder and gave me a clean bill of health.
"I don't know what caused that pain in your shoulder. There's no sign of an injury. I'd keep an eye on it if I were you. Might be the beginning of bursitis."
I hadn't told them about the gunfight. I didn't want them to think I had gone completely crazy.

Three days later, as I was leaving Yucca Valley, saying goodbye to Maria. I gazed into the distance with questions on my mind and wondered what other mysteries lurked in those far away hills.

 

Echoes From The Past
(A Ghost Story)

(Epilogue)

The story you have just read is a work of fiction, written to utilize the photographs that I took of Pioneertown in July, 1998.
Pioneertown is a real town. It does exist. It is part of Yucca Valley, California. and was built in the middle 1940's by cowboy movie star Roy Rogers and other investors as a movie set for the filming of many of the well known and not so well known westerns of that period.

When most filming at Pioneertown stopped, rather than destroy it, the town was retained as a Movie Memorabilia Museum. Since then many people have bought property in Pioneertown and built beautiful homes. The "movie set" portion of the town remains as it was and is still occasionally used for filming. The town has it's own Post Office and Zip Code as stated in the story. Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace is a viable Restaurant and Entertainment Center, just a stone's throw away from the Pioneertown Motel. The town is not haunted, but one never knows, does one?

If you plan to visit Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree (the home of Joshua Tree National Monument), 29 Palms (the home of the 29 Palms Marine Corp Air Ground Combat Center) or any of the towns in the Morongo Basin, be sure to make time to visit Pioneertown. It is also within one hour of Big Bear, Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs. Come visit, but one word of caution

DON'T GO ALONE

The Eagle's Nest


"Aquila the Eagle"