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January 31, 2022

Photo Essay: The Happy Trails Highway Hideaway Where Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Retired From Hollywood

Roy Rogers was such a big deal in the High Desert communities of California that there used to be a museum devoted to him there—first in Apple Valley (opened 1967), then in Victorville from 1976 to 2003, when it moved to Branson, Missouri. 

It closed for good in 2009 and its items were either sold at auction or donated (like to the Autry Museum in LA).
 

A statue of his golden palomino stallion Trigger once stood outside of the California version of the museum—now relocated to the entrance of the Spirit River Center in Apple Valley. 
   
Nowadays, the only place open to the public where you can really dive into the history of Roy Rogers and his partner (in work and life) Dale Evans is the Apple Valley Inn, the hotel they leased after moving to Apple Valley in 1965. 
   
The Apple Valley Inn is closed to the public now—except for certain special event rentals and the businesses that lease the individual cottages and former rooms.

former Apple Valley Building and Development Co.

But it opened in 1948 as part of Newt Bass's ploy to develop and subdivide the former rancho land. Bass would fly potential land buyers into the airport across the street (later via Bonanza Airlines), bring them to the Inn to wine them and dine them, and then bring them back across the street (at what's still a real estate office, though a different one) to seal the deal. 

former main entrance and barber shop

Even before Roy Rogers' involvement, the inn and restaurant attracted a number of celebrities—reportedly Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Russell, Kirk Douglas, and the like. 

 
Certain cottages were subsequently marketed based on who supposedly once slept there. 

 
When Roy and Dale took over, it was rebranded Roy Rogers' Apple Valley Inn... 
   
...and The Outdoor Steak Fry and the Roy Rogers' Riding Stables were added. 


Thanks to the Apple Valley Legacy Museum, Victor Valley Legacy Museum, and the Mohahve Historical Society, I got to take a rarely-offered look at what's now the The Apple Valley Inn Business and Event Center...
 
 
...located at the intersection of the Happy Trails Highway (Hwy 18) and Dale Evans Parkway. 


The Apple Valley Inn and Restaurant as it once was closed in 1987—just over a decade before the "King of the Cowboys" would pass from congestive heart failure, right there in Apple Valley (where he was also buried). 

 
Oh, it was past its heyday then—but even in the 1980s, it still offered a golf course, tennis court, horseback riding, and a respite from city life (and, as Rogers said himself, "the rat race"). 

 
And of course Roy and Dale themselves. 
 
 
It facilities were striking enough to attract Robert Redford to shoot the golf scenes from his 1980 film Ordinary People there—and have the cast and crew stay at the inn during the filming. 
   caricature of Newt Bass

The Apple Valley Inn also served as home to 960 AM KAVR Apple Valley Radio, the area's first local radio station, which began broadcasting in 1954.
   
The Apple Valley Inn became famous for its chuck wagon breakfasts, huge cuts of meat at its steakhouse, roping demonstrations, campfire music, dancing, bingo, and—as many of the famous guests joked—pretty much everything under the sun, except apples. 

 
As Roy and Dale would say, "Apple Valley is for fun." And to lure visitors to this "Golden Land" was to get more guests at the Apple Valley Inn. (Where else would you stay??)


Today, the Western Bar in the main building is off the lobby in the former "Leather Lounge" (the "Sportsmen's Den" in Rogers' time), though its historic location was across from the main dining room.

 
Horseshoes on the walls and a moose head mounted over a stone fireplace make it feel pretty down home, though. 

 
Makes you want to sidle right up next to somebody in one of those red booths. 
 

On the way to the dining room is a huge mural that depicts the history of Apple Valley and how four historic trails...
 
 
...the Mojave Trail, Mormon Trail, Old Spanish Trail, and Santa Fe Trail...

 
...converge here before crossing the Cajon Pass. 

 
Reportedly some of the inn's ceiling beams reportedly came from a Tonopah-Tidewater Railroad trestle (though today, you can see some dropped ceilings that have been added and wood that's been painted over). 
 
 
In the main dining room, lunch menu items included quiche Lorraine, a ranch omelette, chicken livers and mushrooms, stuffed avocado, and an Apple Valley fruit bouquet; dinner offered veal picatta, tournedos of beef, chateaubriand, lobster tails, and more.  

 
The now-closed-in windows used to be open-air, providing for al fresco luncheons looking out over the pool...
 
 
...where there used to be live shows on the pool deck, surrounded by a broad desert panorama (as well as aqua ballet in the pool). 

 
In the Blossom Room (part of architect G.A. Downs' 1950s-era addition), now one of the facility's banquet rooms), there would be dinner and dancing, live music, and even beauty pageants. 

 
Today, in the "Bob Hope Cottage"...

 
...you can find the Apple Valley Legacy Museum...


...whose outside exhibits pay tribute to the area's bourbon business (there's a bottle inside, too, and an empty bottle of Apple Valley vodka in the inn)...
 
 
...as well as the homing pigeons that used to deliver orders for room service and requests for extra towels, clean sheets, and other necessities from the guest rooms to the front desk. 
   
At one time, the Apple Valley Inn was so remote that the telephone company refused to provide service. The homing pigeons were an ingenious way to accommodate guests' needs, with one stationed outside every room. 

 
Many of the artifacts of the inn's western motif are now housed in the museum—plus plenty more about "the King and Queen of the Cowboys and Cowgirls."

 
The Apple Valley Inn closed in 1987—and, after a brief attempt to revive it, was sold in 2003. A Baptist congregation leased it out around 2008 and stayed a few years, but now has moved on. 

Its heyday is long gone—but it would be nice to see the inn property revitalized with more live music, dancing, film screenings, car shows, and more. 

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