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BRANCH OUT TO SOMETHING MORE RUSTIC 29 PALMS INN A FUNKY AND FUN ALTERNATIVE.

Byline: - Eric Noland

TWENTYNINE PALMS -- Nondescript chain motels dot Highway 62 on the drive to Joshua Tree National Park, but for a unique and historic lodging experience, intrepid travelers might want to check into the 29 Palms Inn.

It's a funky enclave of mismatched buildings, smack in the middle of the Oasis of Mara. Established in the 1920s and built in stages over many years, it fairly oozes character.

The rooms are named, not numbered -- Cinch Weed, Forget-Me-Not, Buffalo Burr and Cabin X (also cabins Y and Z). Staying in any one of them, you might find yourself thinking, ``If these walls could talk ...''

Voices from the past

Well, sometimes they do. ``When we were redoing Fault Line, we took the inside walls off,'' said owner Jane Smith, whose grandfather was one of the original investors in the inn. ``On the studs was nailed a nice little note: `If you have furs and valuables, please store them in the safe.' That says that these were once just bare walls, just the studs.''

We settled into Goldenbush, one of eight adobe bungalows built in 1934. It was a decidedly rustic accommodation, but with improvements in all the important areas -- the shower reflected a 21st-century remodel, for example.

But the room still had a concrete slab floor, twig headboard, wood-burning fireplace, casement windows, walled patio and cactus garden. A swamp cooler perched on the roof, but we never turned it on; even during 90-degree days in early fall, it was remarkable how cool those thick adobe walls kept the cabin.

The exteriors of the adobes are painted in colors of lavender, pink, salmon and green, though the relentlessness of the sun has reduced each to a pleasingly muted hue.

Seeking something with an even richer history? Ask to stay in the Hermitage. It's a wood-frame cabin that was part of the Gold Park Hotel in the early 1920s, before being moved here plank by plank when the inn was established. It served as the bathhouse at a time when none of the cabins had a bathroom.

The inn's restaurant deserves credit for trying to be something special in a region where most of the dining options are pretty grim. You'll find grilled salmon and shrimp scampi on the menu, but we found that the safest entrees are the ones that are hardest to foul up -- steaks, notably. All dishes are enhanced with fresh produce picked daily from a garden on the premises.

A bar occupies one wall of the restaurant, and live entertainment is presented nightly. During our visit, the B.B.C. Blues Band tapped into the era of the inn's birth by playing gentle Mississippi Delta blues from the '20s in an acoustic set, with one member working out on the ancient upright piano in the corner.

It was also a delight to be in a bar that didn't feel the need to have a TV tuned to football games at all hours. While the live music was presented, the TV was off, even though Saints were squaring off with Falcons at that very moment.

Wild things

The oasis is robust here. We saw cottontail rabbits scampering across the grounds at all hours. Late one night, when the pet dog of the guests next door started yapping, a chorus of coyote cries suddenly filled the air. It sounded as if the pack numbered in the dozens and couldn't have been more than 100 feet off.

Get used to that. The inn's property is hard by the national park boundary, with a vast expanse of wild land stretching to the south.

One night we wandered out there with the loungers from our patio, lay on our backs and beheld an astonishing carpet of stars, including a broad swath of the Milky Way.

The 29 Palms Inn is at 73950 Inn Ave., Twentynine Palms -- a short distance from the national park's Oasis Visitor Center and North Entrance Station. Winter rates from $120 weekends, $85 weekdays. Information www.29palmsinn.com; (760) 367-3505.

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Photo:

Twig headboards and other rustic furnishings contribute to the charm of a stay at the 29 Palms Inn, portions of which date to 1928. It's a convenient -- and appropriate -- place to stay on a visit to Joshua Tree National Park.

Eric Noland/Travel Editor
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Title Annotation:Travel
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 3, 2006
Words:717
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