Although Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base is the largest Marine training base in the world, this distinctly military town has a softer side. In 1996, former Marine, 29 Palms resident and television host, Huell Howser, featured the unveiling ceremonies for the initial eight of Twentynine Palms murals commissioned by the Action Council in his “Visiting” series.
According to Beth Wiederhold, about 6 merchants got together and decided their small town of Twentynine Palms was dying because it had lost its pioneering pride. One of the merchants had recently read an article in Smithsonian Magazine featuring the murals of Chemainus, British Columbia. She suggested murals might be the answer to reinvigorate Twentynine Palms and benefit visitors coming to see nearby Joshua Tree National Park. Thus the Action Council was formed.
The first mural to be painted in 1994 was of Bill and Francis Keys at the Desert Queen Ranch by Chemainus, British Columbia artist, Dan Sawatzky. It was very well-received by the town. Enthusiasm for the mural project grew. The history that the murals brought back to life renewed the town’s pioneering pride. Each mural cost about $15,000 dollars to complete. The project was entirely funded locally by the community. Townspeople bought prints from the artists to contribute to fundraising. The murals came purely from the pockets of locals, without public funding or grants.
We drove by a couple of times and wondered why the artist never seemed to move from his scaffold. It made us laugh when we found out why. Turns out the rodeo bull’s name is Valentine. Guaranteed to make you look twice!
Dr. James B. Luckie is considered the father of Twentynine Palms. He was a Pasadena-based physician who sent many of his patients to 29 Palms to recover from lung diseases caused by poisonous gases used in WWI. The area offered the perfect climate for soldiers to recover. Dr. Luckie refused payments for medical treatments. He was responsible for sending many of the town’s early pioneers to the community.
Twentynine Palms’ first local artist to paint a mural was Tim O’Connor. He created a mural of Jack Cones, the Flying Constable. Constable Cones was said to have been able to touch a car with his plane’s wingtip when in pursuit of a criminal in the late 1930s. It was the artist’s first mural but you can tell he was inspired. Tim was close to the Cones family and even owned the flying constable’s gun and badge. Tim had flown in the plane in the mural when he was a kid.
The first mural and building featured in Huell Howser’s Visiting video were removed in 2011 but a new Desert Queen Ranch mural was completed in 2013.
The Desert Storm Homecoming and Victory Parade mural, painted by Chuck Caplinger in 1995, commemorates when 29 Palms had a huge parade for returning soldiers. It is 100 feet long and 25 feet tall; it’s a collage of photographs taken of the parade the day itself. Three generals, the Marine Corps Band and dignitaries attended the dedication, along with 500 people. There was even a fireworks show. It was said there was not a dry eye in the house. So taken by the patriotic town and its desert climate, Chuck soon moved to 29 Palms and became a resident.
When visitors ask where the 29 palms are that gave the town its namesake, they are often referred to the Early Oasis of Mara mural, where there are 29 painted palms. The first peoples gathered at the natural Oasis of Mara, located about a quarter mile from the mural at the 29 Palms Inn. The Inn also features a mural (not pictured), but due to current Covid-19 restrictions, it is presently closed except to guests.
The second mural featured in Huell Howser’s Visiting video, called Our Neighbors in Nature by Larry & Nancy Eifert in 1995 at the Twentynine Palms Visitors Center and Chamber of Commerce was removed and replaced with a new mural by the same artists in 2006.
Johnnie Hastie drove the town’s first source of public transportation with his first bus made from a used 1928 Chevrolet truck. The 29 Palms Stage retired in 1973 with over seven million accident-free miles.
Our article does not show all of Twentynine Palms’ murals. For instance, we somehow overlooked “William & Elizabeth Campbell” by Richard Wyatt at 29 Palms Realty, 74017 29 Palms Hwy. But we promise to go back! Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we did not visit schools, churches or parks. Please refer to the town’s website (below) to see the full collection of beautiful murals. Here are a few more murals not on their website we felt worthy of appreciation.
Trains are as familiar to the high desert as Joshua Trees. Thanks to this business on Adobe for installing these panels featuring its red caboose.
Although we went to 29 Palms Thrift and expected to find a mural called The Dirty Sock Camp by John Whytock, completed in 1996, we found this colorful mural instead. The original mural is listed at 73911 29 Palms Hwy.
We think this imaginative building located on 29 Palms Highway is the most recently painted and brings a lot of cheerful color to the area.
Be sure to walk around the outside of the building to enjoy it in its artistic energy.
The Wonder Garden Cafe looks inviting at 73511 29 Palms Highway at Mariposa, with its front door and outdoors patio in the back thanks to local artist Tommy Wonder.
We know you will enjoy this outdoor gallery of murals as much as we did! Remember, it’s not unusual for summer temperatures to rise into the triple digits, so bring plenty of water to drink and stay hydrated. When we visited in July it was still 112F in the evening.
A Peculiar Piece of Desert, the Story of California’s Morongo Basin by Lulu Rasmussen O’Neal, 1957; Published by Sagebrush Press, Reprint 1981.
Bonus! We can’t talk about 29 Palms if we neglected to link it to the Andrews Sisters song, “The Lady from 29 Palms”!