Daredevil Stunt and Show Pilots

Where Did Pancho Barnes’ Happy Bottom Riding Club Ranch Vamoose?

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Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit, do I have a barnstormer of a story for you! Pancho Barnes was one cool cat – I mean real cool. Like Miles Davis-meets-Amelia Earhart cool. This chick wasn’t just some pretty face like all those Hollywood starlets at the time. Nah, Pancho partied just as hard as those movie stars, and she could fly planes and do stunts that’d make your mama faint!

See, back in the 1930’s, Pancho was making waves as one of the best pilots around. She was pulling loops, barrel rolls, and just about any crazy stunt you could do in a plane. Ol’ girl even flew against Amelia Earhart and won (but Amelia was still ok in her book). The point is, Pancho had skills. And her skills eventually led her to open the most bodacious ranch this side of the Mojave Desert!

The Early Days of Pancho’s Swanky Shindig Shack

It all started when Barnesy bought herself a little 180-acre plot out near Muroc Dry Lake in 1935. Now this wasn’t just any tumbleweed-blowing patch of dirt in my mind. No sir, this land had potential written all over it! Barnes wasted no time turning that alfalfa farm into an awesome desert oasis that she christened “The Happy Bottom Riding Club.” And yes, the “Happy Bottom” was a cheeky little joke she made about thong bathing suits showing off booties.

With her ranch hand, Pancho built herself a nice hacienda, some barns for horses, an airport runway, and anything else a cool ranch needs for throwing the hottest parties in town. All her friends would fly or ride in to relax, ride horses, swim in the pool, drink at the bar, and have an all-around rip-roaring good time! I’m talking famous Hollywood stars, stunt pilots, cowboys and cowgirls, and even some military brass when times got tough. Skip to the juicy details below…

pancho barnes

The Ranch’s Hoppin’ Heyday During World War II

So along comes World War II and the Army Air Corps built the Muroc Army Air Base right next door to Pancho’s ranch in 1941. Next thing you know, them flyboy officers started wandering over to Miss Barnes’ ranch whenever they got liberty to blow off some steam. Beers were slugged, fists were thrown, and more than a few hearts were broken as that rambunctious ranch kept morale sky high!

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Even Hollywood didn’t stop partying at Pancho’s during the war – legends like Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Bing Crosby kept gracing her guest lists between USO tours. So with all those spirited pilots, movie stars and a hostess with “the moistest, loudest laugh this side of the Rockies,” you better believe Pancho’s Happy Bottom Ranch was the ultimate wild west party spot!

Theclosure of Pancho’s Rancho & Today’s Dusty Remains

But like all good things in life, Pancho’s desert honky tonk had an expiration date. After WWII, the Army base became Edwards Air Force Base, and started expanding into Pancho’s ranch land. First, they claimed they needed to buy some of her land in 1950 for a new bombing range. “Over my dead body!” yelled stubborn ol’ Pancho. But the Air Force basically strong-armed her into selling.

Then a few years later they slapped eminent domain on Happy Bottom Ranch, saying they needed it as a “security zone.” Heartbroken, Pancho tried suing to save her paradise, but the courts weren’t on her side. By 1956, the Air Force had bulldozed over the ranch buildings, destroying Pancho’s desert oasis forever. Today, the old ranch land is just empty land on Edwards Air Force Base according to maps and historical records. I bet that plot ain’t too happy no more without Pancho’s sweet tushy around! Maybe if you take a ride out by the base, you might find a hidden plaque remembering the boisterous glory days of Happy Bottom Ranch!


So in flying colors (or should I say crashing), that’s the barnstorming tale of pioneering pilot Pancho Barnes and her Happy Bottom Riding Club ranch! It went from a hotshot pilot’s swinging desert getaway, to an iconic WWII party destination, to a bombed-out casualty of Air Force expansion. All that’s left today is dusty old land with memories of laughter, love, and life – as wild as the woman who started it all those years ago. Just goes to show you can take away the land, but you can’t take the spirit and legacy of 14 Carat Gold Pancho away!

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Now if you’ll excuse me, this cowpoke’s got a hankering to see if that old ghost town saloon of Pancho’s is still pouring drinks to phantom flyboys out there in the desert…

Meet the Author
Helen Garcia
Helen Garcia is a linguist and has always had her head in the clouds and her eyes on the horizon. From a young age, she was that kid gazing endlessly at planes sailing high overheard, dreaming of one day slipping the surly bonds of Earth. She got her chance to touch the heavens after high school by attending the United States Air Force Academy and becoming a pilot.

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