Happy Bottom Riding Club

Pancho Barnes, Happy Bottom Riding Club.  Photo Curtesy of the U.S. Air Force
Pancho Barnes, Happy Bottom Riding Club. Photo Curtesy of the U.S. Air Force

The Happy Bottom Riding Club was a legendary dude ranch and restaurant located in the Mojave Desert in California. The club was opened by aviator and screenwriter Pancho Barnes in the 1930s and quickly became a popular hangout for Hollywood celebrities, pilots, and other socialites.

The History of the Happy Bottom Riding Club

Pancho Barnes, born Florence Lowe Barnes in 1901, was a pioneering aviatrix who set numerous speed and altitude records in the early days of aviation. She was also a talented screenwriter who worked on several Hollywood films, including “Hell’s Angels,” directed by Howard Hughes.

In the 1930s, Barnes purchased a ranch in the Mohave and converted it into a private airfield. She named it the Happy Bottom Riding Club, after the nickname she earned as a pilot for her daring landings in dry lakebeds. The airfield quickly became a popular destination for pilots and aviation enthusiasts, who would fly in for weekend parties and barnstorming exhibitions.

Barnes also built a large clubhouse on the property, which she turned into a nightclub. The club was decorated with aviation memorabilia and had a western-themed bar and dance floor. Barnes hosted lavish parties at the club, inviting Hollywood celebrities, politicians, and other high-profile guests.

The Happy Bottom Riding Club was famous for its rowdy, freewheeling atmosphere. Barnes was known for her colorful personality and love of partying, and she encouraged her guests to let loose and have fun. The club was also known for its raunchy sense of humor and off-color jokes.

Despite its reputation as a wild party spot, the Happy Bottom Riding Club was also a place of innovation and progress. Barnes used the club as a base for her aviation business, which included flight instruction, aircraft maintenance, and aerial photography. She also provided a space for women pilots to gather and share their experiences in a male-dominated industry.

Decline of the Happy Bottom Riding Club

In the 1950s, the government took over her airfield and turned it into a military base. Barnes was forced to sell her property and move her business elsewhere. The club was a favorite haunt of many test pilots and future astronauts, perhaps the most famous was Chuck Yaeger who became the first man to break the sound barrier.

The Happy Bottom Riding Club continued to operate under new ownership for a few more years, but it was never the same without Barnes’ larger-than-life personality at the helm. The club eventually closed its doors in the 1950s and the building was demolished.

Despite its relatively short lifespan, the Happy Bottom Riding Club remains a legendary spot in aviation and Hollywood history. The ranch is destroyed by fire on November 13, 1953. Today, the ranch is located on land controlled by Edwards Air Force base.

Legacy of the Happy Bottom Riding Club

Today, the Happy Bottom Riding Club lives on in popular culture as a symbol of a bygone era of glamour, adventure, and fun. It has been referenced in movies, TV shows, and music, and continues to inspire people around the world to pursue their dreams and live life with gusto.

In 1988, a group of aviation enthusiasts founded the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate, which works to preserve Barnes’ legacy and promote aviation education. The organization has hosted several events and fundraisers over the years, including a biennial fly-in at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

In 2009, a feature film about Barnes’ life and career, titled “The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club,” was released. The film, directed by Amanda Pope, received critical acclaim and helped introduce Barnes’ story to a new generation.


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