As I briskly hike the 49 Palms Oasis trail (one mile away from the Harmony Motel) I feel the warm July breeze lightly blowing onto my skin, signaling to me the approach of the heat which bathes the high desert in a boisterous manner during our summers. I always enjoy the end of the trailhead; it has a scenic oasis which houses its resident palm trees, “in a rocky gorge amidst an arid desert landscape. The palm trees wear their giant fan palms heavily hanging down…”
“Its distinctive leaves are shaped like a fan and folded like an accordion….. Looking much like petticoats, the fan palm’s dead leaves remain attached to its trunk until removed by fire, wind, or flood.’’ (www.nps.gov).
I notice Mr. Tortoise merrily making his way to the oasis as well, his chunky hind legs are struggling to move faster. Every now and than I sense Mr. Tortoise getting a little anxious, that he will lose his friend Mr. Roadrunner on the trail, especially as hikers interrupt his pace, to take their pictures. He desperately tries to keep up with his charming friend who is thoroughly enjoying his popularity with the travelers on the trail this still summer morning.
I almost hear a conversation between these two critters as I walk right behind them. Mr. Roadrunner, breathing very heavily, almost coughs out his words, “The meeting is at 11am…I hope that everyone will be on time…”
“I am sure they will” replied Mr. Tortoise sounding tired. “Besides, it’s a good thing that it is at the beautiful 49 Palms Oasis, right here in our home town, and less than a mile away from our stunning Harmony Motel. I love the oasis, especially the canyons, so rocky and full of crevices; my little ones enjoy this spot and it is their favorite play place.”
“Yes, me too,” cried, Mr. Roadrunner with laughter, “I love the fan palms with the shade they provide and the height they have. I enjoy picnics with my family there, where we can play in the green, cool shade, flying up to the heights and perching on tall palm leaves where we have breathtaking views. The oasis at the 49 Palms is my kind of home, full of water or at least moisture, depending on the time of the year. Pity I cannot stay there all year round. And sometimes during our visits we get a chance to see the bighorn sheep as they play and graze!”
“I also enjoy the 49!” exclaimed Mr. Tortoise “Because its a quiet spot, not many travelers are aware of this part of the Park. It provides me with so much privacy and tranquility,” he whispered to his friend.
“Yes, you are quite right, Tort, answered Mr. Roadrunner. “Many people are not aware that the gateway to the Joshua Tree National Park is the City of Twentynine Palms. In the wilderness of the high desert, Mother Nature has provided us with a beautiful, comfortable home here.”
Mr. Roadrunner went on to say, “ Twentynine Palms is a desert oasis for our travel friends from all over the world; it provides the adventurous traveler with clear blue skies in the daytime and with dark skies at night for star gazing, unpolluted by city lights. And then there are the scenic landscapes and clean, crisp, fresh air all year round.”
“And, our friendly human friends here are grateful and proud of our presence, as we enhance the natural desert life, as the oldest inhabitants of the Mohave preserve,” he added with distinct pride in his voice.
article written by Ash(nalini) Maharaj
By Andie Bottrell, Twentynine Palms, CA – February 15, 2011 — As I drove into the town of Twentynine Palms, the sun had just taken its lonely place upon the horizon and there was nary a bustle or sound a stir, besides the morning birds and gusty breeze of the Santa Ana winds. One of the first things I noticed as I drove into this desert oasis on California State Route 62 was the sign for theHarmony Motel, which seemed fitting, as it was not only my destination but, as I would soon discover, a sign which has come to encompass the meaning of the city as a whole. To live in Harmony is to live in peace and this is something that Twentynine Palms has down to a science, from being home to the largest Marine Base to bringing the rights of their cohabitant wildlife into their city planning meetings. This is a town that works hard to preserve their vast and cherished natural desert habitat and one that, while succeeding at that, has, like so many other small American cities in our current economic climate, struggled to grow and find its audience as a desert getaway.
The first person I meet is Ash Maharaj, current owner of the Harmony Motel. The Harmony Motel has 6 stylish rooms and a cabin known as The Jack Kerouac Cabin. Its pool was a featured location in the 2001 Kirsten Dunst movie Crazy Beautiful, but that’s hardly the main celebrity story the folks of Twentynine Palms recount when speaking of the Harmony Motel’s famous faces, Ash tells me. Ash is a South African immigrant who became, rather serendipitously, the owner of the Harmony Motel 7 years ago. Since that time she has poured her heart, soul and livelihood into fixing it up and finding new ways to bring people in.
This dusty city gets some of the draw of the Joshua Tree National Park, of which it hosts the main entrance, but for the most part it seems to be a town that people drive right through without so much as a second glance toward its many city murals, sculptures, art galleries, and people who are so rich with tales of the town’s history, you feel like you’ve been transported back to a time when people actually sat around and talked to each other over food and drinks, unlike today when most conversation has become virtual and many people simply have no time for old stories. I can relate, which is why it was so refreshing to walk the grounds, to eat, to drink and hear the tales – of which you’ll have to find yourself in Twentynine Palms to hear as I am not allowed to print them.
The next person I meet is the Mayor himself, Jim Harris. We are sitting in the kitchen area of the Harmony Motel amongst a fine spread of muffins and cookies. I can tell immediately that this is the kind of man you want in charge of things. He launches into this touching tale of how he’d just returned from scattering his late wife’s ashes in the sea, as I unsuccessfully struggle to choke back tears. He apologizes for the departure from topic, but it is unnecessary and we, along with Ash, launch into the questions I’ve prepared for the day, which he answers with an honesty and genuine charm that I am unaccustomed to.
The reason I was brought to the city was to write an article about how the Harmony Motel is restoring its original Harmony Motel sign. This is a pretty big deal because this sign has been an attraction for the motel and the city since the 1980’s when a then still relatively unknown band — compared to their status today — by the name of U2 saw the sign and decided to stay at the Harmony Motel. It was there, at that time, that they were working on the Joshua Tree album, and they proceeded to take hundreds of photographs in and around the Harmony Motel and the Joshua Tree National Park, including the now famous photograph of the band in front of that original Harmony Motel sign. This sign was taken down not long after they left due to damage which was more costly to repair than to simply replace.
When Ash took over the Harmony Motel and began looking for ways to bring more people in, she immediately thought of restoring the original sign. After all, people still stop by several times a week to take pictures in front of the new sign (which bears no resemblance to the old, original sign), just think how many more would come if it was the original sign. U2 is still using that photo they took in front of the sign on their world-wide tours. Ash tells me just last week a young couple from Australia booked their stay at the Harmony Motel just minutes after seeing the photo flash on the big screen at a sold out U2 concert.
Restoring the sign was no cheap feat, however, and Ash has laid it all on the line in hopes that it will pay off. It helps that she has the support of her city neighbors and the Mayor, though that seems to be standard for these desert folks. Perhaps it’s the rough terrain or the fact that they are so far from other cities, but it seems like these are the kind of people the world needs more of. These are the kind of people you can call in any emergency and you know they’ve got you covered. If I sound a little enamored and biased, I apologize, but I can’t help myself.
Truth be told, I drove off into the desert, leaving my big city Los Angeles home in the rearview mirror and I headed straight into the eye of a dry, sandy monster I was certain to hate. I thought the desert was dead and depressing. I thought the people must be crazy to enjoy living there. I didn’t understand it and I didn’t expect to when I left, but something changed me. It turns out even the desert isn’t all desert. They’ve got some desert greenery, trees and water, too! They’ve got laid back people who live their lives day-to-day enjoying the sun, enjoying their company, their critters, their drinks, their food (a lot of which they even grow themselves… in the desert.) They help each other, support each other and are determined to grow their city with integrity. To not sell out to the highest bidder, but to show the rest of the country how to live in peace with their surroundings. To show the world how to have an open mind and find ways to compromise with its cohabitants of human, animal or environmental origin.
I also spoke with Ash’s Harmony Motel neighbor, Ken Tinquist who arrives just as the Mayor is leaving and they enthusiastically catch up after not seeing each other for a few days since they were both out of town. Both Ken and Mayor Jim wonder why its taken so long for the sign’s restoring to happen. Ash’s own $3,000 and ruthless, catching determination is what’s making this happen. It’s a daring investment in her business as well as in the city she’s grown to call home.
After speaking with Ken, Ash and I head off to a local restaurant not too far away. It’s there, sitting next to another pool while eating wonderful food, the sounds of laughter echoing in the background- a nice accompaniment to the relaxing music playing out of the radio, that a familiar, but long-lost feeling washes over me and my body automatically lets go of all its big city tension. I let the sun soak into my skin and feel the breeze take away the heat when it gets too hot. I can’t stop repeating how relaxed I am and how it feels like I’m on vacation in some tropical island. Simple words, but so powerful for someone who rarely gets away and never expected to like a thing about any desert.
Ash regales me with the amazing tale of how she came to Twentynine Palms and what it means to her as I begin to realize I’ve heard this same theme before — from the Mayor and from the neighbor. It’s a small city that’s managed to do what we as a country have struggled at for centuries. They are living in perfect harmony with each other, with their rare and beautiful surroundings and wild creatures. They may have brought me in to write about how the new sign will be a great new draw for past and future U2 fans and how it will help the city to grow, and I’ve no doubt that it will, but the thing I keep coming back to is the people. I understand many folks go on vacation to get away from people, but Twentynine Palms is the kind of place where you can relax by a pool, soak up the sun, see amazing art, see amazing wildlife in their natural habitat, have climbing and hiking adventures to rival any place on earth, and do it all with amazing local company that will leave a footprint on your heart forever.
The original sign goes up, surrounded by a celebration of the city’s finest, on Thursday, February 17th. Check out the Harmony Motel online at www.harmonymotel.com where you can see pictures, including the famous photos of U2 in front of the soon to be restored-to-its-rightly-place sign and read the touching stories of desert life on Ash’s blog. Most importantly, make your reservation today and take the whole family. It’s not often that you stumble on a town that can give you the relaxing feel of a tropical vacation while instilling the values American families used to be made of. To quote Sallust, “Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay.” For this reason I have no fear and no doubt in the future of Twentynine Palms; that it will grow with integrity seems, to me, as close a promise.
This post written by Ash ( Nalini) Maharaj
It’s 6.am, on this beautiful cool November morning, at the Harmony Motel, my favorite part of my day. It is my time with the desert, and I savor every moment of desert’s luxurious mornings she graciously gives me each day. I am sitting at my favorite patio of the Harmony Motel with a hot cup of coffee, eagerly awaiting the Sun to make her majestic rise. She rises slowly and steadily this morning at dawn, spreading her beautiful rays of red and deep orange throughout the east side above the horizon, illuminating the sky with her brilliant colors, the sun mesmerizing me as she turns into a deep golden yellow, allowing daylight to lazily peep onto the world.
The Sun creates an enlightening, warm, bright picture of her full magnificence on the desert landscape. Her beauty is truly authentic, and she is not shy to flaunt this in front of me. I breathe in her rays of vitality, and she energizes my entire being, making me ready to experience a day full of joyous energy. I salute her presence and significance to my life each morning.
I smell the fresh earth of the desert and I notice that the fig tree in the Harmony garden is shedding her dry leaves, the leaves slowly falling to the ground in bright colors of deep yellow, gold and browns, reminding me that the vibrant fall is fully here. The leaves, colored in these earthy tones spread across the gardens, creating a gift wrap image, that echoes a crinkling sound as you walk on them, this natural decoration in the garden brings in the festive mood of the season, making thanks-giving a full reality in this quite harmonious world Fall is my joyous season in the desert.
The desert introduces her seasons with great clarity; she had just showered us with her hot sultry summer temperatures in October, and now we are experiencing her fall’s cool and moderate temperatures. The desert in her cooler climate provides the opportunity to experience great adventures of hiking and star gazing in Joshua Tree National Park, in the wilderness of the high desert.
This post was written by Ash( Nalini) Maharaj
Suddenly my thoughts are distracted by a sound of crinkling leaves in the Gardens. My eyes dart to the Gardens, where I notice Mr. Roadrunner looking grimly at Mr. Bunny. On his right is the Harmony Lizard looking miserably cold on this November morning, while many other critters circle around Mr. Bunny straining their ears to hear his message. I almost hear Mr. Roadrunner complaining of having to attend a meeting so early in the morning. The Harmony Lizard tells Mr. Bunny, “The cold is not good for us reptiles, so hurry up with your agenda.” To which Mr. Bunny replies “Stop being a drama queen Lizzie, it’s just one morning and it’s only the first week of fall. Sorry, dear friends, but this meeting is very urgent!” “Well”, deliberates…. Mr. Bunny, enjoying each moment of attention from his friends. “He loves these meetings, because he gets to be the centre of attention,” Lizzie thinks to herself.
Mr. Bunny clears his throat, and continues with his message, “Now as you are all aware, Mr. Tortoise has been very depressed these past few weeks, because he lost his daughter in an accident. It was an off- highway biker, a thoughtless human that was only looking for his pleasure at the expense of our lives. Friends, we have discussed this many times that we need to help the tortoises as they are endangered group of critters in the high desert. We need to come up with a plan on how to save the tortoise critter; we cannot afford to lose them as they are the wisest critter and one of the oldest to our world. Their input to our survival in the desert is invaluable.”
“So I need a plan from you guys, at our next meeting at the 49 Palms Oasis. Lastly, we would not be spending Thanksgiving at the Harmony Gardens this year, as the traffic of travelers is going to be very high.”
“Oh,” said Ms. Red Racer, her huge eyes dazzling with vanity (she loved the limelight), “they love to take my pictures, and my popularity is highest during this time.”
Mr. Roadrunner then turns around slowly as feels the presence of his favorite friend,
“Oh Hi,” Mr. Tortoise,” he stutters.
The tortoise very shyly greets his friends. He truly has an innocent demeanor and I am surprised to find him in the garden, however I notice that his familiar appearance is admired by all of his friends in the garden. My thought takes me to my recent readings on this unique looking creature.
This post was written by Ash (Nalini) Maharaj
The desert tortoise is one of the most ancient critters of the high desert. These terrestrial animals adapt themselves very well to dry climate on land. Their homes in the high desert are burrows that are shaped in the form of a half moon. They keep cool/warm in these burrows to avoid the extreme cold or heat of the desert. You would be very lucky to encounter one.
They are beautiful reptiles that are totally passive in personalities. These humble souls have a beautiful hard decorative shell that almost seems to be artistically molded on their bodies by Mother Nature. Their long neck with their old wrinkled heads pops out of the shell, as they move slowly with their heavy rear legs (described as almost elephant- like in many critter books), reminding us of how ancient they are. To me they seem to be as old as the rock formations in the National Park. They certainly enhance the beauty of the desert environment. They are a joy to watch.For the desert tortoise, one of their primary modes of survival is storing water in their huge bladders; this storage allows them to keep a “year’s supply of water”. The tortoise can live a full life of up to 80 years, if this species is well protected.
Their movements are very slow; hence their speed in movement is no match for bikes, cars, trucks, and off-highway vehicles. These vehicles can easily crush a tortoise shell. Always check underneath your cars before you drive off, as they often look for shady spots to rest in the desert.
If you spot a tortoise during your adventures in the desert leave them alone. Because if you make them anxious, they can out of fear, release their supply of water, which can be fatal to their survival, especially if they cannot replenish it quickly. Moreover don’t use the desert as a dump site for your garbage or litter, as these creatures can get easily entangled in trash that can lead to their death. Trash attracts Ravens which are predators to the tortoise, its eggs and hatchlings.
Suddenly my thoughts are interrupted by the movements of critters in the garden, as they close their meeting by giving thanks for the tortoise life in the desert.
For more information on the tortoise and how you can help to save them you can visit the following websites www.defenders.org and www.mojavedesertlandtrust.org Information provided on the Tortoise was taken from pamphlets and newsletters provided by the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center.
And from the following texts:
1. The Desert Tortoise (answers to frequently asked questions) by James W.Cornett
2. A Field Guide to Desert Holes (revised edition) by Pinau Merlin
3. Indians and Desert Animals by James W. Cornett
The following article was written on the Joshua Tree National Park/high desert and the Harmony Motel, by Marjorie Copeland, (a CNN award Winning Writer www.cnn.com/WORLD/africa/africanawards/finalists_2008.html).
CNNarticle Our apologies- page one of the article is at the bottom and page 2 is the opening page (it is in reversed order, scroll down to read page one first).
Six Brilliant Actors, from the Theatre of the War Productions stayed at the Harmony Motel on the 09/21/10 and 09/22/10. They preformed a reading for our marines from a play entitled Sophocles.
The aim of the production company
“Theater of War presents readings of Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes to military communities across the United States. These ancient plays timelessly and universally depict the psychological and physical wounds inflicted upon warriors by war. By presenting these plays to military audiences, our hope is to de-stigmatize psychological injury and open a safe space for dialogue about the challenges faced by service members, veterans, and their caregivers and families.
It has been suggested that ancient Greek drama was a form of storytelling, communal therapy, and ritual reintegration for combat veterans by combat veterans……
Plays like Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes read like textbook descriptions of wounded warriors, struggling under the weight of psychological and physical injuries to maintain their dignity, identity, and honor…”( this extract has been quoted from the production company’s website theatre of the war productions.com).
For more information visit them at www.Facebook.com/TheaterofWar
Pictures of the cast members that stayed at the Harmony Motel.
This post was written by Ash (Nalini) Maharaj
Looking through the window of a guest room at the Harmony Motel, I am mesmerized at our beautiful desert gardens and then I spot my quail family walking merrily across the gardens on this beautiful breezy summer morning. Mama quail and her little darlings are a very pleasant scene to watch in the mornings, the little quails seeming so obedient and obliging to their parents; I almost hear Mama Quail telling her little ones “ Come along dears, there is no time for your quibbles, we need to hurry up to get to breakfast.”
Located in the high desert is our popular wildlife that we often encounter at our homes or in the Joshua Tree National Park, including bunny rabbits, quails, roadrunners, humming birds, lizards , bighorn sheep and many more. The high desert embraces her wildlife as any parent would, and provides them with the nurturing and comfort that all parents do for their young.
My favorite critter that I like observing, in the National Park is the bighorn sheep. At any given day, if you are visiting the famous 49 Palms hiking trail (less than one mile away from the Harmony Motel), or the Barker Dam trail, if you are lucky, you will encounter these delightful creatures, existing peacefully in the park, totally in harmony with their natural habitat.
They graze lazily, occasionally teasing and courting each other very tenderly. Their skin color blends with almost every tree bark in the park, and with their huge curly horns, they look at you fiercely, ready to charge if given any indication that an attacker is on site. They are a beautiful sight to watch. For the most part they sunbathe almost the whole day and graze at their leisure, allowing you to take pictures, and while staring at you silently. However it is said that they prefer to graze in isolation from humans, so I am very mindful of this. Their young are a pleasure to view, often meekly standing by their parents; they have a sweet and tender look about them, occasionally standing on their two hind legs (almost boasting the tricks that they can perform with their bodies).
My attention is suddenly awakened “to my present moment” as I watch the Harmony desert lizard, with his beautiful shiny, grey, chunky body, bolting across the patio, running furiously on his hind legs for a juicy bug that he has spotted for his breakfast this cool morning. He means business, and wastes no time in “being the predator” of the Harmony patio. These creatures will play the entire day, even in the hottest part of the day. They scurry around rapidly in total joy, enjoying the intensity of the sun on their backs, harmless. All I hear for most of the time as I walk on the pathways of the grounds are their rapid movements in the oleander bushes; they duck and dive as though playing hide and seek with their fellow mates.
Oh! There is Mr. Roadrunner, a rare delight, popping in, to say “ hi” to his friends, in the garden. He is truly a magnificent bird who prefers walking the grounds of the Harmony Motel, giving everyone his morning wishes rather than flying around. My eyes move to the naughty bunny that is chewing away at my beavertail cactus. My annoyance at the bunny is momentarily distracted, as I hear my favorite humming bird sounding her morning tune, perched high in the beautiful green fig tree of the garden. “Her humming resonates with me and reminds of what a wonderful place I am in right now”.