It’s 6.am, on this beautiful frosty 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 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 dark orange throughout the east side above the horizon, illuminating the sky with her brilliant colors. The sun is mesmerizing me as she turns into a deep golden yellow, allowing daylight to peep lazily onto the world.
The Sun creates an enlightening, warm, vivid 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 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 are 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, which 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.
Ah!!! The great tradition of the American Thanks-Giving is …..”Setting aside time to give thanks for one’s blessings this is almost as old as the settlement of the North American continent itself,” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ American thanksgiving truncated).
This thanksgiving season I celebrate my tenth anniversary as the owner of the harmony motel. My heart is filled with gratitude, going down memory lane to the experiences I have had, as the owner. In the spirit of thanks, I share my story with you:
I am South African in Nationality, but my origins are East Indian. 12 years ago I emigrated from South Africa to the US. My choice to live in the US as a resident was made, when I tragically lost my mom to a brutal crime in South Africa (two years after my arrival in the US). My professional background when I left South Africa was in teaching/training and change management consultancy.
Hence, my move to the US presented me with significant challenges and changes, not only in location, (that is from one continent to another and every other problem that goes with being an immigrant). But more importantly a challenge in the evolution of my professional field.
I took over the ownership of the Harmony Motel in 2004. For me, it is and has been a labor of love. I have created a peaceful oasis that is a gateway to Joshua Tree National Park. During my remodeling, I was inspired and motivated by not only the location of the motel, but also by the history of this roadside motel, especially by the name “Harmony” and the” music notes” that adds character to the identity of the motel.
Together with my staff our goal is to ensure that this lodging facility is harmonious with its environment and that it provides a tranquil, joyous atmosphere to all our guests. We offer more than just the room experience that a traditional motel gives you.
The Harmony boasts a charming exterior corridor, with a front office courtyard that is designed in an L shape. The patios from the rooms offer our guests incredible views of the Joshua Tree Mountains and wilderness of the Mojave Desert. Our room offers all amenities of a traditional motel, with simple artistic décor and a home away from home experience. We have a refreshing cold pool, and a tantalizing hot tub to soak up and star gaze from.
Our guests meet our friendly desert critters that hang out in the gardens or on the grounds of the Harmony this provides a genuine desert wilderness experience. From the Harmony, our guests can experience amazing sunrises, sunsets, and different shades of desert light that makes the landscape authentic to the desert, full moons, and excellent stargazing opportunities.
Twenty-nine palms (a Joshua Tree Gateway Community) is the city in which the Harmony Motel is located; this is also a city in which the headquarters of Joshua Tree National Park, founded itself, known as the north entrance to the park. Many of the murals of this city reveal the pioneering history of this rural city. As a single female entrepreneur that has emigrated from one continent to another, I happily embrace this pioneering spirit.
To all my patrons and American friends that helped me become a success, I say thank you, and words cannot express the gratitude that I feel towards you, as I approach this 10th year anniversary, this December 2014.
I would like to extend a special thanks to the community of 29 palms for supporting the Harmony Motel and me, (as a single female foreigner investor that is ready to take her citizenship soon in the USA).
The following article was written by a travel writer Kate Thomas, on Harmony Motel, for one of the largest travel blogs in the world, Expedia.com.
A view from Travel with Kate August 29, 2014 Winter, Road Trip, Outdoors, National Parks, Fall, California, Adventure,
Joshua Tree National Park, in southeastern California, is a dazzling natural playground for hikers, cyclists, rock climbers, and all-around outdoor enthusiasts. The park is located an hour’s drive northeast of Palm Springs. Its nearly 800,000 acres are covered with rock formations, unique shrubbery, palm trees, and, of course, those iconic Joshua trees. It all provides a commanding escape from city life. Joshua Tree is open (and accessible) year-round. But to avoid the heat, it’s best to visit between October and April. Drive in from out of town or fly into Palm Springs and rent a car. Entrance to the park is US$15 per vehicle; each entry pass covers seven days of access. It is easy to get an immersive experience in the park, whether you camp or find lodging in a nearby town.
For non-campers (like me!), it is best to stay right along Highway 62 in Twentynine Palms (yes, that’s really the name of the town). The small town has a handful of motels and restaurants, most of which are located right off the highway. Conveniently, the town also sits only minutes away from the park entrance at the Oasis Visitor Center.
On a recent trip, I stayed at Harmony Motel, a charming inn on Highway 62 with an amusing history—members of the band, U2, stayed here while working on their 1987 album, “The Joshua Tree.” The motel has spacious and clean rooms equipped with ample air conditioning and free WiFi. There is a pool and a hot tub, both of which look out on the sprawling desert and towering mountains. As soon as I checked in, I wished I was staying for more than one night.
I arrived at the motel on a Friday with an ambitious schedule for the next morning: To wake up before dawn to experience the park as the sun began to rise over the desert. In the dark the next morning, I made the short drive from the motel to the entrance into Joshua Tree National Park off Highway 62 at the Utah Trail. As I drove along the flat, winding road the sun began to spread light over the surrounding desert. I watched out the window as the terrain morphed around me. It went from a barren desert with no signs of life to a varied landscape inhabited by trees. Large boulders and rock formations appeared. And mountains rose high in the distance. In some areas I saw nothing but palm trees; in other areas, it was all Joshua Trees, all the time. I couldn’t help but get out of the car every few minutes to take pictures.
After quite a few photos, it was time to set out along a trail. There were many options, each with its own level of difficulty. Among the trails I considered were the Fortynine Palms Oasis trail, a 3-mile loop takes you up 300 feet each way in and out of the valley to a tranquil spring and cluster of palm trees; and the Ryan Mountain trail, another 3-mile hike with an incline on the way in and great views at the top. There also were a number of nature trails that didn’t appear to include much of an incline. Ultimately, I ended up choosing the Hidden Valley walk, a 1-mile nature trail loop around a beautiful area bordered by rock formations. On the ensuing hike, I saw rock climbers in action, scaling a steep rock face with professional equipment.
Without a harness and lines I was able to scramble up some boulders to get new vantage points on the valley. A sunrise drive and nature walk turned out to be an ideal way to experience the park on a summer morning; by 9:30 a.m., it was beastly hot. Despite never having camped or even spent more than a half-day in the park, I found the experience fully enriching. There’s no question I’ll be back in the fall or winter to spend more time exploring Joshua Tree on longer hikes (and maybe even for a rock climb).
For a comprehensive list of trails, walks, and activities inside the park, go to the park’s official website here. I know I’ll be looking at that page again soon.
Click on link to view article :http://viewfinder.expedia.com/palm-springs/day-trip-to-joshua-tree… Viewfinder Tip: Be sure to bring lots of water and snacks when hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. The middle of the desert can be even hotter than you expect it to be.
End of Summer 2014-Newsletter 2
Published: Harmony Motel
Written By: Ash Maharaj
In the high desert, summer can feel endless with her sizzling sun-drenched days. As much as we complain about summers scorching temperatures in the desert, she produces a dry inviting heat that attracts people from all over the world, to experience her blazing heat that comforts the reptile in us.
We are, hopefully in the last quarter of summer in the Joshua tree region, as we experience sultry summer nights that give us breezy summer winds, and humid, sticky days, which invites all kinds of chirping, buzzing, and clicking exotic bugs. These bugs constantly sing their songs or impolitely chatter in every corner of our homes.
At the Harmony motel, I blissfully enjoy the last of the warm, delightful summer days, the beautiful cool refreshing mornings and the dramatic sunsets, that lead us into summers mysterious dark romantic nights( that embraces star strutted skies and unforgettable summer supermoons).
In particular, I enjoy summers spectacular lighting shows, that she always shows cases in the evenings, as a backdrop to the desert wilderness picture perfect landscapes, during her awesome desert storms.
The end of summer, signals to us the festivities of the last of summer and the beginning of the fall celebrations. We begin leisurely preparing for these festivities.
The Joshua Tree Gateway communities present to you, professional, entertaining and unique cultural events (that embraces the lifestyle of the communities). The Harmony Motel highlights, the following must experience events, for the month of August/September 2014
Bhakti Festival September 4-7 of 2014: Experience the magic of Yoga, traditional eastern music-(kirtrans ) at the: Metaphysical center in the high desert of Joshua Tree .
Integration – Sonic Geometry Events on September 6th, check this out at http://http://integratron.com/my-added-posts/events/
The Joshua Tree National Park boasts crystal clear skies that provide a magnificent galaxy of stars at night, which creates an ambience of mystical and romantic celebration. The night skies in the park and the surrounding high desert will make you delirious with joy when it showcase the brightest stars, planets and constellations of the universe especially in the summer nights. Visit skys the limit observatory and Nature Center http://www.skysthelimit29.org/our_history.html for a schedule of this August/September stargazing schedule.
Visit us at the Harmony Motel for your star gazing experience. To make your stargazing experience memorable this summer we recommend the services of a professional team of telescope rentals that have just arrived in the high desert, yes they are “Coyote Telescope Rental of Joshua Tree!!!”
“The mission at Coyote Telescope is to enrich your visit to this unique place (that is Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding high desert).Even if you do not know anything about telescopes, they have all the tools and equipment you need to experience a perfect night of star gazing, planet hunting and dark sky discovery. The above paragraph is a quotation from a postcard of (Coyote Telescope Rental in Joshua tree).Tortoise rock casino
“If Music be the food of love, play on (William Shakespeare twelfth night),for the first time this August/September the new Tortoise Rock Casino, minutes away from the Harmony Motel, in the Joshua Tree Region, introduces its latest event, rock concert, check out the featured artists and dates at http://www.tortoiserockcasino.com/entertainment.html
The legendary Pappy Harriets Pioneer town Palace has been delighting locals and travelers alike since 1982, with its mesquite barbeque, live music, dancing and friendly service. Check out, their Music Line up for this August and September 2014 at http://pappyandharriets.com/events
For a great wilderness experience visit us at www.harmonymotel.com. The harmony is close to the landmark 49 palms oasis. One of the five Oasis of the Joshua Tree National Park, (great hiking trail that is 3 miles on a round trip). If you lucky, you will see the beautiful big horn sheep that hangout at the oasis, dont forget to take a picnic basket with you.
Information on the events and description was taken from the respective web pages.
This article , touches on the entire bus trip that the Irish rock band U2 took before they released the album that was destined to be called “The Joshua Tree”, we will mainly focus on the portions of that trip that lie within the Mojave Desert.
Let’s start with what we know for sure, in 1987 U2 released an album called “The Joshua Tree”, before the album was released they traveled from Reno to Joshua tree with a few stops in between to take pictures. Later they would return to film videos in Los Angeles and Las Vegas after the album was released. The band U2 were aware of the mythology of the Mojave Desert, this is part of the reason they used it as a backdrop to their album. According to the designer of the album sleeve, Steve Averill, the band rented a coach in Reno, Nevada, at the time the cover was shot, The Joshua Tree album was tentatively titled “The Two Americas” with another alternate name being “The Desert”, the band wanted to capture the part of the United States where “nature and industrialization meet”.
Steve says the end photos for The Joshua Tree were the result of a “happy accident”, we had stopped and shot at a ghost town in Nevada (actually Bodie, California), and their photographer, Anton Corbijn wanted to shoot at Joshua Tree National Monument (now a National Park) next. After the Bodie shoot they drove toward Joshua Tree National Monument, along the way they stopped at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Monument (also a National Park today) and shot the cover photograph, then on Highway 190 just outside Death Valley they saw a lone Joshua Tree in the distance, it was then that the band began thinking of The Joshua Tree as a possible name for the album. They got out of the coach there and then and shot the inside sleeve photograph, all in all they were there about 20 minutes in the early morning cold weather. This famous session with the Joshua Tree became the back cover and the inside sleeve of the album which was released on March 9, 1987.
A friend and myself decided to drive to find this elusive tree that actually fell down from natural causes in the year 2000, we found the fallen tree on July 3rd, 2014. We assumed that it would be hot and we knew it was about a three hour drive without any big stops. Joshua Trees only grow at higher elevations because they need below freezing winters to reproduce so we knew it would be not quite as hot as the lower reaches of the desert. We found the spot to stop on the road near the infamous tree rather quickly, at about 4700 feet above sea level the site was quite a bit cooler than nearby Death Valley, our temperature was only about 100 degrees. I decided to try my new 4wd vehicle and we went down some fairly sandy washes, in the end we walked about 3/4 of a mile to find this iconic monument to an Irish rock band in the middle of the Mojave Desert. After being at the site for about 15 minutes and taking pictures we walked the 3500 feet back to the car. I would recommend parking on the main road and walking 1300 feet to the site, its much easier than driving off road, the wash was very soft and parking on the paved road is a relatively short walk and if you are a true fan of U2 this is the way that the band traversed to the tree from their rented coach.
Back to 1987, I believe that it was later that same day that they ended up at The Harmony Motel in 29 Palms for another photo shoot and stayed in the Motel for at least a night. While at the Motel it is rumored that they rented all of the rooms at the Harmony Motel but room #4 was rented as a group meeting place to congregate. If you visit the Motel ask for Ash the owner, she knows alot about the U2 stay back then, she is the current owner but she has contact with the person that owned it in 1987.
On a side note, my buddy that helped me find “The Joshua Tree” fallen in the desert is recently retired from United Parcel Service. He actually delivered packages to the Harmony Motel one of the days that they stayed there, when he made his delivery the owner at that time told him they were there in the Motel, so finding the fallen tree was kind of like coming full circle.
The Bodie, Zabriskie Point, Joshua Tree and Harmony Motel photographs were used to promote the band forevermore at concerts and on their memorabilia.
Anyone can visit these places if you know where to look:
Bodie is a state park in California, here is the link: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509
Zabriskie Point is in Death Valley National Park, here is the link: www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/furnacecreekarea.htm
The iconic Joshua Tree is on Highway 190 at coordinates: 36°19’51.00?N, 117°44’42.88?W
The Harmony Motel is in 29 Palms, it is rumored that they rented the entire motel but the gathering place where they all met was in Room #4, here is the link: www.harmonymotel.com
On a side note another Irish band called Snow Patrol also stayed at the Harmony Motel in 2010, following in the footsteps of their Irish brethren.
On our way home we visited the ghost town of Darwin, we also stopped in Lone Pine and drove up Whitney Portal Road to get a closer look at Mount Whitney. We then visited the Lone Pine Movie History Museum www.lonepinefilmhistorymuseum.org and learned alot about the movies that were made in this area including one of my favorites, “Tremors”.
Please be careful if you make this journey, summer is hot and winter is cold but you can always end your long day at the Harmony Motel just like U2 did.
Take It Easy – Mojave
newsletter 1 Summer of 2014
Published by Harmony Motel
Written- By Ash Maharaj
Featured event in the Joshua Tree National Park – this summer star gazing
Joshua Tree National Park is a unique park not only in its breathtaking authentic landscapes and rock formation, but it also offers its visitors’ an extraordinary stargazing experience. As a resident living in the high desert, close to the Joshua Tree National Park, I am always impressed with the jet black night skies in this part of the country.
The Joshua Tree National Park boasts crystal clear skies that provide a magnificent galaxy of stars at night, which creates an ambience of mystical and romantic celebration. The night skies in the park and the surrounding high desert will make you delirious with joy when it showcase the brightest stars, planets and constellations of the universe especially in the summer nights.
You certainly will not be moonstruck on stargazing nights in the high desert of Southern California. Instead, you will experience the raw wilderness of the desert, in the darkness of the night you can hear the sounds of howling coyotes, feel the gentle warm silent summer breeze of the desert blowing on you as you view and enjoy the breathtaking star-studded skies.
Visit us at the Harmony Motel for your star gazing experience. To make your stargazing experience memorable this summer we recommend the services of a professional team of telescope rentals that have just arrived in the high desert, yes they are “Coyote Telescope Rental of Joshua Tree!!!”
“The mission at Coyote Telescope is to enrich your visit to this unique place (that is Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding high desert).Even if you do not know anything about telescopes, they have all the tools and equipment you need to experience a perfect night of star gazing, planet hunting and dark sky discovery. “The above paragraph is a quotation from a postcard of (Coyote Telescope Rental in Joshua Tree).
You can visit their website for more information at www.CoyoteTelescope.com for more in-depth information.
Written by Ash Maharaj
The Hang Town Hikers.
I feel totally relaxed and comfortable on my favorite chair, as I view the amazing critter activity in my desert garden this gorgeous spring morning. The refreshing cool breeze and the warm sunlight strokes my skin gently, this magically rejuvenates and uplifts my spirits, whispering to me, the appearance of my most favorite season of the year, yes! Bright, beautiful and blossoming spring always awakens my soul to the wonders of Mother Nature.
In the desert spring is very flirtatious with her climate, some days she is light and breezy or she can be cheerfully sunny, sometimes she gets moody and places a damper on your day, (rudely interrupting your plans), by showing up overcast, rainy, damp, windy and cold.
Spring generally glitters and glow in colors that are bright greens, purples, warm pinks, oranges and yellow as she paints the desert landscape with sweet smelling wildflower blooms. She Rejuvenates the desert wilderness with blankets of green grass, fragrant smelling flowers, sweet sounds of chirping humming birds, merry quail families and over protective fussing doves that are nesting high up in the trees.
My desert garden is always a delightful picture of my favorite desert critters buzzing with joy and love, obviously happy to meet all their friends at their favorite play place, after a cold, dry and harsh winter. I hear chatting from the critters?
Mr. Tortoise whispers to Mr. Bunny “did you notice Ash is so happy, she did not even shoo Mrs. Red Racer away, when she found her in the garden this morning.”
“Off course she is always full of joy and happiness in spring because her favorite guests will soon be arriving”, replied Bunny.
“And who may I ask are they?” squeaked Lizzie,
“Or come on Lizzie don’t you know them”, replied Mrs. Red Racer in her husky voice.
“The famous “ Hangtown Hikers” the biggest fans of the Harmony, they adore Ash, love the desert wilderness, and totally appreciate critter land. They have been coming to the Harmony for the last nine years; they are a merry crowd that is always full of laughter and always in the mood for their happy hour celebrations.” Expressed bunny in a happy tone of voice.
“That’s right,” cried out Mr. Roadrunner,” “I like them too, they love Joshua Tree Park, always going on their long hikes and they enjoy eating at their favorite restaurants in town. Every year they do my favorite trail, the boy Scott Trail.” explained chirpy Mr. Roadrunner.
“I wonder why they call themselves the Hangtown Hikers.” (Whispered Tortoise to himself), to which Bunny chuckled,
“I know, on the last trip I heard Bob the leader explain the history of their name to Ash.”
“So it’s time for a story Bunny,” shouted Roadrunner delightfully.
Mr. Roadrunner than proceeded to instruct everyone to find a seat on the comfortable dirt. Bunny cleared his throat and began to narrate the historical story of the name of the town Placerville (as to why it once was notoriously called Hangtown).
Bunny loved the attention from his friends, he squealed with laughter, as he began narrating the story with excitement in his voice. “as history explains after the discovery of gold in nearby Coloma, California by James W. Marshall in 1848 sparked the California Gold Rush, the small town now known as Placerville than was called Dry Digging’s (after the manner in which the miners moved cartloads of dry soil to running water to separate the gold from the soil).
Later in 1849, the town earned its most common historical notorious name, “Hangtown”, because the miners quickly became short-tempered, and with the rising crime rate and the lack of readily-available law enforcement, they took the “law” (or lack thereof) into their own hands. Criminals were punished in short order, whether it be flogging or hanging, based on snap decisions made by impromptu courts with hastily-formed juries.
The first lynching in the camp, a triple hanging, came after a gang of five tried to rob a miner of his gold dust. However someone in in the crowd of 2,000 said he recognized three of the five (two Mexicans and one Yankee, that had been involved with a murder on the Stanislaus River).
The three suspects were hanged together from the huge oak tree in camp. The location of this well-used hang in’ tree is marked by an effigy dangling by his neck from the second story of the Hangman’s Tree Historic spot in downtown Placerville. The stump is said to be in the cellar. That is how the Town Placerville acquired its historical notorious name “Hangtown” as there were many such hangings during this period in the town.”
Bunny continued, “So my dear critter land that is why our dear friends from Sacramento call themselves the “Hangtown Hikers”
“I get it they like the history of their towns name,” whispered tortoise.
“Or maybe there name indicates that they will not tolerate bad behaviors from their hiking team, like the pioneers of their town” suggested Roadrunner.
“Gosh I rather be on my best behavior the next time they are here stuttered anxious Mrs. Roadrunner”.
“Yes, listen to Ash, you need to hide yourself the when her guests are around because they are afraid of you,” Lizze uttered naughtily.
The above information on the history of Placerville was taken from:
http://www.comspark.com/chronicles/hangtown.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placerville,_California
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.