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
A recent review from a guest that stayed at the motel.
“Harmony Motel Rocks”
Tom W New Orleans, Louisiana
I recently stayed at the Harmony motel because the accommodations on the Marine Corps base were full, and I wanted a room that had a kitchen. What I discovered was an awesome and overlooked billeting opportunity for travelers to the area. The inn is quiet and has the feel of a small family-operated establishment where you could probably leave your door unlocked all day and be fine. The rooms have a large glass window facing East, giving you the most beautiful sunrises you could ask for. The pool and hot tub are well kept and are PERFECT for the post-workout soak. The staff informed me of a nearby Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park, and twice I ran there and back from the hotel (it’s probably about 7 miles total with some decent elevation changes). The proximity to this awesome, not-so-well-known landmark is one thing that makes me want to stay at the Harmony every time I have to visit 29 Palms. Let’s see….treadmill in a big chain hotel, or desert oasis run right behind your motel? Let’s see…. long unfriendly hallways in a big chain hotel, or a nice table and chairs just outside your door where you can watch the sunrise/sunset and down a bottle of beer/wine? Yep, this little motel wins every time.
Stayed February 2014, traveled on business
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.
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.