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
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