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 following writing is extracts taken from the above article, which has been published in the Sacramento Bee…great read on Joshua tree.
By Sam McManisfirstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Sunday, Apr. 7, 2013 – 12:00 am | Page 1H
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013 – 3:00 pm
JOSHUA TREE – Deep in the desert, searching for enlightenment at a spot called Samuelson’s Rocks that is unmarked on any map, all I find are shaggy, gnarled trees that give this area its name, bulbous monzogranite rock formations and the triad of cholla, creosote and prickly pear that scar my legs and test my resolve.
Wait a moment. Did I just say all?
Have I, after a mere four days at Joshua Tree National Park, become so inured of these wondrous surroundings that I have ceased appreciating the geologic and floral delights to be experienced?
Perhaps. And that’s a shame. Because, if a visit to Joshua Tree teaches you nothing else, it should foster an abiding affection for the hidden natural abundance in what the uninitiated may see as a vast and arid open space bereft of possibility.
This connection to the landscape is why the multitudes come to the high desert: to climb and to hike, to camp and worship at nature’s altar, to seek spirituality and artistic inspiration, to trade the claustrophobic city for a bigger piece of sky. I am trying – really, I am – to become such a seeker.
I have trekked deep into the Wonderland of Rocks, where forests of Joshua trees exist peacefully amid mounds of monzonite quartz stacked so precisely, if precariously, that even the staunchest atheist might suspect it as the work of an unseen hand.
I have driven beyond the galleries to the fringes, where “outsider” artists have assembled found-material sculpture “environments” that incorporate the land itself as both canvas and object.
Yes, I have done all that. But here I am on my last morning, wandering in the desert, looking for a small cluster of rocks upon which a Swedish immigrant in the late 1920s named John Samuelson carved philosophic messages.
Somehow, the trip will seem incomplete without finding these stone tablets, even if (or maybe especially because) they were the work of a crank with ideas far outside the mainstream.
Joshua Tree, after all, is that kind of place. It brings out a guy’s contemplative and quirky sides…
Rock legends all around
Don’t even try in a week’s stay to cover all 794,000 acres of Joshua Tree, 70 percent of it designated as wilderness. Instead, pick your spots based on your interest.
Many come to climb the big rocks. The most popular and challenging spots are at Hidden Valley, about 14 miles southeast of the visitors center, with climbs ranging from relatively easy to difficult.
“Hidden Valley is the climbers’ place,” said Gary Chandler, who through Joshua Tree Outfitters sells and rents climbing and camping equipment. “There are hundreds of climbs within walking distance of the campground. The farther you go, you get to what’s known by climbers as the real Hidden Valley – the best climbs.”
Climber Les Walker of Idyllwild had just rappelled down a rock face, preparing to take a group of novices for a session.”Joshua Tree gets some of the world’s best climbers,” he said. “But there also are a lot of great rocks for people just getting into it. You don’t want to have a novice try Intersection or Old Woman first time out.”Hiking, however, is relatively easy for most, provided you bring ample water (yes, even in the early spring, when the temperature hovers just under 80). Trails range from as short at a half-mile to as long as the 37-mile Riding & Hiking Trail that extends from the Black Rock Canyon entrance to the Oasis Entrance.
Many of the trails are flat with soft, sandy surfaces, but some killer climbs await.
Perhaps the most popular route, the Boy Scout Trail, combines flat, sandy stretches and challenging but not lung-busting climbs with views of the Wonderland of Rocks. It’s a 16-mile out-and-back, but many choose to camp along the way and make it an overnight excursion.Hiker Lynne Tremkilbach of Akron, Ohio, chose that option
“I’ve never backcountry-camped before, so of course, I chose to do it by myself in the desert,” she said, laughing. “I camped out last night, and it was wonderful. It’s just so beautiful out here. This is so not Ohio.”
Art blooms in the desert
On a 7 1/2-acre parcel about 5 miles north of town, where the roads cease to be paved and handsome houses give way to shacks that give way to trailers, one of Southern California’s famous “outsider” artists has created a world unlike Ohio or any other state.
It’s called Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum, and it’s a trip. About 40 art pieces, some as small as a refrigerator, others as massive as a building, dot the landscape. From found metal, burned or decayed wood, old tires and pipes and discarded electronics, the late Purifoy built elaborate, often politically pointed, outdoor sculptures here from 1989 until his death in 2004.
His work has been exhibited at mainstream museums such as the Getty, Whitney, Oakland and California African American museums, but Purifoy had said the proper place for his sculptures is the desert, where the process of decay becomes part of the work.
Installations range from the silly to the sublime, often touching on social issues. One of his more famous works is “Kirby Express,” in which old vacuum cleaners, baby carriages, smudge pots and swamp coolers are affixed to bicycle wheels and placed upon railroad tracks. It represents, according to the Noah Purifoy Foundation, “a symbol of hope and progress for the well-to-do, built by the poor (symbolizing) lost hope and dreams.”
Purifoy’s may be the most famous of the desert’s art installations, but it is far from the only one. Among the pieces belonging under the umbrella organization called “High Desert Test Sites” is Sarah Vanderlip’s piece that welded two aluminum discs together to shine like a crystal egg amid the boulders; Shari Elf’s “Art Queen” gallery in town that features outdoor work, and the kitschy “World Famous Crochet Museum” inside an old Fotomat-type building.
Even some of the hotels are as much art projects as commercial dwellings. “Artists move here, well, maybe because it’s not expensive,” Elf said…..Sometimes, the art pops up at you unexpectedly.
While driving on a dirt road way northwest of Joshua Tree, near the settlement of Pipes Canyon, my eye caught a glint in the desert. I pulled over and followed the shiny light. It was a giant orange arrow, at least 30 feet in height, pointing down into the sand. Next to it was this message, nailed to the post: “You Are Here.” No direction home But I am not there – meaning, I have not yet found Samuelson’s Rocks. The morning has worn on, it’s warming up, and my water bottle is running low.
I was warned it’s not easy to find the rocks – it’s not an official National Park site, so there are no directional signs and no trail – and 45 minutes into my search, I’m getting mighty frustrated.
I try to remember what Chandler, the Joshua Tree Outfitter owner, told me.
“The reason the park won’t tell you is because it’s a private in-holding, but there are a couple of pullouts on the road about two miles from Quail Springs (picnic area),” he said. “Head southwest and you’ll see a dark mound a couple of miles across the desert. It rises about 200 feet. Walk toward that.”
I have done as told, but I’m lost. Three separate rock clumps have proved absent of inscriptions. Somehow, I have gotten turned around. Amid my wanderings, I’ve scraped my knee on a yucca plant and rivulets of blood run down my leg.
I’m just about to admit defeat when I decide to walk another 100 feet and see another rise in the landscape. I squint and spot marks on a boulder. I run through rocks and prickly pear and find them.
There are seven stones with chiseled rants against God and man, Herbert Hoover and Henry Ford, as well as other deep thoughts. It’s akin to 140-character Twitter messages, sans spell-check, from a previous generation.
One of Samuelson’s all-caps ramblings strikes me as relevant, especially to a Joshua Tree visitor. I take out my smartphone and capture it for my screensaver:
STUDY NATURE OBEY THE LAWS OF IT YOU CAN’T GO WRONG
IT PAYES COMPOUND ENTEREST FOR LIFE AND NOT ONE PENNY ENVESTED.