Trippin – Finding U2’s Joshua Tree

For more than half my life I had flirted with the idea of wandering to the iconic Joshua Tree. The same tree that shares the name and haunts the back of my favorite band’s seminal album.

Wait… did I just say seminal? Ok, as a post Rattle and Hum fan, the actual Joshua Tree means about as much to me as Elvis to Chuck D*. It wasn’t until I recently saw U2 perform the album in it’s entirety that this desire to travel to the north tip of Death Valley lit a fire for the experience that begins this dark, cold morning.

*: doesn’t mean shit.

Sadly the tree no longer stand defiantly alone in the Mojave Desert.

Now before I get ahead of myself, let’s talk about the actual location of “the” Joshua Tree. I once blindly planned this odyssey as an idea of traveling south to LA, finding Joshua Tree National Park, and then trekking until I found the locale of said “tree”. Luckily my Grandpa’s Eagle Scout voice lingered like a force ghost to “Always be prepared” and had me look up the GPS coordinates… which ironically sits almost 250 miles north of the actual park.

Thanks to a fellow U2 fan and the always handy google, I now had a better idea of how to navigate my journey. This trip has me charting a route to the Mojave desert (sounds so exotic, right?) on a quest to find… what I’m… no… this isn’t going to be one of those travel blogs littered with tongue in cheek/almost smarmy puns or veiled references to songs on the album.

And for those fan’s that absolutely need it… here we go:

This isn’t a story where the streets have no name, whilst I still haven’t found why with or without you I’m staring at a bullet in the blue sky while running to stand still… and that’s just side A.

This is a journal of a man, who is sometimes lost, but ultimately found.

36.33088, -117.74527 or bust!

Pro Tip: The GPS Location of the Joshua Tree is 36.33088, -117.74527. Using Google Maps will help you plan your own adventure.

After a long 7 hour drive down the 395 freeway, I finally started the final 20 miles to the site. This might have been the longest and loneliest 20 mile drive of my life, because once you hit the desert highway there is nothing to let you know that you’re heading anywhere in particular… in fact, about 15 miles in I began to panic as there wasn’t a joshua tree in sight. Was this all just an internet legend?

Interestingly enough, I came across quite a few unmarked cars with sunglass wearing drivers parked along strategic side roads. What were these possible government spooks protecting? A possible U2/alien conspiracy?

And then it happened… after a few hills and a stone divide the desert floor opened up to reveal sporadic twisted, cactus like trees on the horizon. Since I pressed play on The Joshua Tree album right as I entered the final stretch, the blaring sound of Bono’s harmonica echoed through my car right as Google Maps said I had arrived.

“Have you found what you’re looking for?”

Pulling off to the side of the road, I took a minute to reflect on the journey so far. I had enjoyed the drive, knowing each mile got me closer to my destination, but that last moment of blind faith had made me appreciate the trip even more. I then got out of the car, gathered my “offerings” and tripod and began walking to the south…

The hike to the spot was another test of blind faith. Since the tree met it’s demise sometime in early 2000s (Bono once joked that Achtung Baby was the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree), it’s location is a bit hard to find from the highway. Previous blogs mention heading south, so south I headed. It’s about a quarter mile journey, but that first time it seemed like I was wandering aimlessly.

Pro Tip – Use this young lone Joshua Tree as your guide. It’s tall and is only about 50 feet from the site.

I eventually found the legendary location. Fan-placed rocks spelled out song titles, a few guitars sat resting against the dried out trunk, and a metallic suit case filled with journals of other U2 travelers made me feel right at home. I had brought my own offering: my very first guitar. The same guitar I had learned countless U2 songs on, serenaded tunes with, and even wrote a love song of my own. It seemed fitting to write down some of my favorite song lyrics on the guitar to tell my story of what the band means to me.

I had made this trek all on my own, so I set up my tripod to take some stills and sat in the dirt to soak in everything around me. The silence of the desert was an almost spiritual experience. I was alone, but at the same time felt completely filled with joy and appreciation of all the love I have in my life. Right at the moment of self refection I heard a loud, thunder-like sound from the north… and just as I looked up a fighter jet zoomed across the sky directly overhead.

The sun began to set, and I decided that it was time to head back till the next morning. I had booked a room at a hotel around 25 miles away (Lone Tree, CA) and had planned to check out the local bar to see what the locals were all about…

Here’s one last Pro-Tip from me… if you plan on spending the night, drive up to Bishop instead. The only watering hole in Lone Tree is a saloon with a big old Confederate Flag hanging above it’s door. The motel I stayed in was dirty and unkempt. There is a Western Film History Museum, but it was as rundown as everything else.

After a restless night of sleep, I drove back out to the tree to catch the sunrise. Admittedly, I didn’t dress as bundled up as I should have (the thermostat in my car said it was a downright frigid 23 degrees), so I wasn’t able to stay as long as I would have liked during my second visit.

While waiting for the sun took peek over the mountains to the east, I once again had a purely spiritual moment and said a little prayer. I’m not the religious type, but it was hard not to appreciate the creation and beauty around me. I began to lose feeling in both my hands and feet, so I began walking back to my car. A few tears welled up in my eyes knowing tomorrow is never promised and to start making more memories like this while I still can.


– Rick

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