PHOTO: Joshua Tree National Park in the California desert. (photo by Christine Bord)
This year marks the 30th Anniversary of U2's "Joshua Tree", the album that, as Rolling Stone put it, brought the band "from heroes to superstars."
To celebrate, U2 will hit the road this summer for the aptly titled Joshua Tree Tour 2017 and will reissue the album with a recording of the 1987 Joshua Tree Tour concert from Madison Square Garden, as well as rarely heard outtakes from the record.
Fans are also marking the anniversary for themselves in a variety of ways: Some are making the pilgrimage to Ireland for a glimpse of the Danesmoate House, where most of "The Joshua Tree" was recorded and U2 bassist Adam Clayton currently lives. Others are visiting Margarita's Place in Los Angeles, which was once the liquor store made famous in the "Where the Streets Have No Name" video.
Last month, while on a quick trip to California, I decided to jump on the "Joshua Tree" bandwagon and take the most popular journey of them all, a trip into the desert to find THE Joshua Tree from the original album cover.
Unfortunately, I set out on my trip from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree without doing much research, assuming THE Joshua Tree would have to be located in Joshua Tree National Park.
I discovered it is actually four hours away on Route 190, just outside of Death Valley National Park.
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As the story goes, the band, along with long-time collaborator and photographer Anton Corbijn, spent three days in December of 1986 on a bus trip through the California desert when they spotted THE tree:
"'While speeding down Route 190 near Darwin, California, just west of Death Valley, Corbijn found what he was looking for. Amazingly enough, we found this beautiful tree standing on its own. This tree usually grows in big groups, so it was incredible to find that tree on its own. I’ve never seen another tree on its own since.'
"The band pulled over and spent 20 minutes posing with the lone tree before the winter chill drove them back into the bus. 'It was freezing and we had to take our coats off so it would at least look like a desert,' Bono explained. 'That’s one of the reasons we look so grim.'”
The tree fell over years ago, but that hasn't stopped fans from flocking to the site. Today, there is a plaque commemorating the tree and a "U2ube" that holds a visitor's log where fans leave sweet messages to the band.
Though I felt foolish for going to the wrong location in search of the iconic spot, I did find solace in learning I wasn't alone. There are many internet reports of people unsuccessfully scouring Joshua Tree National Park. According to fan lore, one couple even died wondering around the park in search of it.
If you want to find the real tree's location, there are now easy instructions on Foursquare.
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I never did make it over there, but as a consolation prize, I was able to find the Harmony Motel where U2 stayed and took a few photos on that trip back in '86.
I'm not sure I would want to stay in the motel—I even questioned if it was still open based on its appearance—but it is certainly a fun stop for a few photo opps. The Harmony Motel is located right on California State Route 62, just a few miles from the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.
Even though I didn't find the exact spot where the album cover was shot, I still had an amazing day exploring Joshua Tree and, ultimately, did find exactly what I was looking for.