I’ve never been a huge U2 fan… I mean sure, Where The Streets Have No Name and Sunday Bloody Sunday were big when I was growing up and all that Mission: Impossible stuff was cool. And what teenager didn’t have With Or Without You or I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For on repeat at some point after being dumped by their girl/boyfriend. So when I saw I was passing near Joshua Tree National Park, like anyone who was even remotely sentient in the 80’s and 90’s, I immediately thought of the album.
The park itself is really cool, and not just for the Joshua trees. The rock formations and views of the San Andreas fault weave their own kind of magic.
But imagine my surprise when I found out the famous Joshua Tree from the album cover was not ACTUALLY in Joshua Tree National Park, but ACTUALLY in Death Valley. And that there was apparently some kind of shrine there that was not marked on any map but the coordinates WERE publicly available online. AND that I’d be driving within just 20 minutes of the point on the road that’s closest to where it is.
This folks, was a challenge, and if you’ve read my post about finding the “taking the hobbits to Isengard” location, you know that when it comes to challenges on adventure trips – it can become something of an obsession for me.
So after asking around for clues and loading up the coordinates into my phone’s compass I drove carefully up 395 north and then turned off onto 190 east. I soon found myself in the famous Death Valley (although not technically in the national park) close to sunset. It was utterly deserted, no cars or any signs of civilization beyond the road I was on. When I hit the right coordinates, I locked up my car on the side of the road, pointed my phone compass in the right direction and hiked my way into what appeared to be an endless desert.
It wasn’t a long walk or anything like that, maybe 20 minutes or so, but there was no indication that I was walking anywhere but nowhere. And after a few minutes my car disappeared behind me so it was really a matter of faith to continue.
In the distance…
Could it be?
Not only was I in the right place, but tree, which had already died and fallen over years prior, unbeknownst to me was surrounded by fan-produced items, including a fantastic plaque that included a variation on one of the most well known U2 songs of all, and the perfect question for was was probably the peak of my adventure:
On a journey of self-reflection, during a time where I’d blown up my safe, comfortable, Baggins-like life, could there be any more pertinent question?
The tree is dead of course, which is sad and was kind of a letdown at first. But the site is covered in stuff that fans have brought with them in tribute to the band. It’s all spontaneous and unmanaged – no one dictates what is appropriate or not. People leave albums, guitars, license plates, fan-made art, and other personal effects. There is (or at least was) a sign-in book. Someone had made a peace sign out of rocks. And that plaque – that freakin plaque – really got me. It may have just been the circumstances that brought to that place, but it was really one of the more inspiring places I’d ever been.
And right nearby, a new Joshua Tree had started growing. I don’t know why, but that made me feel a lot better about the old one being dead.
I stayed there, all alone, for a while as the sun went down behind the distant desert mountains, thinking about what it was I was actually looking for. Why was I there, in that place, at that moment – and what had led me there?
It would be a while before I had a definitive answer to that question (I’m not even 100% sure I have it now), but as the shadows lengthened and the sky began to dim, it was time to get back to my car for the next leg of the journey, past the highest peak in the lower 48 states (Mount Whitney) and towards Yosemite before finally, at long last turning eastward for the return journey home.
Verdict: A moving and inspiring place, extremely worthy of the time you are given.
Oh yeah, and if you do decide to go there, here are the coordinates:
Latitude: 36° 19′ 51″ N
Longitude: 117° 44′ 43.2″ W
Finally – I’m intentionally not including any close ups of the tree. If you REALLY want to see it, there are other sites out there that have it… but really… go there yourself! The atmosphere of the place – actually BEING there – is magic.