..."When we took the photographs, we thought it was a very powerful visual graphic image. We then drove off, and I don't know if we'll ever find that Joshua tree again. I don't know if anyone will ever find that Joshua tree again -- I hope that if people do find the Joshua tree they won't cut it down and take it home and stick it to the wall --- or bring it to a gig!! ('Hey Baaano! I got yer tree!')" Bono 01/01/87 U2 World Service Propaganda magazine.
In 1987 when I first opened up ‘The Joshua Tree’ album, I was spell bound by Anton Corbijn's photos of the desert and particularly the tree and decided to visit there one day. Twelve years later I made it.
To see in the 21st Century we went on a musical journey of some of America’s heartland visiting some vintage U2 destinations immortalised during the eighties classic album ‘The Joshua Tree’. ‘The Joshua Tree’ was released in March 1987 and the LP had two working titles: 'Desert Songs' and 'The Two Americas', however, U2 decided on the title ‘The Joshua Tree’ on introduction to the gnarled cactus by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn. This funky cactus got its name from the early settlers who thought it looked like the prophet Joshua pointing to the Promised Land.
During our road trip we passed through Death Valley Junction where the imagery used on the U2 import singles 'In God’s Country' 'One Tree Hill' sleeve photograph of a crouching Bono was taken. The band picture on the rear sleeve of 'With or Without You' was also taken here, I believe the cover shot from 'With or Without You’, judging by the desert ground, looked like it was photographed near the famous tree.
From there we visited Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, where ‘The Joshua Tree’ album cover was shot in 1986. You can reach the exact spot of the album cover, just over the wall of the viewing site. But take plenty of water with you or you'll end up seeing Jim Morrison and Bono walking over the dunes and end up as vulture snacks.
The Joshua Tree National Park (where U2's Joshua tree isn't) was well worth a visit, nice friendly coyotes there. Also the park stocks some nice souvenirs including patches, posters, postcards and the BBC television documentary 'Desert Song' which features U2's ‘The Joshua Tree’ music as it's soundtrack . I opted for a packet of seeds which grew okay; I have a small Joshua tree growing in my UK garden!
'The Harmony Motel' from Anton Corbijn's U2 desert silent movie, ‘The Joshua Tree’ tour program and various other publicity photos is at 29 Palms. U2 stayed here, in Room 4, during 1986 whilst on the album shoot.
We thought we found THE tree in 29 Palms Marine Corps Training Ground -- wrong!
Bodie Ghost town was something else here the covers to singles 'Where the Streets have no Name' featuring Adam Clayton and 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for' featuring Larry Mullen Jnr were photographed by Anton Corbijn, don't remove anything though otherwise you'll face the dreaded curse of Bodie!
Next stop was 7th and Main Street in downtown LA which is worth a visit, though use caution, to see the site of the video shoot to 'Where the Streets have no Name', also around the block is the Hotel Rosslyn or The Million Dollar Hotel from the book by Bono and Wim Wenders movie of the same name - this hotel particularly the signage also featured in more photos from the same period (inc. rear sleeve of 'Streets') and later on in the 1988 The Rattle and Hum period 'Desire' promo video.
The original TV documentary 'Outside it's America' from ‘The Joshua Tree’ (available in remastered 20th Anniversary edition) features a clip of the band on the roof of the hotel – probably during the photo shoot as featured on the reverse of to 'Where the Streets have no Name' single.
We found U2's Joshua Tree on the big road from Lone Pine to Death Valley -- I190 I think it was called. It was quite easy to find once we knew what the mountain range is, also the fact that it wasn't a lone tree (Larry was obscuring a smaller tree with his head), the album cover looked like it was shot early morning and the inner sleeve probably mid-day so these locations were within driving distance of each other, Joshua trees are indigenous to Southern California, etc).
The Anton Corbijn's photos around U2's Joshua tree were taken during a brief visit there during December 1986. When we visited the tree it was in pretty good shape, but today the tree is dead and gone... oh well at least it didn't spend the rest of its days in the parking lot of the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas (Check out Freemont Street in Vegas site of the 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for' video though covered today with a canopy).
Anton Corbijn wouldn't tell us where the tree was as he said U2 didn't want the tree becoming a shrine, now the place is strewn with trash including a tacky bronze/concrete plaque. A few parts of the tree remain on the desert floor the rest has been removed by souvenir hunters and will no doubt end up on eBay in due course. U2 always said 'Achtung Baby' was the sound of the band chopping down ‘The Joshua Tree’ - they got their wish - through mother nature it would appear.
When we visited this and other places of natural beauty all we took away with us were photos and all we left behind were footprints, it's a pity that others didn't...
WARNING: be sensible and follow safety and other reasonable advice.
essay and photo ©copyright joshthetree 1999