"[I]n the early '80s . . . there was this rather ridiculous idea . . . that if it was big, it was bad. Which of course rules out Elvis."
Joshua Tree Journeys: Jessica L Bryant
Coeur dâ€™Alene, Idaho, U.S.A.
February 08, 2017
[Ed. note: This is the eleventh in our series, which highlights visits to the U2 Joshua Tree, as shared by our readers.]
My first visit to the tree was in 2004. My husband had managed to find someone willing to share its rough location (at the time this was a carefully guarded secret) and we decided to make the journey as part of a monthlong road trip with our 18-month-old son. After spending a night with family on a ridgetop outside of Tehachapi, we drove toward Death Valley. As we turned off the freeway onto the first smaller highway, it was time to play the album. It was perfect; the landscape a visual counterpart to the music. There was even a red hill.
The farther we drove, the longer the gap became between oncoming cars, which made the music fit all the better. We found the mile marker we were instructed to stop near, nestled our son into a sling carrier, and set off across the desert. Using the mountains to gauge the location of the tree, we hiked on and on, crisscrossing the land, stepping over sage and small Joshua trees. The land here is relatively flat, and there are very few large trees, none as aged and impressive as THE tree, so we expected it to be easy to spot.
After about an hour and a half of fruitless hiking and hunting, my husband was ready to call it quits and give up. I said, "No way! We're all the way out here, plus the desert preserves dead things; we will find it!" We hiked deeper, toward the mountain range from the background of the album art. After another 30 minutes or so, I spotted a mound that looked promising. As we got closer, we knew we'd found it. After seeing the plaque, there was no question: We had indeed found what we'd been looking for.
(c) Photo by Jessica Bryant.
We spent a long time photographing, exploring the memorabilia left by other pilgrims, adding our own comments to the journal, and sitting to contemplate the music and the significance of this place. We eventually decided to continue on our way, and as we drove through Death Valley, I fell in love with the Mojave Desert. We've been back to the tree with our kids twice, and made multiple trips to Death Valley National Park, the Mojave Preserve, and Joshua Tree National Park. Our love of these places inspired us to take many subsequent trips to national parks with our kids where I discovered the National Park Service Artist in Residence programs. I’m a professional watercolor painter and have now completed six stints as an Artist in Residence for our national parks and am preparing to embark on a project for Joshua Tree National Park.
(c) "Demise of an Icon," watercolor by Jessica L Bryant.
I plan to visit THE tree yet again during one of my trips south this year, and will likely paint it for a third time. This album, and this tree, continue to have an indescribably poignant impact on my life. As the 30th anniversary of the album approaches, we're looking forward to introducing our boys (now 11 and 13) to their first real rock concert when U2 comes to Seattle on Mother's Day. They already know and love this album just as I do, and I can't think of a more perfect, meaningful and downright epic first concert experience.
Thank you, U2, for bringing the album back to life this year — I can't wait!
(c) @U2/Bryant, 2017.