"[T]he lyrics aren't literature; they are only part of the story."
Joshua Tree Journeys: Matt McGee
West Richland, Washington
March 09, 2017
[Ed. note: This is the twenty sixth in our series, which highlights visits to the U2 Joshua Tree, as shared by our readers.]
Talk about embarrassing: For almost two years, I lived less than 90 minutes from the Joshua tree and never knew it. Not only lived near it, but I also drove past it at least three to four times on trips into Death Valley, and never once spotted it in the distance, standing there alone among the dust and sagebrush. In fact, the thought of looking for the tree never even entered my mind in all the time I lived in the California desert. (Here's my U2 fan card. Take it away.)
That didn't happen until a year or two later when my wife and I were living in Idaho. And, believe it or not, the inspiration to go back to California and search for the tree can be traced directly to fellow U2 fan Ryan Connolly, whose story of finding the tree began this "Joshua Tree Journeys" series on @U2 back in January. Sometime in 1994, Ryan shared details of his tree discovery online. I read it and had this overwhelming sense of I need to do that, too.
So back to California we went, me and my wife. After a night with friends, we loaded up my little red Geo Prizm, filled the gas tank and started the trek. None of the fans online who had found the tree -- including Ryan -- had shared the exact location, so we only had a general sense of where to go. And that's how we wanted it. It was Dec. 19, 1994. We were expecting to spend at least one full day searching, and maybe even a second, if needed.
We drove for an hour before making the turn towards Death Valley. That's when the search began. We put The Joshua Tree into my car's cassette deck and started listening. It was a beautiful drive through the California desert as we listened to those songs. We sang along to "Streets," "I Still Haven't Found...," "With Or Without You" and "Bullet." We kept our eyes on the landscape, especially the mountain ranges. We had the cassette booklet opened wide to that panoramic photo of the band in front of the tree.
All of a sudden: STOP!
"Running To Stand Still" hadn't even finished when we pulled over. I got out of the car, held up the cassette booklet to the skyline and BAM. It was unmistakable. We were looking at the same mountain range as in the photo. We were still a good mile from being able to see the tree, so we drove slowly until my wife spotted it way off in the distance, also unmistakable.
I don't really know how to describe the feeling of seeing that tree for the first time. If you saw it alive, standing tall and majestic, you know. And I don't know how to describe what it was like to walk across the dust and dirt and get up close to it. The words that other fans have used in this series are right: Magical. Spiritual. Emotional. All of that. More than that. Some of the details are sketchy 23 years later, but the feelings aren't. I didn't want to leave.
By the way, the tree was so much bigger than we expected. And almost none of the fan-placed decorations were there -- just one little set of rocks at the base of the tree spelling out "U2." I seem to recall a "U2" (or two) carved into the trunk, but I don't have any photographic evidence of that.
I do have photos of the tree from every conceivable angle. I have photos of the tree's shadow. I have photos of me standing beneath the tree and photos of my wife giving it a big hug. I have photos of a one-foot-tall "baby" Joshua tree that was growing nearby. Most of the photos are fading now. Most of the memories aren't.
(c) @U2/McGee, 2017.