Joshua Tree Journeys: Paul White
March 08, 2017
[Ed. note: This is the twenty fifth in our series, which highlights visits to the U2 Joshua Tree, as shared by our readers.]
It was May 5, 1998, four days after my 29th birthday. My girlfriend Laura and I were on our first U.S. road trip. We’d spent time in New York before flying to Vegas, where we picked up a car, drove through Death Valley and up to San Francisco.
I’d been a member of the Wire U2 mailing list for a couple of years. Messages posted in the group hinted at the location of the Joshua tree. I thought our route would take us through the general area, but the exact location was a mystery. We passed lots of Joshua trees as we drove from Furnace Creek toward the western exit of Death Valley National Park. None looked familiar. A few miles later the trees thinned out and the mountains to our left started to look familiar. Then, a lone, unmistakable tree. THE tree. We stopped the car. I took a photo, but wind and rain prevented me from crossing the desert to reach the tree. We left. I was slightly disappointed at not being able to get closer, but amazed and delighted that I’d found it. I assumed that our trip of a lifetime would be just that, and we’d never return.
Fast-forward to October 2013. Laura and I were married and our “one-off” trip in 1998 was the start of a love affair with the deserts of the American Southwest. We’d returned a few times, but never revisited the tree. In 2013, our trip took us in the opposite direction, from San Francisco to Vegas via Yosemite, Bodie, Mammoth and Death Valley. The tree had long since died and fallen. Would we be able to find it again? Driving toward Death Valley, that same, unmistakable mountain range came into view.
This time, the weather was perfect. We walked the few hundred yards across the desert to the tree. It had become a shrine to the album and the band. Standing there in the complete silence, 5,000 miles from home, surrounded by all the tributes, trinkets and random detritus left there since 1987, was surreal.
At the base of the tree lay a silver suitcase. In the suitcase was a notebook filled with messages from fans from all over the world, expressing what the band and the album meant to them. Flicking back through the pages, I found the note left by my equally U2-obsessed friend Wendy on her birthday on July 11, 2012.
I turned to a new page and left my own message. I hope it’s still there. Maybe one day we’ll return and find out.
(c) @U2/White, 2017.