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Finding the U2 Joshua Tree

Most people likely assume the iconic joshua tree from U2’s Joshua Tree was photographed somewhere around Joshua Tree National Park in California. But that’s actually not true. The tree is (or rather, was) two hundred and fifty miles north alongside Highway 190 near Death Valley National Park (map).

Unfortunately, the tree is no longer alive. Word on the internet is that it died of natural causes (or was struck by lighting, as one person claims) sometime around October, 2000. The tree is still there, but it now lays quietly on the ground surrounded by mementos, artwork, plus a metal suitcase of photos and personal notes from other visitors.

Fan-made tile mosaic laying against the actual Joshua Tree
Metal suitcase full of U2 ephemera, photos, personal notes, etc.

One particularly ardent fan visited and created a permanent, cement and brass marker in the desert sand to forever mark its location.

Joshua Tree marker
Joshua Tree custom, fan-made marker in poured cement

Album cover and photography

All photography for The Joshua Tree was created by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn (Instagram). In addition to U2, Corbijn photographed a number of other popular bands in the 80s and 90s including Depeche Mode, Jane’s Addiction, R.E.M., Nick Cave and others.

While doing research about the album prior to visiting, I came across a few interesting historical facts.

Origin of the title

The Joshua Tree was named while U2 was in Death Valley, California posing for photos with Corbijn. It was Corbijn who shared the biblical backstory and symbolism of joshua trees with the band, and Bono felt it was the perfect title (thus replacing the original title of The Two Americas).

Almost pulled at the last minute

According to an interview in Spin magazine, Bono was worried about the quality of the completed album and considered pulling the album just prior to its release. He eventually decided to let it go, and the rest is history.

Twenty minutes in the cold

Joshua Tree gatefold
Gatefold image from The Joshua Tree

As for the tree itself, it was found while the band and Corbijn were driving along Highway 190 looking for a lone tree that could be photographed without other trees competing for attention. Once found, they spent about twenty minutes there. It was early morning, and cold, yet the band wanted to be photographed without jackets to more accurately portray the desert landscape (which may be part of the reason for their dour appearance).

The image was shot using a panoramic camera, and if you look in the lower-left-hand-corner, you can see a square mirror. This was carried out to the tree for the band to check their appearance, but was accidentally left on the ground and in-frame while shooting.

Read more: The Joshua Tree (Wikipedia)

Video

Here’s a video from my YouTube channel when I visited the Joshua Tree in March, 2022.

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