I’d been traveling for a month when I reached Twenty-Nine Palms, a tiny town just outside Joshua Tree National Park. I was headed for the Harmony Motel, a low-lying group of buildings arranged, hacienda-style, around a pleasant courtyard.
It was just past 4 pm, and the sun was already beginning to set, washing the fine desert sand in amber. Exhausted, I hadn’t even started to edit the podcast episode that was supposed to be coming out that week -- a task that takes around ten or twelve hours at the bare minimum. I was ready to lie low for a night or two.
After stashing my stuff in a bright room with two glorious beds, I took advantage of the last few minutes of daylight to go for a run through the hills behind the motel. I jogged past a loose scattering of brightly-colored desert dwellings, choia, barrel cacti, and small palms -- even a few Joshua trees. When I returned to the Harmony, I sank into the spa just in time to watch the pink aura of the mountains dissipate into a dusky blue. I breathed deeply. I collected my thoughts.
The motel itself is somewhere between a hostel, an Airbnb, a hotel, and a welcoming relative’s spare bedroom. It was built in 1952 and has existed ever since then as a landmark to the north of Joshua Tree, a place of respite to those who seek a calming ambiance -- most famously, the band U2.
Maybe you’d recognize the motel’s sign from a famous black-and-white photos of the band. In it, Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr. stand in front of the motel’s kitschy sign, posing somberly while taking a break from recording of their 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. They were in the middle of a California road trip, seeking shade. I get that.
The motel is good for hiding out. It’s got that clean, windswept desert feeling: soft cotton sheets, weathered wood, stucco walls. Accents of orange and turquoise. There’s a coffee nook, a small library, and I had the place mostly to myself -- save for a few photos of U2, the owner, a few staff members, and a guest or two. It was the calm before their busy holiday season, but I didn’t mind.
I sat working into the early hours of the morning, finished the episode, uploaded it. In the morning, I packed up my car and headed for Joshua Tree.