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U2's inspiration: Joshua Tree National Park

12:00 AEST Fri Sep 30 2011
The first album Jules ever bought was U2's The Joshua Tree. Bono chose the title after he'd been to the Joshua Tree National Park, two-and-a-half hours from Los Angeles, and connected with the Mormon legend that the tree looked like Joshua praying. They could see the Old Testament prophet with outstretched arms beckoning believers to the Promised Land.

Many years before the Mormons arrived, it was home to one of the south-west's earliest cultures. The Pinto people lived there, hunting and gathering. They recognised that the Joshua tree, a member of the agave family, was remarkably useful to their very existence. Buds and seeds were healthy additions to their diet and the tough leaves were crafted into sandals and baskets.

Other American Indian groups travelled through the area enjoying harvests of pinyon nuts, mesquite beans, acorns and cactus fruit. They left behind rock painting and ollas, ceramic cooking jars.

Explorers, cattlemen and miners arrived in the late 1800s. They built dams and tunnelled the earth in search of gold. Reminders of their time are Lost Horse and Desert Queen ranches and Desert Queen mines. In the 1930s, homesteaders went there to start new lives. These days people go there to enjoy clear skies, clean air and the beauty and tranquility only deserts offer.

Joshua Tree covers 319,959 hectares, with over 173,000 hectares a designated wilderness area. The park has parts of two deserts, each an ecosystem with characteristics determined by elevation — the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. The Little San Bernardino Mountains run through the park's south-west.

Key's Views, at 1600 metres, is perched on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains and gives a great perspective of the Coachella Valley and the dreaded San Andreas Fault line which runs around 1126 kilometres from the Gulf of California to the Mendocino coast, north of San Francisco. The park ranger told Jules there have been many earthquakes felt but no one seemed to be too concerned.

Jules recommends a visit to Cholla Cactus Gardens. Cholla is nicknamed the Teddy Bear cactus because they have a fluffy appearance, but they are deceptively sharp. They are also known as 'jumping cholla' as the slightest touch will leave you with bits of cactus hanging from your clothing. Sounds as though they are better admired from afar!

Skull Rock was formed long ago when raindrops accumulated in tiny depressions and eroded the granite. The more erosion, the more water accumulated, leading to more erosion. As time passed, the rock began to resemble a skull with hollowed-out eye sockets.

The tallest Joshua tree in the park is a whopping 213 metres. The 300-year-old tree has a grand presence in the Queen Valley forest.

Days are clear and temperatures are most comfortable in spring and autumn. Wildflowers begin to flower in the Pinto Basin in February and at lower elevations in March and April. Summers are around 38 degrees centigrade during the day and the temperature doesn't drop much at night. In winter there is snow at higher altitudes.


Joshua Tree National Park, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Los Angeles.


Joshua Tree National Park annual pass is around $30. Seven-day vehicle permits are $15 and seven-day single entry permits are $5.

V Australia has flights to Los Angeles from:

  • Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane $1625
  • Adelaide $1925
  • Perth $2225

Fares are for travel between October 1 and December 9, 2011. Conditions apply.

Prices correct at October 10, 2011.

For further information

Virgin Australia
Ph: 13 6789

Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms
California 92277
United States
Ph: 760 367 5500

Visa: Most Australians do not need a visa, providing they have a machine readable passport with at least 6 months validity after the departure day, have a round-trip non-refundable ticket and do not intend to stay longer than 90 days. From January 2009 Australians need to complete a pre-travel authorisation at

Electricity: Electric current is 110V to 115v, 60Hz AC. Outlets take two-parallel, flat prongs. Australian visitors will need a US adapter and converter.

Time zone: The United States has nine standard time zones. Atlantic, Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific, Alaskan, Hawaii-Aleutian, Samoa and Chamorro. New York is GMT-5 hours.

Currency: The American dollar.

Telephone code: International dialling code is 0011 1.

It is recommended travellers see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended for areas you will be visiting. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit and

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