When I was 34 years old I went to a book sellers conference in Las Vegas. My friend and I flew into Los Angeles and rented a car and drove across the desert to Las Vegas. This was about 1992, I could look it up because I remember distinctly the song Achey Breaky Heart was on every radio station all day throughout the road trip. I had never been through the desert before and it amazed me. As we came up toward Palm Springs I saw a sign pointing to Joshua Tree National Monument. I knew I knew something about the place but couldn't completely put my finger on it, then, as we were about to pass the turn off I yelled "Turn here!" I had just remembered it was the place Gram Parsons was supposed to have been spiritually tied to and where his friends, after they stole his body, cremated him.
You couldn't look things up on your phone back then, we didn't know where we were going but we just took off up the road and ended up in the high desert; a magical place of extreme heat and amazing tiny plant life and tiny skittering lizards. I had no idea where Gram Parsons was supposed to have been cremated then so we just drove away until we saw a sign for the town of Twenty Nine Palms. For some reason (wrongly) we thought that might be the place. My friend and I came upon an incredible natural oasis right on the edge of the the park with a motel on it. It was so beautiful we tried to get a room for the night (booksellers convention be damned). The place was full and probably way out of our price range. As we were walking back to our car the owner came out from behind the bar and said "If you want, you can sleep above the garage" there's a couple of beds up there. So we did. At night the birds from the desert swooped in and landed around this Oasis (It turns out it's the only privately owned Oasis out there). It was magical and you could literally feel the power of this oasis for the birds and the plant life and the earth. Had a crazy night there. The next day we hiked all over Joshua Tree and I've never forgotten it. We never found Gram's cremation site but did experience the power he must have felt from this high desert.
So last week I went to Palm Springs for a holiday. Great place beautiful 1950's vibe and everyone of our motel rooms had vinyl and a turntable in it. This time I knew where Grams memorial was (at the Joshua Tree Inn) and was determined to go there.
The day we went it was raining. It rains a maximum of ten days a year up there and somehow we caught one of them. The drive in the rain made it even more beautiful and it was only about 15 degrees as we headed up into the mountains toward the high desert, steam coming off the massive stones on either side of the highway.
The Joshua Tree Inn is quite close to the edge of Joshua Tree National Monument. Just a nondescript little hotel that looks like it's been there forever. It would be easy to miss if you weren't really looking for it. It still functions as a motel but there's no flash and nothing that says anything about Gram Parsons. It's just a run of the mill, slightly run down place.The motel was full and we peeked into the courtyard, not wanting to disturb anyone (It was about 8:30 in the morning) I asked a maid where the memorial was.
There is a rough black sculpture of an acoustic guitar on it's end standing about 5 feet tall about half way down the courtyard. Carved into the neck are the words "Safe At Home".On a little cement stoop in front of it there was a candle burning and it was cluttered with things people had left in respect. Some Mexican looking religious nic-nacs, guitar picks and strings, a cowboy boot, weather and rain streaked handwritten notes, a bowl filled with about 50 hash pipes, empty bottles. No one was up around there yet and we took pictures of each other behind the memorial and some of the grounds in the rain.
I remember being really excited 25 years ago looking for it. Last week, standing there in the rain, I just felt spooked and desolate having found it. Gram Parsons was not yet 30 when he died of a heroin overdose in that very motel 43 years ago. Out in that beautiful desert 43 years later there is still so much to see.