But that doesn’t stop me from going hiking and camping in the park and taking visitors and friends up through the main section of Joshua Tree when I can. As often as I’ve driven through it or hiked its trails, I still always marvel at the wonderful rock formations and the forests of Joshua Trees for which the park is named (actually it’s a variant of the Yucca plant and not technically a “tree”). The Joshua Tree was named by early Mormon settlers who thought the upright arms looked like the biblical prophet Joshua.
It seems that the legendary guitarist and songwriter Gram Parsons – who played with such great bands as The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, who toured with The Rolling Stones, and sang duets with one of my all-time favorite singers, Emmylou Harris, was rather enamored with Joshua Tree Park, and he died of a drug overdose at the Joshua Tree Inn just outside the park. To fulfill his last wish, he was partially cremated by friends in the park where he wanted his ashes scattered. And so, this past weekend my guy Eric and I decided to head up to Joshua Tree on a cloudy Sunday afternoon to chase the ghost of Gram Parsons and his story and see what we could find.
Just outside of the park entrance is the Joshua Tree Inn. It’s a wonderful small motel that does a good business – both because of its location and charm, and because of music fans paying tribute to Parsons. It even advertises itself as the “Home of Gram Parson’s Spirit”.
The giant fireball was noticed by nearby campers who called the police and park rangers who gave chase. The culprits ran -- in the hearse, and evaded police because, as they later said, "the police had the handicap of being sober." They were later arrested -- Gram’s manager and his accomplice friend – not for stealing the body, but for stealing the casket and destroying it, and fined $750 dollars for creating a nuisance. At least, as Arlo Gutherie would sing in Alice's Restaurant, they didn't have to "pick up the garbage" as well -- that being what was left after the fire was put out.
The story is that he was cremated at Cap Rock in the park – a large pile of boulders with one that looks like a “cap” on top of it. Now days it’s a popular climbing rock with a picnic area at the base.