It's taken me decades, but I finally know why U2 called their career-defining album The Joshua Tree.
To understand, you have to visit Palm Springs in California - and the best way to get there is by plane (JetBlue flies direct from JFK daily).
On arrival, you'll notice the light and air are slightly different, cooler, purer, because now you're in the desert. And if you have never been to the desert, let me tell you – your first time will feel a bit like landing on the moon - but this moon, thanks to the abundant water, is bursting with life.
The palm trees and water springs that give the city its name are to be found everywhere, if you consider the swimming pools in every hotel and inn a spring of sorts, and watching tiny hummingbirds flit between the fountains and the gorgeous orange and yellow orchids you will probably start to.
Palm Springs is not a desert but an upscale and welcoming city, of course. Think mid-century modern architecture meets old Hollywood glamor. Think clean lines and ideal homes culled from the pages of Architectural Digest, think Californian style, and an abundant and discerning use of color.
Created in its heyday as a literal oasis, Palm Springs is a place that allows moonlighting celebrities to become people again in the sense that they won't be gawked at and harassed. You'll see plenty of them living their discrete but lavish lives here and you'll let them be, because that's the local way.
In fact, discretion is so much the watchword in Palm Springs that LGBT homeowners now account for about half the city's population, bringing with them their flair for art, culture, fashion, architecture, politics, and fun.
It's the perfect vacation spot, in other words. You can vegetate by the pool in a deluxe white bathrobe like Ava Gardner in her heyday if you so wish – and who doesn't – or if the mood takes you, you can simply swim in your altogether at one of the many gay-welcoming inns, because 'clothing optional' is a thing here, but in the best possible taste (think glamorous European holiday, not '70s bathhouse, and you'll get the right picture).
On this trip, I stayed at the gorgeous, well-appointed Santiago Resort. Boasting the largest pool of any inn in Palm Springs, its salt water added buoyancy (and it was heated too, which meant that even late at night it was fun to float in under a starry sky).
So picture yourself, surrounded by towering palm trees and tall desert mountains, enjoying a cool night wind as you float in a gently lit pool. It's about as close to vacation nirvana as any destination resort ever comes. Are you booking your ticket yet?
Guests will enjoy the spacious Santiago rooms with king-size beds, walk-in showers, Gilchrest & Soames deluxe bath products (I loved their oaky, spicy aroma), and the other aforementioned amenities like deluxe bathrobes, daily turndowns, Starbucks coffee (iced of course) and yummy continental, homemade breakfasts.
You can order lunch if you want to spend a day lounging by the pool which is cooled by a highly effective outdoor mist cooling system when the sun is out. Just think of yourself as a delicate orchid being watered, or more precisely misted, and you'll get the idea.
The point of the 23-room Santiago Resort is to leave the outside world with all its stresses and strains far behind. Look up and you'll see the epic profile of the surrounding San Jacinto mountains, then look closer and see that you're surrounded by towering palm trees.
Your life will become the short walk from your room to the giant pool and you'll thank your lucky stars for it.
Manager Charles Zalepeski is one of those gifted people who seems to have found the perfect job for his skill set and he runs the resort with the kind of attention to detail that turns a good place into a great one.
Across the street from Santiago is the smaller but equally well-appointed Triangle Inn, an award-winning, historic Palm Springs Resort featuring elegant Southern Californian hospitality in eight roomy suites.
A popular destination for visitors from Ireland, the UK, and Germany who are seeking the sunshine, Triangle Inn and Palm Springs are always at the top of the bill.
Since hosts Stephen Boyd and his husband Michael Green (the latter one of the most active members in the arts and culture scene of the city) live on the property, the experience for guests is quite different from the traditional hotel one from the moment you arrive.
“I think the main thing that I want people to know about Triangle Inn is that it's a safe space and a community,” he tells IrishCentral. “It's really all about relaxing, getting away and being with other gay men in a clothing-optional environment, and being totally safe.”
The bureau of tourism tagline for Palm Springs is that “it's like no place else” and that really nails it, Green says. “I really think there isn't anywhere else that you can go that's exactly like Palm Springs. The gay community is really a huge part of the fabric of the town, seen at every level of government and business. Here, the first thing people think about isn't whether you're gay or straight, we look at people as people first and at what they can do. Anything else is kind of secondary to that.”
Descanso Resort is the name of another gorgeous 14-room gay-welcoming resort (the first to go gay in the city in the past decade). Manager Kent Taylor now presides over one of the most stylish inns in the city. Think understated old Hollywood elegance meets 2022.
Like Santiago the rooms at the Descanso Resort feature king-size beds, there is a heated saltwater pool and spa, and another outdoor misting system that keeps everything cool.
Breakfast and a poolside lunch are included with the room rates, whilst like the Santiago, a cantina offers you complimentary snacks and beverages.
Other top-tier Palm Springs resorts include the Alcazar Hotel, a beautiful - there is no other word for it - 34-room boutique hotel that will call to mind other elegant getaways like the Amalfi Coast and the Greek islands. Chic, deluxe, and with a rare attention paid to detail, it is many people's favorite resort, gay and straight (all are welcome).
Inndulge is the award-winning, clothing-optional, gay men's resort located in the heart of Warm Sands (meaning close to all). Each of its 24 rooms has free Wi-Fi and suites feature dark, zebra wood countertops, three-quarter-sized refrigerators, microwaves, and wet bars. On-site laundry is also available making it the perfect poolside getaway.
Things to do for fun include taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (it's a must) up 8,500 feet to view the Coachella Valley from high in the sky. When you reach the top – and the hilarious lesbian tram pilot played us classic disco all the way up - you can enjoy the trails and hiking as well as the selection of restaurants, bars, and cafeteria priced for all budgets.
But let's come back to U2. For the four young Dubliners who still hadn't traveled much by the mid-1980s, desert landscapes like the Joshua Tree National Park (about 60 minutes by car from Palm Springs) must have turned their heads.
The eerie, otherworldly landscape filled with Joshua trees (so named because early settlers thought they looked like an opening hand) must have looked like the dark side of the moon to them.
No wonder they loved it. Trees that open like a hand, landscapes that highlight the tension between man and nature, earth and sky, life and death, who could resist the call of such a dramatic place?
In an era when our politics are once again scapegoating minorities in search of votes, resorts this welcoming are the perfect rejoinder to the angry temperature of the times.
Because Palm Springs is having none of the latest culture wars - instead, it is proudly home to more than 30 gay and lesbian-owned or operated resorts and guesthouses, including many that are clothing-optional because culture here also means tolerance and open-mindedness.
At night, you have a choice of remarkable restaurants. This close to the border, Mexican food is going to be pretty authentic and we loved Tac/Quila, whose al pastor tacos were a near-religious experience.
Farm was the name of a welcoming and delicious breakfast and brunch spot (remember to reserve a table in high season). Another highlight is Zin American Bistro, which offers great taste at a downtown location (owner Mindy Reed is one of Palm Springs Pride’s Community Grand Marshalls and is a staunch ally and active community member) making this an unmissable destination for any trip.
Bongo Johnny's is the name of a fun American eatery for any time on the clock. Prices are very reasonable and the famous misters are everywhere to keep things cool as you nurse your hangover or work on a new one.
1501 Uptown Gastropub blends upscale fare with classic California understated elegance in a venue that, just like the food, you will want to savor. Designed by famed Architect Chris Pardo, this handsome pub and restaurant offers a range of seasonal freshly prepared food and a global drinks selection along with first-class service.
For music and fun including dinner and drinks we recommend the Palm Springs Cultural Center, which is one of the beating hearts of the queer community in Palm Springs and is also home to Cinema Diverse (think a mix of camp classics and stone-cold boundary-pushing masterpieces).
On the night we visited, we were treated to an evening of Jazz, Latin Jazz, Bossa Nova, and Swing, courtesy of bandleader and vocalist Leanna, husband Miguel, and an all-star line-up of truly accomplished jazz musicians.
Palm Springs may well be the gayest town in the nation and no one knows this better than more than Julie Warren and David Gray, who together have compiled the LGBTQ+ History Archives of the Desert, to preserve and make accessible the queer history of the Greater Palm Springs Area within the Coachella Valley.
Visitors to the Palm Springs Library can review the archives and history panels and learn what makes PalmSprings such a longstanding refuge for all. (For more information about Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels, Click Here)
Beyond the famous and uniquely generous welcome of the Palm Springs community and small hotels, there is the epic landscape and its breathtaking scale.
But for me, there is an extra dimension to this landscape of microclimates and magnificent vistas that is far more mysterious and much harder to describe until you experience it yourself.
Out here in the desert, you can better discern the age of the earth itself and the sheer miracle of life upon it. We are little flowers clinging to an ancient rock it reminds us, in much the same way that the epic landscape of County Donegal in Ireland puts you in your place and simultaneously restores you to yourself. It can be more moving than you anticipate.
Coming from County Donegal is great training for the desert, it turns out. Just as the Joshua Tree has come to mean a hand that's opening in welcome in a most unlikely place - inspiring a career-defining album from Ireland's greatest rock group - what Palm Springs teaches us about welcome, generosity, and tolerance, and fun is well worth traveling to see.
So book your journey soon. Tell them Bono sent you.