Hauntings of the Joshua Tree Inn

Posted by US Ghost Adventures Contributor in US Ghost Adventures
Haunted Joshua Tree Inn
Photo: Joshua Tree Inn

The hauntings of The Joshua Tree Inn bring only one person to mind for most. Country rock star Gram Parsons died in room 8 of the notorious Inn on September 19, 1973. A tragic loss to the music industry. It was also a sad loss for close friends of his that had become family. Many have experienced paranormal occurrences at the Inn in the years that followed Gram’s death. However, it’s not just Gram’s ghost that they have seen, heard, and felt.

The Life of Gram Parsons

Parsons was born Ingram Cecil Connor III in Winter Haven, FL, on November 5, 1946. Gram’s father was Ingram Connor II, a famous World War II flying ace and an eyewitness to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His mother, Avis, suffered greatly from depression, and the family’s life history took a sad turn. Although his parents were noted for being affectionate and loving, both were alcoholics, which led to his father’s suicide in 1958 when Gram was only 12 years old. 

Avis remarried Robert Parsons, who adopted Gram and his sister. This gave the Parson family some sense of stability for a bit. However, Robert Parsons took to an extramarital affair sending Avis into an alcohol-induced tailspin. She died of cirrhosis in 1965 on the day that Gram was graduating from Bolles, a prestigious liberal arts school he briefly attended.

As the family was disintegrating around him, Gram buried himself into music. Before he was barely a teenager, he was headlining in clubs owned by his adopted father, Robert Parsons.

Touring with Emmylou Harris

Even if you aren’t a country music buff, you undoubtedly know who Emmylou Harris is. Voice of a songbird, her music career has been in topflight since she dropped out of college in the 1960s. 

She moved to New York to pursue her dreams and music. However, her real discovery was when she met Gram Parsons.

In 1971 Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons were introduced when Gram was in The Flying Burrito Brothers band with his fellow bandmate from a formal band, The Byrds. Gram was looking for a female vocalist to collaborate with on his new album. He and Emmylou’s duets and vocal harmonies were unmatched. They toured together in 1973 as well as worked on Gram’s studio album, Grievous Angel. Ironically, Gram died before the album was released. The album was released in 1974 after his death. Another album with several tracks paired with Emmylou Harris was released in 1976 after Gram’s death. The name of the album was Sleepless Nights. 

Although it’s speculated that Gram and Emmylou were romantically involved, Emmylou stands by her claims that their music and not romance united her and Gram. Although Emmylou did admit that she had carried a torch for Gram since the beginning, they just never acted on it.

“Trips” to Joshua Tree

Like many musicians and celebrities, Gram struggled for years with drugs and alcohol. He tried different means to kick his addictions and remain sober. Unfortunately, the monkey on his back had other plans for him. After a failed marriage and a shaky at best career, Parsons resorted back to his vices after another, yet again, remedy to sober up. 

This return to his demons ultimately sealed his fate. However, along the vine of his short life, his favorite place was Joshua Tree. A place of peaceful desert solitude where he could indulge in psychedelic drugs, meditate, play his guitar and write music.

He frequented the Joshua Tree area with Emmylou Harris, his good friend Keith Richards and other musicians and friends. While there, Gram reportedly experienced UFO and spirit encounters that naturally weren’t believed by others. The man was tripping on drugs, so of course, everything he experienced was hallucinations. 

Interestingly, several accounts from others have explored the area not under the influence and claim encounters with witches, spirits, and UFOs. Desert delirium is what skeptics called it in some reads.  

In most reads, Joshua Tree is described as a magical, spiritual, mysterious place. The area holds hundreds of accounts of missing persons, unexplained deaths, UFO encounters, and ghostly happenings. Every experience in life is through the eyes and ears of the beholder, so if you are skeptical about these things being “real,” that’s fine. But never discount it. Many believe that denial opens the portals for the unknown to take hold. Even more than in the belief of these phenomena.

Gram Parsons death at the Joshua Tree Inn

Gram’s favorite place to stay was the Joshua Tree Inn. It is literally a small motel on the side of the highway in the middle of what seems to be nowhere. The Inn was just as famous before his death as it is now. Musicians and other celebrities loved to stay there during downtimes away from the hubbub of a famed life. Gram had a favorite room in the Inn that he always stayed in. Room number 8. Room 8 is also where he died on September 19, 1973.

During the summer of 1973, Gram’s home in Topanga Canyon burned to the ground. He lost all his worldly goods except his guitar and his Jaguar. After the fire, Gram stayed with his manager Phil Kaufman and another tour had been planned for October. 

Deciding to take a trip to Joshua Tree for another healing refreshment, Gram headed out to what would be his last trip to the desert. Gram was accompanied by his girlfriend Margaret Fisher, his manager Phil Kaufman and Phil’s girlfriend Dale McElroy.

During the visit, Gram partook in a lot of drugs and consumed an abundance of alcohol. He would often retreat into the desert for solitude while his travel mates hung out at local bars. On the night of his death, Gram drank six double tequilas. 

He purchased some morphine from an unknown young woman who was also staying at the motel. The young woman injected Gram in room #1, overdosing him. Margaret Fisher gave Gram an ice-cube suppository and later a cold shower. She put Gram to bed in room 8 and left to buy coffee in hopes of reviving him. When she returned, Dale McElroy was attempting to resuscitate him but failed. An ambulance was called to no avail.

On September 19, 1973, at 12:15 a.m.Gram was pronounced DOA at Yucca Valley Hospital from an overdose of morphine and alcohol.

Not long before Gram’s death, he told his manager that he wanted to be cremated in Joshua Tree. His ashes were to be spread across Cap Rock, a natural stone formation there. His friend carried out Gram’s wishes by hi-jacking his dead body from L.A., returning to Joshua Tree, and setting the body of Gram Parsons on fire near Cap Rock. The symbolic meaning would resemble the spiritual encounters that Gram had experienced at his beloved Joshua Tree. It also answers why he may have returned in the afterlife to haunt the motel for all infinity. Ironically, the symbol made by the number 8 when you turn it on its side…

Hauntings at the Joshua Tree Inn

It’s said that a spirit doesn’t usually return to where it died. More often, it returns to a place it loved, felt comfortable, or remembers from its life. With Gram Parsons, the story is both. Gram seems to have stuck around in his afterlife at the Joshua Tree Inn. He returned to a place he loved and to the place he died.

Room 8

The most paranormal activity in room 8 is the usual opening and closing of doors, doors locking and unlocking, and a mirror that is the last place Gram saw his reflection rattles against the wall. Every so often a nightstand will move out of place. However, the story is different if you use an EVP or other paranormal investigating equipment in the room. Several investigators have summoned who they believe to be Gram Parsons. And housekeepers are required to carry their cell phones when cleaning the room in case they get locked in. Well, those that will actually go into the room alone. You can read author Steve Stockton’s creepy account about his experience in room 8 in his book National Park Mysteries and Disappearances on kindle.

Room 9

In 2016 my husband and I took a trip to Joshua Tree and opted to stay at the Joshua Tree Inn. When researching the motel to make our reservation, I came across the story of Gram Parsons, his death, and his ghost. Although I am an avid believer of everything paranormal, I didn’t put much interest in the motel’s haunting happenings. Instead, I was more interested in the part of Gram’s story that included Emmylou Harris. A long-time fan for over 40 years, my interest was to stay in room 9, the Emmylou Harris room. Although there are no specific hauntings of room 9 mentioned, a personal account of ours is worth sharing.

We checked into our room late afternoon and were pleasantly surprised that the motel only had a few rooms occupied. In fact, there were only two or three other rooms rented at the time. However, room 8 was vacant. This we were told by the front desk when we checked in. The motel was not renting out the room at the time.

Our room was cute and clean, and we were excited to explore the property. There is an air about the place. Call it what you want. The energy is high and unshakeable. After our tour and some snapshots, we grabbed a bite to take back to our room to relax. It was dusk, and we took a quick peek through the blinds of room 8 just to see what the room looked like. It was dark and hard to see in, but the room was definitely, unoccupied. Our six-hour drive to Joshua Tree took its toll on us, and around 8:30 p.m., we unintentionally dozed off to sleep.

At 2 a.m., we both awoke suddenly, a little startled, to loud music playing in the room next door. The room was none other than Gram Parsons’s favorite, room 8. Of course, not knowing what to make of it, we laid and listened until the music eventually stopped. No sense in calling the front desk to complain. The desk agent closed up shop at 8 p.m.

When you experience the unexplained, it’s automatic to try to make sense of the occurrence. The only sense we could make of it was that the hauntings are, in fact, true. Believe it or not.

Room 10

A haunting of any sort can be exciting or disturbing. It all depends on how you feel about the subject in general. The ghost hanging around in room 10 of the motel seems to be more on the disturbing side of the stone. A guest reported that he was pinned down to the bed in the middle of the night and couldn’t move while an alleged spirit form had its way with him. On a lighter note, doors opening and closing and being locked and unlocked are reported for this room as well. Housekeepers of the motel refuse to go into room 10 alone. Not to mention a few other rooms that have unexplainable ghostly happenings.

Room 11

After many reports of Gram Parsons ghost playing music in the middle of the night, opening and closing doors, and whispering sweet nothings in guests’ ears, paranormal team Ghost Adventures (along with celebrity Loren Gray) decided to take a look-see at the motel with the hope of solving the mysterious ghostly happenings. However, it isn’t only Gram’s ghost in room 8 that people have reported. Nor was it the only paranormal activity experienced by the investigative team.

In Ghost Adventure’s episode of the Joshua Tree Inn (Season 20- Episode 233), Zak Bagans experienced an apparition before their investigation began. As he walked into room 11, he was met by a short dark figure that resembled Cousin It from the Addams Family show. The entity gave him the feeling of hostility. It’s wondered if this is the spirit of a photographer killed by a drunk driver in the motel’s parking lot on September 17, 2009. Nearly 36 years to the day since Gram’s demise on the property. That’s a bit eerie…

Ghosts or no ghosts?

If you scale the internet, you will find countless articles about Gram Parsons, his death, ghost, and paranormal property investigations. There are numerous ghostly encounters people have experienced all around the Joshua Tree area. However, the only authentic way you will experience anything is to visit the Joshua Tree Inn and all of Joshua Tree yourself. Then and only then can you decide what is true and what isn’t. Even if you don’t experience anything paranormal, you will undoubtedly feel the spiritual magic of this desolate desert gem. A paranormal playground for spirits since the first inhabitants thousands of years ago.  And apparently, some believe, UFOs…

U.S. Ghost Adventures offers historical ghost tours all over the country. Schedule one of our walking tours and experience the energy yourself firsthand! We also provide virtual ghost tours from the comfort of your own home. We guarantee you a hauntingly good time you’ll never forget!

Visit our website at www.usghostadventures.com and read the haunted history of cities across the country!

Sources:

The Romance Of Remorse – The New York Times

A Joshua Tree Motel Room, Haunted by the Ghost of a Country Legend – The New York Times

Haunting Allure

Fashion photographer struck, killed by errant pickup in Joshua Tree – San Bernardino Sun

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Gram_Parsons

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmylou_Harris

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joshua_Tree_National_Park

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Adventures