Letter from America

Rainey MT

From MT Rainey at Joshua Tree National Park

March 11, 2018 – Twentynine Palms, California, United States – I had one day in the high desert. And the desert had one job. To be red hot in the setting sun unfolding a blanket of stars, then scorching, searing, stretching and shimmering into a big blue morning sky. My nominative determinism kicked in, though, and I brought the biggest rainstorm in years with me. “We needed it, thanks,” they said. “You’ll have to come back,” they said. I will one day but for more than one day. Because even under thunderclouds this is one of the most amazing landscapes on earth. After a starless night in the stargazing hotel and a cowboy worthy breakfast at The Frontier Cafe, the National Park beckoned, in spite of people leaving it in their droves in the face of the oncoming storm. What followed was a surreal 70-mile twisting descent through what appeared to be at least two different planets. From the high Mojave Desert through the strange landscape of vast towering boulder formations and weirdly expressive Joshua Tree cacti through to the impenetrable brush of the low Colorado Desert covered with “look don’t touch” Cholla cacti, across the vast empty plain of the Pinto Basin to Cottonwood Spring, ringed by distant mountain ranges on all sides, appearing and receding in the changing light. Cowboy and Indian territory. Close Encounters land. Also, occasionally, a bit like the wilder shores of Mull.

What’s it like eating out in America?  Best food of the trip so far at La Copine. In the middle of nowhere (yes, really) in the high desert near Joshua Tree. Quirky hours, no reservations but great styling, buzzy ambience and delicious, delightful food.

March 12, 2018 – Joshua Tree, CA, United States:  Blink and you’ll miss it but just off the highway in Joshua Tree is the “Institute of Mentalphysics”, a spiritual retreat centre established in the 40’s by a British journalist who changed his name to Ding Le Mai and established the science of “Mentalphysics”. An expert in Eastern religion, he believed the mind ruled the body. Fair play to him. Ahead of his time. He wanted to establish an enlightened community and retreat centre in the desert and in 1946 commissioned a late career Frank Lloyd Wright and his son to design a “City of Joy” in 400 acres of The Mojave. It is apparently the largest collection of FLW buildings in the world and to me seems the very vortex of mid-century modern. Yet it’s locally unsung and strangely unremarked upon. It was closed to visitors when I snuck in. “Retreat in Progress”. Hundreds of cars. Dead silence. Cue The Twilight Zone music. I managed to capture a few angles, badly. 

starsMarch 14, 2018 – I’m on the East Cape of Baja. About an hour and a half north of San Jose Del Cabo, and an hour south of Cabo Pulmo, by dirt road. It’s the middle of the night so of course I’m up. There is no light pollution. The sky is a dome of stars. More star than sky. From the horizon, where they seem to rest on the sea, to the infinite net of lights above. How strange not to have to look up to see the stars. I heard Stephen Hawking died. What a wonderful life he chose. What a gift of knowledge, wonder and curiosity he gave.

Pictures by MT Rainey

* Writer MT Rainey OBE is from Dumbarton and has contributed a chapter to Bill Heaney’s new book Two Minutes Silence which is available on-line now.


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