rainbow canyon

years ago i found myself in rainbow canyon, in the mohave desert, about 2 hours east of barstow, california.  i was driven there in the middle of the night by a madman with an acoustic bass, the same bass that jack lemmon played in billy wilder’s ‘some like it hot’.  i had just stepped off a 2 day train ride across the country,  tired and disoriented but relishing it—barstow, the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night.  we drove into the unlit desert, the road was packed sand interrupted by large rocks.  the sight of the road bounded by the thin beams of the headlights was disconcerting.  it was the setting for a documentary about an axe murderer in the desert, or it might have been the beams of a submersible under several kilometers of ocean and thousands of pounds pressure.

spent an uncomfortable night in the frigid desert air, but at the slowly creeping indigo dawn, awakened to discover, wordlessly, how rainbow canyon got its name: as the sun moved with ancient, tactile stealth over the horizon, one could make out striations in the canyon walls, strung out in lovely, uneven parallels and stacked in shades of gray, then purple, then every sparkling color of the spectrum, most too fleeting to name or grasp.  it was a breathtaking sight, as if a young mary cassatt had taken her pastels and raced around the periphery of the rocks before breakfast.  i turned to the madman, and he began to play.