I remember when I was a kid, the Rainbow Gathering happened in my hometown. The community members of my town were very much against the gathering, and I remember all sorts of stories being told about the movement and its people. From a compound where naked people ran around and did drugs to a peace-filled love fest, I remember the stories were vast.
When I heard that 2022 was the 50-year anniversary of the Rainbow Gathering, all of the stories I heard from my childhood came rushing back. This sense of curiosity filled my being and I knew I had to go see what all of this was about and determine what rumors were true and what was outlandish. This is my story.
Adams Park is located in Routt County, Colorado, and was the home base for the Rainbow Gathering this past year. I headed up on the eve of the weeklong event. While rumors state that the event is month-long, it truly only lasts one week (July 1 – 7 each year). Many come ahead of time and stay for weeks after in order to prepare and restore the land due to the harsh impact that the event does to the area.
Instead of taking what would be a normal route from the south up County Road 80, I had to go up to Baggs, Wyoming, and down County Roads 1 and 82 in order to reach Adams Park. USFS had closed County Road 80 due to the sensitivity of the land, which in turn allowed no one to even drive on the road. On my way down County Road 1, I ran into a Moffit County Deputy who informed me that due to the heavy rains Colorado had gotten, County Road 82 had a soft close, and buses and other heavy vehicles were not allowed to enter. The deputy was extremely nice and helpful.
Upon entering the parking lot for Adams Park (Bus Village, as it is referred to by the Rainbow community), I noticed an ominous feeling in the air. After parking and walking to the main trail I saw many people who were drunk, high, and very intimidating. It felt dark and uneasy as I walked through Bus Village and onto the main trail. Later, I learned that once you were on the main trail, the Rainbow community only allowed marijuana in and that Bus Village was often a place where many drugs and alcohol were consumed.
Walking away from Bus Village, the sense of utter doom began to lift, and I began to feel more at ease. The people on the trail were very nice and helpful. Everyone I passed looked me in the eyes and told me, “Welcome home.” The Rainbow community calls the event and the place in which it takes place home. They gather each year to celebrate life and seek peace and tranquility in their own way.
While the smell of marijuana and bacon filled the air as I walked down the trail, I only saw one individual lying prostrate on the ground in the middle of the trail clearly strung out on some type of drug, but this wasn’t typical. As I walked to the main meadow (the field that was chosen for everyone to gather at night for a vegan community meal and drum circle), I was offered chaga, tea, and coffee by many people. Food is a free commodity at the Gathering, and different groups, known as “kitchens,” will give away whatever food they can to anyone who wants/needs it. In many ways, the idea of living in this way is quite beautiful.
Overall, I found the event to be inspiring for those who desire to seek out their own truth and look for deeper meaning in life. I found three different types of individuals who came to this event: Hippies, Seekers, and Party People.
The hippies were my favorite group by far. There was an older crowd of individuals that were deemed Elders. These people have been coming to Rainbow since its beginning in the early 70s and likely came from the Woodstock movement. They were peace-loving individuals who really wanted to love people well and were excited to be in the woods with their “family.” I didn’t notice that any of these individuals were taking any type of mind-altering substance but rather were just happy to be alive.
The seekers were individuals I deemed to be wondering, looking for answers and greater meaning to life. While they may have been dabbling in witchcraft and the occult, they were honest people looking for answers amidst a dark world. These marijuana-smoking, happy people wanted to touch what the hippie crowd had found. They were all very friendly and accepting of anyone who came into their camp.
The Party People were by far the darkest individuals in the camp. Largely at Bus Village (although not everyone in Bus Village matches this description), this crowd was at large on some heavy drugs and had a darkness that surrounded them. Their number was the smallest out of all three groups, but I recognized them as being the bad influence that the Rainbow Gathering often gets.
Being a conservationist, I found that the impact on the land was quite devastating. These people are dedicated to their event, as I saw them packing in wheelbarrows and wagons full of equipment down a one-and-a-half-mile mountainous trail to get to the main meadow to set up camp. Sometimes green trees were cut down to help make shelters, although this was not common. Water hoses were draped across the field at the main meadow to get water to each camp. The water hoses were hooked up in nearby streams, which fed the camps.
My guess is there was about 7,000 people at the gathering when I arrived, and immediately, I could tell that the land was impacted in a negative way. However, upon asking individuals who had come for years and talking to the USFS, I learned that there was a group of people who stayed for weeks after the event was over to restore the land back to what it was before. This gave me comfort that there were many individuals who cared about the devastating impact that this gathering has on the environment, and they were willing to stay behind and fix what devastation they could.
In conclusion, I believe that this event is filled with loving people who are searching for greater meaning in life. The rumors of compounds, fence lines, and hard core drugs at large are not true, although I did see a few naked people running around (I think the mosquitoes kept them clothed). Aside from the devastation to the land that they are going to repair, the only negative thing that I witnessed was the children. The children of these people are subject to seeing things that, in my opinion, they shouldn’t be around. Between seeing naked people and witnessing the devastating effects of drugs being used intermittently throughout the camp, I did not feel like it was a place children should be despite efforts to keep them safe and happy.
The Rainbow Gathering is intended to be an experience of light and love. I believe that the majority of people who go to these gatherings are looking for just that. Most aren’t the people digging through your trash cans on the way, nor are they trying to sleep in your hallways. They are loving people who deeply care about each other and want to live in peace and tranquility.