A Week in the White Mountains: Part 2


Revisiting the World of the Rainbow Family

We take off this morning wearing tops. We can see dark clouds. At camp it is a bit shady and feels chilly.


Soon, some sunshine pops out and with body movement, we realize that we don’t have need for the clothing. We have plastic rain ponchos packed away just in case. Those would be enough to trap our body heat in and keep out cold rain. It is too inconvenient to turn back and drop the encumbrances off.

As we stand in this wide meadow, which will lead us down to the 1998 Rainbow Gathering site. We fold and place our shirts on a shoulder to cushion our pack and water bottle straps.

Screw the shirt!

Screw the shirt!

We continue through this green lawn dotted by a plethora of flowers and the occasional lichen covered volcanic rock.


The meadow is bordered with forest made up of Christmas tree-like blue spruce and pine. Occasionally, a towering red ponderosa pine will stand out.

The creek follows a more florescent green fairway littered with fallen trees. It courses on the other side of an island of forest. I know that these this route and the creek will collide, eventually taking the creek’s ancient direction.

When the two meadows meet, the creek is surrounded by tall marshy grass and weeds. We continue looking for an easy crossing.

Under a stand of spruce, where shade prohibits the thick vegetation, we find stepping stone rocks. There are large sun-bleached bones spread about in the area. Something has died here, probably a cow. Perhaps it was the victim of the newly released Mexican wolves, which are repopulating the White Mountains.


From here, I begin to have a flood of memories and recognition. I had gone to my first Rainbow Gathering here. My ten year old son had accompanied me. I had just been curious, but soon fell into a kinship with the people that I met.

The Rainbow Family members begin to congregate a couple of weeks before July 4th and stay until the area has no trace of them left behind. The fourth is spent in silence until around noon.  A great prayer for world peace and mother earth is focused on a central pole, which is used as an altar. Transpersonal energies are also focused there. It was a highly spiritual activity for around 10,000 people.

There are certainly no signs of the encampment of so many. I recognize groups of trees, slopes and the bend of the creek. I point to the ridge where a mash style unit of medical help had placed an echinacea poultice on my son’s deeply cut toe and Reiki given. The deep cut then healed almost overnight. Like the cut there is no longer any sign of its former presence.


I see where the main message board had been placed. One of the trees which shaded it has died and fallen.

I retrace the steps to where a bridge made of logs, sticks and mud had been constructed by a Rainbow Corps of Engineers. An intelligent looking young man in glasses had directed seven naked volunteer women, as they gathered mud into their hands, wadding through the creek and packed it between the rack of sticks, ever so carefully. I scan and remember the teepees in the distant field and the way into the woods where Kid’s Camp teemed with voices.  I reimage where makeshift kitchens had created vegetable concoctions out of big pots over fires and delivered it by ice cooler chests to the thousands waiting in a circle to be fed for free.

The trail from there appears to be systematically blocked by several fallen trees. There is no sign whatsoever that this had once been the location of the huge gathering. With a jolt of heartfelt joy, I do notice a remnant of the gathering, one thing that I pondered while surveying Google Map satellite images. There, for some reason, is a ring of darker, slightly taller grass in the field where the main circle’s center had been. Smiling, I take a brisk walk toward it.


Here I stand, inside. The heartfelt positive energies of ten thousand leave a lasting impression. We can feel it there, after all of these years. Dropping all of our gear outside of the circle, we reenter, bare in our nature. DF and I embrace. We stand and hug for a good long time.


We cross where the bridge had formerly stood, jumping from bank to bank. The several fallen trees are discovered to have no stumps. This is a Forest Service cover-up. Walking further up the grassy hill along the edge of the forest, I look for signs of the old jeep trail that I had used during the gathering. There had been a parking spot near. We would like to camp here. Nothing is found. A fence now blocks the way.

I look and find the locations of two of the main Rainbow shitters, the rather raw composting organic toilets. Where they sat, are very healthy bushes, no doubt fertilized by the compost.


We travel through to the next meadow, then to where I had walked through camps through the forest to the creek. Before, during the Gathering, I had been naked but for body paint. The first day I was a kokopelli black and white. The next, I found an art student from ASU to decorate me. I required bars of bright rainbow colored paint placed to the corresponding chakras. I left the rest to her creativity. She took each bar and created psychedelic swirling. I wandered through the masses, most were delighted, many hugging me. They called me the Rainbow Man. It felt like an honor.


I eventually wiped off the costume with paper towels creating a tie dye pattern on them. I hung these on the main pole saying farewell to the Rainbow man. The paint wasn’t dispersed evenly. I had burned in some areas as streaks. I looked as if I had been whipped and scared. The reaction was quite different.

Be Careful of Body Paint in the Sun

Be Careful of Body Paint in the Sun

On that day, walking through here, I lost track of my boy for a while. He in short pants, had been painted bright light and dark greens from head to toe. He looked a cross between Peter Pan and Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now.” We chose an alternate name, which gave him a fantasy feel to this adventure. I was a bit concerned, as I searched. As the Rainbow Man passed people he asked, “Have you see a green child, who answers to the name Loki?” Remember, there is a psychedelic drug culture at play among many of the Rainbows.

Today, we find ourselves submerging into the same deep forest.


All we know is that if we continue in the same direction, we will return to the original meadow with the creek.


It is very wild, very primitive and untouched.


Elk and deer scat has been common. There is occasional bear scat as well. As we drop down a slope in some shaded moist earth, an unmistakably fresh bear track appears. We know when it had last rained hard, which was not long before. We have noticed how the mountain ground has been drying. A bear could be very near.

We emerge finally, back at the creek bed, just south of the main circle. There is only a mile, or so, to the Gathering spot from camp. It is evident that this place, this wonderful park, now in the sun, is all ours. There is a sense of freedom and comfort.

DF in Circle

DF in Circle

There has also been a sense of coming home.

There had been a posted no fire danger in the in the beginning of July 1998. A couple of days before the hordes of participants arrived, rain began. During the afternoon, of the 3rd, to the east, a huge arcing rainbow appeared, as if a magic signal, a blessing. I picture it as I stand looking toward the skies to the east.

Today, we notice a beautiful large hawk topping a tree like a Christmas ornament.


I have to examine it.


It is large, more like a small eagle.


There is a downside. During the time of the Gathering, there was a great deal of alarming negative press. It was presented as if an army of thieves was invading the surrounding communities. It was publicized that the local rancher downstream was concerned that the water might be poisoned. There was alarm that habitat would be trampled and destroyed, particularly along the riparian streamside. The Rainbow peoples could not have been more concerned about the environmental impacts. Those gatherings are about Mother Earth after all. In response, tape and signs were set to keep people out of the stream’s riparian area. Forest Service officials on horseback patrolled and inspected. I remember a lovely young completely nude woman bathing herself. She would take a cooking pot, walk over to the stream, dip it, walk at least 15 paces back to the grass and only then pour it on herself, trip after trip. That is how conscientious and sincere people were. This place was not left with the imprint of 10,000. Even the mashed down grass was fluffed back up.

On this day, we have been stepping over hundreds of cow paddies. After the crystal clean water escapes the rocks at the spring, within a few hundred feet, the waters begin to show the typical signs of pollution by cattle. The meadow’s grassy lawn has been mowed by huge beasts. This is one of the few perineal creeks untouched by the devastating fires.


I feel betrayed and find this destruction wholly irresponsible to the public’s needs.

The dark clouds are gathering and we are ready for lunch.


We return to camp.


} I find myself climbing onto the full mattress in the tent. DF joins me. We listen as rolling thunder travels across the sky. It gets closer and louder. Colder, we climb under the thick woolen cover. Flashes ignite and we count the seconds until sound seemingly quakes the earth. Multiple flashes so near that unmistakably, it is as the sound of cannon fire. One flash hits very close, the explosive crack immediate. We see it through the wall of our tent. DF curls up and hugs me. She tells me that lightening can spread along the ground electrocuting anyone nearby. I don’t want to hear that. It passes, we nap.

Uh oh, what’s that sound?

We awake to the sound of children’s voices by the spring. Crouching in stealth, I sneak barefoot all over through the forest.

A white Jeep is parked across the road. I hear and then see the intruders invading our delicate sovereignty. I hear a sound to my right, and even worse, I then see a red truck and the sound of even more children. I’m more exposed to these and retreat back to camp, but not too soon to see that these are setting up a tent near the clearing.

I mull over what to do. We have too much invested to move now. I wrap around my kilt. DF grabs her pink dress shirt. We find our way over to these newcomers. “Hey, how do you do? We’re just out looking to see if there is any damage from the lighten strike. Wow, my ears are still ringing!”

They appear to be a very nice couple who state, “Oh, we just love it up here.” The scary lightning ploy certainly hasn’t worked.

They have a very young boy and sweet friendly girl of about 13. A mother-in-law is busy in the tent. The wife is wearing an official Forest Service jacket. My inquiry finds that he works in water safety for the service in the Globe area. Could this be worse? They state that they don’t know the people in the Jeep.

I begin to look through the trees back at our camp. I tell them that we thought it wise to come over and check to be sure that they wouldn’t see “any bare butts” at our camp. I doubt that it occurs to them that these bare butts are naturist butts. They do seem to understand common privacy issues among campers, however. They seem to acknowledge and respect that.

The white Jeep drives by and across the meadow to a fence gate, passing through. I mention the noise from those kids and that we are on “a spiritual retreat,” so another message is given not directly at them. We complement their tarp arrangement and tell them how handy it will be. They mention that they had had to stay at a developed official campground and had been canoeing. A canoe is strapped to the roof.

We have neighbors next door that have chosen this spot when there is no one else for a mile or two in any direction. We have subtly, or maybe not so subtly, put the privacy issue to them. They need to be careful not to take our privacy, which is different from us needing to watch out not to expose our bodies to them.

We take a stroll over to the idyllic springs, walking barefoot.


The rains continue for the next six hours. DF gives my shoulders and back a very helpful massage in the tent. It is chilly. She uses beach towels to cover me and keep me warm. We listen to the runoff from the trees onto the large tarp, thinking that it is still raining, but climbing out of the tent, we discover that it has stopped. Everything is soaking wet.


We have socked in a good amount of wood which has stayed dry. It started out moist, however. While DF is making a quinoa and Indian paneer packet concoction that I dreamed up, I work at creating a nice warm fire. It is the dang-dist difficult fire to start, as I have ever encountered. A desert rat, I’m just not used to these moist conditions.  I set up my best, but fire is barely taking hold. I’m beginning to learn, as will be revealed through the night, the best burning types of wood around our campsite. One large piece takes from the beginning to the end of the fire. We take turns working it. There is a great deal of fanning with the flat box from that packet of Indian Paneer, but all in all, it is peaceful.

I think to invite the neighbors over to enjoy it, but DF tells me that she isn’t feeling sociable. I play the guitar softly, as quietly as I can, for a while. I am trying to not encourage the neighbors to play loud music. I find myself meandering through spontaneous cords and picking, making it up as it comes from my fingers. It is a peaceful evening.

We stay up later than our intention; to be sure that nothing is left but coals. At last, we use the shovel to carry the slow burning chunk over to where there is a rut in the road. Ponded with rain water, it finally dowses it. The tarp arrangement provides enough run off water to finish off the coals.

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