Log In

Reset Password

Rainbow Gathering picks remote area in Colorado for its angst-inducing 50th annual meeting of tribes

‘Largest non-organization of non-members in the world’ will reprise in Routt National Forest
Rainbow Family members gather for prayer circle at a gathering July 4, 2006 near Clark. The Rainbow Family's massive gathering in the northern Colorado mountains neared the halfway point Tuesday with an estimated 10,000 people camped in the Routt National Forest. Forest Service officials said they had issued more than 500 citations, mostly for camping without a permit and drug violations. (Peter M. Fredin/Associated Press file)

A Rainbow Family council convening this week outside Oak Creek has announced its 50th annual Rainbow Gathering of the Tribes will be in the remote Adams Park area of Routt National Forest, north of Hayden.

The loosely knit group’s “Spring Council” announced the location of its annual gathering on Facebook on Tuesday, with detailed directions to the mountain meadow along Routt County Road 80 near Adams Creek.

There is no formal structure or leadership for the annual Rainbow Gathering of the Tribes, which calls itself “the largest non-organization of non-members in the world.” Forest Service officials planned to meet with the group in Oak Creek on Tuesday to confirm the online announcement of the group’s July gathering, a weeklong confab that typically draws many thousands onto federal land.

“Once we verify the location, from there we will get the ball rolling,” said Aaron Voos with the Routt National Forest. Voos recommended reaching out to the national Forest Service team that follows the Rainbow Gathering for more information but the team’s spokeswoman did not immediately return calls on Tuesday.

The Forest Service has been watching online chatter about the Rainbow Gathering since early April, when the group announced it would return to Colorado for its 50th gathering. The group’s first get-together was outside Granby in 1972. In 1992 the group drew more than 10,000 to federal land outside Paonia and more than 10,000 attended the group’s rally in the Routt National Forest outside Steamboat Springs in 2006.

The Forest Service has a national incident team that follows the Rainbow Family’s annual events, which typically land around the July Fourth holiday. That team, made up of mostly federal law enforcement officers, works with local communities and police.

Rainbow Family members arrive in the Routt National Forest north of Steamboat Springs on July 1, 2006. (Ed Andrieski/Associated Press file)

There’s a lot of local angst when Rainbowers convene their unpermitted rallies on federal land. The Rainbowers argue they should have unfettered access to public land and organize teams to repair damaged landscapes. Dozens of members of the group have been meeting online in recent weeks to organize fire teams to help reduce the risk of wildfire during the event as well as distribute clean water, dig latrines and organize kitchens.

Last year officials with the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico estimated about 5,000 people camped out during the gathering, which culminated with its customary sunrise-to-noon group prayer for world peace.

Forest Service officials treat the event like an incident, not unlike a wildfire, flood or other disaster. The agency works with attendees to help protect water, wildlife and resources. Forest Service law enforcement officers often write many tickets to attendees of the illegal gathering. Those are federal tickets, which require a mandatory court appearance and local officials sometimes set up makeshift courtrooms so attendees can appear before a judge.

“If you do not show up for your mandatory court appearance on the date indicated on your ticket, a federal warrant will be issued for your arrest,” reads a 2022 Rainbow Gathering blog post advising attendees how to avoid arrest. “Then the (Forest Service law enforcement officers) will come into the gathering looking for you. If they find you they will arrest you and put you in jail until the next court date.”

Armed officers patrolling the Rainbow Gathering are not welcome, said Art Goodtimes, a poet and farmer who served five terms as a San Miguel County commissioner and, as a 40-year veteran of Rainbow Gatherings, helped organize a Rainbow Family regional rally near his home in Norwood in September 2016.

“They create a very hostile energy in a very peaceful gathering,” he said, explaining that the Rainbow Family has its own patrol that “marches bad apples out of camp.”

“It’s not lawless or anarchy,” Goodtimes said. “It’s the same kind of freedom that I see a lot of my Trump friends wanting. They want to be free to carry weapons. We want to be free to not.”

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.