NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Thousands of people are heading to the Carson National Forest this week for the 49th annual Rainbow Family Gathering. Attendees say the event, first founded in 1972, is for people of all backgrounds to celebrate peace and togetherness.
“Being up here above 10,000 feet, we felt like we’d be less impact on Mother Nature,” said Corey Moore, who goes by “Useless” or “Pastor Useless.” “Here, the idea that anyone can break bread and have a thought or prayer for peace. On the morning of the Fourth of July, from the sun coming up to high noon, we’ll all be silent together in the thought of prayer for peace.”
As for what the Rainbow Gathering is, think Woodstock. Useless says it’s a place for people of all walks of life and backgrounds to come together for music, prayer and discussions.
“This was the first place that I ever encountered that all people would sit down and talk,” said Useless. “From the cowboys sitting down talking to the hippies, who are joking with the biker kids, the train hopper kids are coming around and the white-collar business owners are showing up.”
Every year, thousands come from around the country to a designated national forest for a week or so. This year, they’re splitting into four smaller groups around the U.S. because of the pandemic, some choosing a spot northeast of Sipapu.
“I’ve personally been here three and half months now, looking at different mountaintops, different ranges,” said Useless, who expects a few thousand to show up this year. “Today, I feel like there’s 500. I feel by the Fourth of July, we could cross up towards 5,000. Next year being the world gathering and the reunion of the world gathering and the pandemic calming down, we expect to reach somewhere between 20,000-50,000.”
One of the longtime visitors is Jonathan Zap. He says one of his first gatherings was 26 years ago near Taos. The group tends to barter and give services for free, rather than pay. Everyone feeds one another during the event with multiple kitchens set up around the site.
“Started in 1995,” said Zap. “At that time, Rainbow Gatherings were a lot larger, probably had 30,000 people.”
Zap was a longtime school teacher before coming to the gatherings and says it changed the way he viewed the common school system. Now, he says he comes to interpret dreams and give oracle readings.
“Different people here do different kinds of services. Everything is given away freely,” said Zap. “What I noticed was that these kids were psychologically healthier than any kids I had met in compulsory education. If they saw a chore that needed to be done, nobody had to tell them. They just got up and did it.”
One couple who arrived early at the site, go by “Drifter” and “Jellyfish.” They say the Rainbow Gathering is now a lifestyle for them.
“I’ve been traveling around on the Rainbow Trail, like 20 years straight. Go out to the forest, hang out with all the hippies,” said Drifter, who says he now just lives outside, wherever he goes. “Rainbow is what I do. It’s like where you go to meet all the best friends you didn’t know you had.”
“You can come out here and you can be yourself,” said Jellyfish. “Not get shamed for it.”
The nomadic “rainbows” say many will stay behind after the event to clean up any waste left behind. The event officially runs from July 1 to July 7.
“I meet some of the best people you’ve ever seen, just living life, traveling around, different regions,” said Drifter. “People are so unique and when they have the freedom to express that, it becomes something so magical.”
Right now, Stage One fire restrictions are in place for the Carson National Forest, meaning campfires, charcoal grills and wood stoves are only allowed in approved sites. The U.S. Forest Service and Taos County Sheriff’s deputies will continue patrols while the group is up there.