Rainbow Gathering - Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

The Rainbow Gatherings date back to 1972, when a number of counterculture “tribes” from North Carolina and the Pacific Northwest gathered together for four days in Colorado. In 1973, another gathering took place in Wyoming, and it was soon apparent that an annual event should be declared and organized. For the past 37 years, the national Rainbow Gatherings have continued to meet from July 1-7 in National Forests, attracting 10-30,000 people.

After a long drive and a maze of winding fire roads through the Santa Fe National Forest, we emerged upon a sea of cars that filled meadows and stretched for four miles along a wooded ridge. After unpacking, we hiked down into the valley. People greeted one another on the trail with, "Welcome home–I love you!" Soon there were signs for "camps," and we saw tents grouped together and people sitting around fires playing music or socializing. Little did I know, the area we walked through was only one out of dozens spread throughout the forest. This was a city in the woods.

This city, surprisingly, ran with absolutely no money. Food at the Gathering is free from the kitchens -- and there were about 30 total that operate with no propane, electricity and running water -- and everything else is traded. There was a vibrant trade scene known as Trade Circle, a main road filled with people trading nick-knacks throughout the day. None of it seemed to have much value in "Babylon" (the world outside of the Gathering), but here in Rainbow World it was all treasure. Many of the people on the road had wish lists on their blankets that included hits for the night. But what I couldn’t figure out was why this system of trading existed for drugs when at night they flowed freely.

The main event at the Gathering is the large “ohm” circle at noon on July 4th in the main meadow. The group “ohm” marks the end of a morning time of silence and meditation on world peace. After the circle is complete, children from the Kiddie Village parade through and everyone cheers and starts to celebrate world peace. This year, the “ohm” was performed in the rain, resulting in a very small number of people joining in the circle. However, minutes after the circle was broken, the sun broke through the clouds and the masses joined, dancing in the sunlight. A drum circle formed for the next four or five hours, even when the rain returned. Then, around 5 p.m., as the storm clouds drifted East, the sun began to break through again. The crowd sensed that a rainbow would appear. Everyone began chanting, “Rainbow, rainbow!” And sure enough, the most magnificent double rainbow appeared. It was a great victory for the rainbow people, and as you can imagine they believed they had called the rainbow to appear.