Talking Story
The first Rainbows arrive in Uintah National Forest 2014.

The first Rainbows arrive in Uintah National Forest 2014.

I’d always assumed if I was paying for a party, I’d at least get to pick the guest list.


I am soooo tired of special.

This year, the Rainbow Family has chosen Uintah National Forest for their annual gathering. It’s a pristine chunk of federal land that starts just a few miles from my front door. It’s breathtakingly beautiful up there. Being so close, I’d always wished I could park my camper in a prime location and run back and forth all summer long, but there are laws that don’t allow camping in one spot for more than 14 days. Rangers keep track of who’s camping where and if you’re out fishing or hiking when they stop by, they’ll thoughtfully leave notes telling you how many more days you can stay. To camp in the Uintahs all summer, you have to break camp and move at least five miles every 14 days. That way everyone gets a chance to enjoy the area.

Unless you’re the Rainbow Family.

You see, they’re special. The rules don’t apply to them.

2013 Gathering in Montana.

2013 Gathering in Montana.

Let me tell you a little bit about the Rainbow Family. They claim to have no leader or leadership; if you have a bellybutton, you’re in. Call them counter-culture, hippies, or alternative life-stylers, nobody applies or signs a permit, pays a fee, or is accountable for the group’s actions. Through magical group consensus—maybe it’s a homing instinct—a place for their annual gathering is selected about two weeks before the big shindig. You know your town’s the gathering place when they start showing up. The media takes care of the rest of the invitations.

In 2014 the only town near their gathering place is my town, a rural high-desert valley community of 12,000 residents misnamed Heber City. Heber’s small enough that the tellers at the bank, checkers at the grocery store, waiters at the diner, and the guy who takes the movie tickets know me well enough on sight to ask how my daughter’s soccer team is doing. We’re also remote; our nearest neighboring towns are 30 minutes away in different directions through winding canyons at freeway speeds. We’ve learned to watch out for deer, elk, and the occasional moose crossing.

Living on the outskirts of Heber on the main road to the Uintah National Forest, my neighbors and I have never locked our doors. Seriously. When the sheriff told us we had to start locking up our houses, sheds, garages, and barns because Rainbows are opportunists, we all had to run 25 miles to the nearest Home Depot. In my case after 15 years, we couldn’t find a key. Many of our garages and sheds don’t have closing doors. Hell, half the cars and pick-ups in the valley are left unlocked with the keys in the ignition. Yes, Virginia, there really is a place like this in 2014 America.

Conservative estimates think we’ll get 10,000 to 15,000 Rainbow Family members, although they admit some gatherings have been as high as 30,000. The big event is July 4th with most arriving before July 1st and staying through July 7th , but some stay all summer.  The Rainbow Family Council started showing up mid-June and selected their main campsite June 15th. Like busy beavers, they’ve been setting up satellite camps since.

June 15th to July 1st to July 7th to…wait a minute…

But it’s okay. They’re really nice people with just a few bad apples giving the group a bad name; we know because they say so.

I’m calling shibai. Here’s the real deal.

The Rainbow Family has held yearly gatherings since the early 1970s. They are fully aware of their impact on small communities—in fact, so aware that they target them. Like modern day locusts, they descend waving flags of free speech, the right to assemble, and freedom of religion while thumbing their noses at laws that govern the rest of us. They gather in such large numbers with no advanced warning that communities are overwhelmed. They camp on federal land which is under Federal, not local jurisdiction. The only way to enforce the laws already in place is to send in the National Guard to root them out. No Fed wants pictures of flower-wielding, kumbaya-singing hippies forced at gunpoint to break camp splashed across the news. So the Federal attitude is live and let live. Besides it’s not like they’re camping on the steps of the White House.

As hopping mad as we get, Heber City’s 12,000 tax paying residents simply do not carry much juice with the Feds. We’re not even a rounding error in their calculations.

Heber City and Wasatch County taxpayers will be left picking up the tab for everything from the trash Rainbows leave behind—I don’t care if they claim to bag it all up, somebody at some point is going to have to haul it out of the mountains and pay to put it in a landfill—to the overtime cost for EMT, police, fire, and all the other civil services needed to manage a double or tripling of our population. Of course, there’re also softer costs like vandalism, petty theft, theft of services, unpaid hospital visits, and drains on the local food pantry and disaster relief services. Rainbows are quick to point out that local business benefit from their arrival, but the math doesn’t add up. Previous Rainbow Gatherings have left behind bills of more than $500,000 in services alone—that’s more than $4,000 per resident in Heber City—bankrupting already thin county coffers. This is not an exaggeration. During last year’s gathering in Montana the governor issued a state of emergency to help defray the fiscal impact. Look it up.

And the Rainbow Family knows this.

And they don’t care.


2013 Gathering in Montana.

So don’t tell me how wonderful they are. Really wonderful people pass the magic hat and pony up impact fees, group permits, stay no more than fourteen days, and pay for porta-potties instead of digging slit latrines. Yeah, that’s right. Their waste management plan is slit latrines and campfire ash. Don’t even think about the fact that a human creates about .8 lbs. of solid waste a day. With 15,000 people, that’s about six tons per day. In pristine wilderness. A day.

But I have to give them credit. Next time I want to camp on federal land all summer and dump my black water into a slit latrine instead of hauling it to a sewage treatment facility, I’ll just tell the Ranger I’m with the Rainbow Family.

After all, I have a bellybutton, too.

7 Responses to So Over the Rainbows
The Drainbow Files

  • It very much did happen. I saw most of the interaction and have pictures as well. You are free to go right now and observe how the police officers and the forest service officials idle their vehicles non-stop. Also, you are invited to this gathering of human beings. There is a lot of love.

    Emergency services are needed for emergencies, of course. These are human beings requesting services, and it happens in every city. Does the group have everything under control? Nobody or group has everything under control. No system anywhere. Additionally, they are not YOUR services. I pay taxes just as you. I was out there but am back at work right now. I implore you not to simply write these people off. This is an important event for many reasons. I highly encourage you to go for yourself and discover how richly textured are the humans of the Americas.

    • I’ve been up there, John. I’ve talked to Badger and Moonbeam and Slow Elk and some dude calling himself Barry. Or maybe Berry; it was a little hard to understand him. I’ve been welcomed home and handed pamphlets. I’ve also traveled all over the United States–in fact the world–meeting all kinds of people and connecting with them in meaningful ways. I’ve learned to look not at what people say, but what they do. The record is pretty clear. And it is my money–it’s all of our money–that goes to pay for services. The government cannot do anything without first taking it from somebody else. Period. We’re all stuck paying for a party filled with guests that do not have the courtesy to follow the rules the rest of us do. That smacks of elitism. And chaos. And disrespect for others. So again, I look at what they say versus what they do.

  • Nobody is forcing anyone to spend money.

    Your officials are volunteering it. It seems like they need to justify an extreme presence to stave off fear of the unknown.

    I was just at rainbow and watched how efficiently those dollars were being spent. Someone who had volunteered to shuttle people in at out had run out of gas. Rather than assist, he was hassled by police, who searched him and found a pill on his body. They handcuffed and interrogated him. The pill was, as he stated numerous times, an herbal remedy, something you would pick up in any health food store. Meanwhile, more than 15 police officers blocked the pathway for over an hour with more than 10 large vehicles idling constantly. This is what your dollars and resources are actively doing at the moment: Burning gasoline that could have solved the problem (which wasn’t even their problem).

    This is completely unnecessary. Groups of people have figured out ways to resolve disputes on their own. Check out the Rise of the Warrior Cop for a nice history of how the present state came about.

    • I’m calling shibai on your story, too. The shuttle-gas-pill-blocking-the-road incident didn’t happen. However a life-flight from the Rainbow camp for a drug over-dose did as did another hospital transport for a stabbing victim along with a day-long manhunt for the attempted murder who was caught in back in town in Heber. I’ll give you a pass on the body recovery of a Rainbow council member since the drug overdose is only suspected. We’re waiting on the autopsy report for confirmation. So tell me again how Rainbows aren’t requiring our services. You guys have it all under control, right? Nobody’s asking for any help, we’re just wasting our resources volunteering.

    • I have no idea what you mean by ‘volunteering resources.’ Have you ever had these people in your area? Lehua is not talking about what the Rainbow Family says they stand for, she’s talking about what they actually DO. They steal services, they beg, they trespass, they damage goods in our stores so that they can steal them later, they SIPHON GAS OUT OF CARS WHILE PEOPLE ARE IN CHURCH, they attempt murder, they bring drugs and lice, and they literally squat and piss on federal land and then leave us to clean it up. All in the name of love and peace, of course. So if you would like them to come to your community with double your town’s population in vagrants, by all means invite them to steal your resources, your services, sleep on your front porch, rifle through your dumpsters, and hide their homicidal sociopaths in your community. They are free to travel wherever they like. PLEASE, we would be more than happy for them to use their stolen gas to bus over to your town. Of course, in case they miscalculate and run out of gas, maybe you should come pick them up so that the helpful law enforcement protecting my home and community doesn’t cause them any problems.

    • I’m sorry John Harper, but you’re turning a blind eye to the truth. I’m sure you had a really fun time when you spent time with the Rainbow Family and that there were some good people among the group who just wanted to have a good time and love everyone, but please don’t defend the bad behavior and terrible leeching practices of the gathering as a whole. They really do consider themselves so “special” that laws and money don’t apply to them. There’s a basic word for that: FREELOADER, and the rest of us tax-paying, law abiding citizen’s don’t appreciate picking up the bill for groups like that (regardless of how much fun loving times the Rainbows have). Pay your own way and if you pack it in, PACK IT OUT!

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