Steamboat Springs The farther in you go, the nicer it gets.
At the annual gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, taking place this year near Big Red Park, 35 miles north of Steamboat, there is a lot more going on than the occasional road block and disputes with U.S. Forest Service officials.
Amid the logistical squabbles about forest-use permits, citations, trash removal, fire safety and water sanitation, many participants in the nature-celebrating, peace-oriented gathering are setting up camp and doing their best to create a temporary home for other members of "the family."
Communal kitchens, sheltered bathrooms, a medical tent, running water spigots and a large "kids' village" are intermingled with colorful tent sites that sprawl across more than two miles of Routt National Forest land.
Walking on a packed-dirt trail toward campsites Sunday, Sunny Adams of Las Cruces, N.M., carried his 10-month-old daughter, Anoka, on his back. Adams praised the kids' village as a safe, friendly environment for young people at the event, which officially runs from Saturday to July 7, but already has drawn a crowd of more than 1,000.
"There can be serious craziness out here, but they always keep the kids away from it," Adams said. "It's separated by a big meadow."
The kids' village lies at the most inward point of the gathering, at least two miles from Forest Service Road 505. The meadow Adams referred to is a wide, hilly area lying between the village -- which contains play areas and a large communal kitchen that served rice and beans for lunch Sunday -- and most of the Rainbow tent sites.
The meadow soon will become the focal point of the gathering. Organizer Rob Savoye, a Nederland resident, said that on the morning of July 4, participants will fill the meadow in silence and form a giant circle to meditate or pray together.
"If you've never heard thousands of people 'Om' at once, it's really something," said Brandy Stark, a 28-year-old Wisconsin woman camped near the kids' village. "Om" is the first syllable of a meditation mantra used by several religions, including Tibetan Buddhists.
"People will start forming (the circle) around sunrise," Savoye said.
You get all kinds
The relative calmness of the meadow and kids' village is a sharp contrast to a visitor's first impression of the Rainbow gathering.
Shortly after turning onto F.R. 505, cars arrive at "A-Camp," the first campsite of people at the Rainbow event. "A" stands for "alcohol."
Stark said that by "family consensus," alcohol at the Rainbow Family gathering usually is consumed only at A-Camp, which is more than a mile from the main camping area.
"For most people, it's alcohol-free," she said.
A look at Rainbow campsites Sunday afternoon showed that Stark is probably right. On a warm summer day, water and coffee were much more common drinks than beer and liquor. Virtually no one was drinking alcohol.
Marijuana use, however, was easy to spot. As law enforcement and forest officials from various agencies -- including the U.S. Forest Service and Routt County Sheriff's Office -- walked through the gathering, Rainbow members yelled "Six up!" to one another, a warning that law enforcement was nearby.
"It means six bullets in a gun," said Barry Summers, a 46-year-old North Carolina resident who is helping out with logistics at the event.
In a communal kitchen dubbed "Shut Up and Eat It," a New York woman named Jesse tended to a fire beneath two large covered pans Sunday afternoon. The pans contained water, which needed to be boiled because Rainbow gatherers had not finished installing a system to filter and transport water from a nearby spring.
"Anyone who drinks non-boiled water, it's on their own discretion," said Jesse, who declined to give her last name. "And no one drinks water without going on a water run first."
Over the same fire, 28-year-old Zac Monstar of Georgia stirred a big pot of spaghetti sauce. Meals at "Shut Up and Eat It" are served nearly around the clock, he said.
"We're on a 'Hobbit' schedule," Monstar said, referring to fictional characters created by author J.R.R. Tolkien who eat numerous meals a day. "We do first breakfast, second breakfast, 'elevenses,' lunch, snacks, dinner, supper ... and fried chocolate treats at night."
In between meals, a daily routine at the Rainbow gathering likely involves a lot of walking around, socializing, and relaxing.
"We do what we're doing right now," said Bellejo Howell of Idaho, as he helped a friend carry supplies to a tent.
"The gathering kind of plans itself," Savoye said, adding that a talent show is scheduled for later this week. Stark said some campsites offer yoga classes. A "trade circle" area, near the medical tent, is a bazaar-style marketplace where people spread out various goods -- including handmade jewelry and clothing -- for sale or, more likely, for barter.
And crowds are still flowing in for the Rainbow event.
"Usually around the 28th, we're kicking into high gear," said "Hawker," an electrical engineer from North Carolina who helped set up water systems for the event.
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