The flashbacks began well before Tommy Martinez dropped by last week to pick me up for a morning jaunt up to the Rainbow Family encampment along Lake Creek Summit and the headwaters of the West Fork of the Duchesne River. East of Eden had become East of Heber.
This wouldn't be my first rodeo, of course, but the last time I'd been a part of one of these encounters, the sandal, so to speak, was on the other foot. Back in the '60s, we, the counterculture of the time, were the curiosity. Like wildebeests, they trekked in droves to check us out, to see if what they had read about and saw on their nightly news could possibly be true.
About the same time each day during mid-1967, the Summer of Love, the tourist busses with their blue-haired women and furrowed-browed men would make the turn off Stanyan Street near the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park and creep ever-so-slowly up Haight.
We of the persuasion for whom San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen had coined the term "hippies" (during a previous generation, he had coined "beatnik" to characterize earlier bohemians) would be waiting for them four-or-five deep along the sidewalks with a coefficient of anticipation at least equal to their own.
We'd try and give them a good show! Not as good as the one we'd put on for the passing families with grinning teenaged daughters locked in the back seats of their mid-'60s chrome-rich touring cars, but certainly something to talk about once they got back to Dubuque.
Things played out much differently the further an enclave positioned itself from Haight-Ashbury, however. Visitors to "the Digger Farm," Lou Gottlieb's Morningstar Ranch commune along the banks of the Russian River up north outside Sebastopol, were mostly treated by residents as fellow pilgrims whose camps were just located elsewhere.
Certainly those who made it as far back as the Redwood Grove were welcomed to share in whatever part of our macrobiotic brown-rice dish they wished. Initially, of course, we had all arrived at Morningstar as visitors, immigrants if you will. "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe stoned "
Literature and music and tools for growth were mostly the currency of the day back then and, to some degree, I suppose it remains the same today among the Rainbow flock.
Whether or not to pack cultural wampum for trading purposes crossed my mind. Wyoming saloon operator Stan Taggart would always toss a case of whiskey in his trunk when he headed out to the annual Mountain Man Rendezvous in Fort Bridger.
There's that "Jorma for President" bumper sticker I picked up from Ken Kesey's kids at a Furthur Festival some decades back. And there's that copy of Stewart Brand's "Whole Earth Catalog" on the coffee table, not to mention the battered first edition paperback of Richard Brautigan's "Trout Fishing in America," on the bathroom shelf.
Being a "hoarder" of such existential-collectibles, however, I opted to leave them undisturbed and, in their stead, laced-up some hiking boots and a non-judgmental attitude.
Media coverage, of course has been all over the map since rumors of the Gathering first surfaced. "10,000 Nudists Headed For Utah" obviously took top honors in my personal headline awards. Two seemingly natural deaths, a stabbing, an attempted purse-snatching at Walgreen's, and a mobile courtroom being hauled-up to the site also kept the Rainbowers in the news.
No coverage, of course, of Day's Market's Facebook post: "Hi, we would like to make an update about the Rainbow people. We are told of several instances a day of problems that we supposedly have had in the store. We feel it necessary to post on our page that we have NOT had ANY negative interaction with the group. THEY HAVE BEEN RESPECTFUL toward us when they are patronizing us."
For me, it was a total gas communing with the faithful in that wonderfully wooded area on the backside of Lake Creek summit. The air was thick with the smell of freedom and conifer pitch. It was a smile and hug-rich environment. No surprise there! Plus, they promised to leave the idyllic space as they had found it. I promised that I'd be checking on their promise.
Hopefully, I'll make it back up there to see how the site fleshed-out before it reaches its zenith of activity and ritual on the Fourth of July. The word among those I met was that the entire conclave would go silent at midnight on the 3rd and remain so until a children's parade down the mountain had concluded the following morning.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.