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[excerpted from Rolling Stone, August 3, 1972]
Granby, Colorado, 1972
by Tim Cahill
[This was also in the 1994 Almost Free.]
The Vision: conceived, by relatively well-intentioned human beings, in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.
You could read about it in the Denver Post, or see it on the six o’clock news. By the middle of May, all 800 or so people in Granby expected to be overrun – by an estimated one million fanatic Christ and dope addicts coming to a blasphemous festival at table mountain, right smack in the middle of their park. It was going to last three whole days, and climax on the 4th of July – sacrilege for sure – a bunch of peace crazies trampling over the mountains on Independence Day. A million of them! Granby was gearing up for the greatest natural disaster since the locusts ate Utah.
A million is what they said, or sometimes 144,000, whoever had organized the event, the Rainbow Tribe, or some such lunatic group, had been working on it for three years. They had invited every congressman, senator, and world leader; but of course no one expected Nixon or Mao to show.
Worse, the one big tourist weekend of the summer would be a bust.
Hippies (it is well-known) don’t sleep in motels, or buy guns or fishing equipment. But the people who did, the regulars, the small town summer people, they would avoid Granby by the thousands of dollars.
Consider: the 4th of July is a big, critical holiday. Stopping this festival would be a matter of survival for most of Granby. A controversial letter written by a local businessman: “You can’t even buy a box of .22 shells. We have locals ‘spoiling’ for a fight just to kill or harm someone just for the hell of it.”
“I even get the feeling many of these locals are glad the ‘strawberry folk’ are here so the vigilantes can roust them out and burn them up just like a Gene Autry movie…”
A court order was issued against the gathering at Table Mountain, but a local developer, Paul Geisendorfer, 46, offered a 360 acre site at Strawberry Lake, nine miles from the mountain.
There are those who will tell you Barry E. Adams is a spiritual hustler, the Elmer Gantry of hip. Others know him as Barry Plunker, or just Plunker, and consider him a prophet. In 1969, Plunker had a prophetic vision. A great gathering of tribes, the 144,000 of God’s elect mentioned in the Book of Revelations. The elect would all mass on Independence Day at the center of the universe – a spot which Arapaho legends conveniently fix at Table Mountain. The more Plunker talked about it to his tribe, the Rainbow Family of Living Light, the more real, the more inevitable the vision became.
There are the Indian legends claiming the spirit of slain warriors will return to reclaim the earth. The Gathering of the Tribes could be the Peace Dance the Hopi elders always talked about; it could also be the great Ghost Dance the plains and mountain tribes started talking about in the late 1890’s. Equipped with a list of 1,000 or so communes in America, the prophet Plunker set forth with his brother Rainbow tribesman Garrick to testify personally to the will of God. Plunker’s energy, along with Garrick’s energy, generated a universal wave of spiritual excitement. A great pyramid would be built on Table Mountain. Plunker carried a rock to form its base for three years. And at high noon on Independence Day the elect would join hands and O-m-m-m-m. With that much spiritual energy vibrating 9,000 feet above sea level, who could tell what would happen? Apocalypse? Armageddon? The end of the world? The genesis of the universe?
In early April, a Rocky Mountain National Park representative named Steve Hickman explained that directly over the ridge from Table Mountain, the editor of the Denver Post had a summer cabin, and over another ridge, a high official in the California State Patrol had another summer cabin, and there were other even more powerful men with cabins, – and for this reason, Table Mountain was “sensitive.”
There are laws against Armageddon in Colorado, or so it seemed. If the prophets tried to lead the tribe up the mountain, Hickman said, they would be repulsed. A command post was being planned at one of the cabins. There would be a sheriff’s posse and state patrolmen, and maybe even the National Guard.
Meanwhile the prophet Plunker appeared in a Colorado court which forbade the gathering. Then Geisendorfer came forward with his Strawberry Lake land.
The prophet Garrick and a rainbow brother named Patrick had a conference with Colorado Lt. Governor John Vanderhoof. The way Garrick tells it: “Patrick explained that since the Indians were the 12 lost tribes of Israel, and the people on their way to Colorado were the reincarnations of dead Indians, the gathering was foreordained in Revelations…. Vanderhoof said something like, ‘I don’t care if you have God on your side, I’m the Lt. Governor and I say there will be no festival on Table Mountain’.” An unidentified ranger quoted in the Denver Post said, “the only reason these kids come up here is for dope and sex.” But anyone familiar with the two commodities knows that if you want a steady supply, you bring your own.
And if you have your own, then there’s no particular reason to hitchhike halfway across the United States, risking arrest at the hands of nervous police and brutality at the hands of self-righteous rednecks. There’s no reason to spend a lung-choking hour climbing straight up a scalding dusty road, wandering around, talking to people at the Strawberry encampment. I divided them into a quartet of categories:
1) those who came for a rock festival
2) those who came to be with people like themselves, and simply draw strength from congregation,
3) lost souls and acid crawlbacks, seeking structure in life, or a cosmic message,
4) the fishers of souls, believers and gurus, looking for recruits, or more exactly, converts.
The encampment itself was set in a meadow 3 miles in diameter and perhaps a mile long. The camp was split into tiny communities, people in biblical robes, naked people, various loners drawn together by some kind of affinity. There were at least five community kitchens – free food from the commune of your choice. The Denver Post said the camp hosted 15,000 people at its rush hour, but there is no real way to accurately estimate the number of pilgrims.
About 4:30 Armageddon morning someone started beating a conga drum. The camp rose early. The plan was to march the nine miles to Table Mountain. If the police forced a confrontation, the faithful would overwhelm them with love. “Treat the pigs like brothers.”
Nearly three hundred of the devout had made the long trek to the center of the universe in the dead of night. They were already ensconced at the top of Table Mountain, waiting for what they hoped would be 143,700 of their brothers and sisters.
The Love Family quickly dismantled their camp. Organic material was buried in a huge pit. Inorganic waste was carted downtrail in huge plastic or burlap sacks. By nine, but for the covered pit and the trampled grass, there was no sign anyone had been there.
It was a half hour walk from Strawberry Lake to the base of Table Mountain. There were numerous state patrolmen, park service employees, and special deputies along the way. They were smiling and good-natured in contrast to the raw-nerved panic of the previous few days. A cheerful Army helicopter circled overhead. Ironically, most of the festival-goers were skipping Armageddon to get an early start on the road. Only a little of the 1,000 made it to the base of Table Mountain, and several hundred of those dropped out after assaying the climb. Nearly 800 feet up. the angle was as steep as a fire escape on a New York tenement. There was something biblical, at least symbolic, about a long line of colorfully dressed people, visible all the way up the summit, trudging slowly up a mountainside.
“Take a rock for the pyramid, brother,” I was told several times.
“I’ll pick one up on top,” I said. Many carried rocks, however, miniature crosses on an American Golgatha.
Cresting, I took particular delight in the view. Table Mountain is the summit point in an immense valley surrounded by white capped mountains.
Others, with tears in their eyes, were already on their way down. Still, there were easily 2,000 people near the summit and they were singing and Om-ing and chanting happily. Most of them were naked.
“What happened to the end of the world?” I asked a full-breasted girl with lobster red skin.
“This isn’t the end of the world,” she replied sharply. “It’s a gathering of the tribes.”
I walked over to a naked couple holding hands and staring out over Lake Granby. “What happened to the end of the world?” “It isn’t high noon yet, brother.”
I showed them my watch. “That’s congress time”, I was told. “High noon is when the sun is directly overhead.” So it was. Another chance for Armageddon.
Five minutes before the appointed hour, 1,500 gathered to sit naked, hold hands and Om, I was the fully-clothed man off to one side. At precisely high noon, 1 o’clock, there was a ponderous meditative silence lasting several minutes.
The prophet Barry Plunker, who had been sitting in the center of the Om, picked up his two-string lute and walked slowly across the summit plateau. He sat naked and alone, facing the lake. I took an unholy glee knowing that I would be the first to ask the cruel and deadly question.
Four or five of his tribe joined him and they were sitting in quiet conversation when I squatted down with them. “Say, Barry, didn’t you prophesy some kind of Armageddon?” “Yes, yes, of course,” he said quickly enough. “We Om-ed here today and our brothers and sisters in the communes and jails across the world Omed with us. And at the center of the mandala,” he pointed directly overhead at the blazing sun, “in the center there is God.”
“You see him there?” I asked.
“Not with these eyes, brother, but I feel it … here” He thumped himself on the chest.
Plunker’s eyes drifted back toward the lake. He didn’t want to talk. “So many people…”, he began, then stopped. “I forgot what I was going to say.” A short, attractive rainbow sister sat with us. “Hello, fine lady”, the prophet said.
I didn’t ask anything about the pyramid. Barry’s rock was one of five in something that was hardly a pile, much less a pyramid. Barry surveyed the summit plateau. His eyes were moist and sad.
“I can still see it. He said slowly, “Mandala City. Over there we would have the tents of the elders, and here would be the common council, and on that far ridge would be tents of the tribes. I see …” He shook his head again, perhaps not altogether confident of the vision.
We shook hands and said good-bye. On the way to the downtrail, I saw a dark and hairy man spread on his back staring savagely at the sky. I squatted next to him.
“Garrick, was the gathering everything you expected it to be?” “Yes, absolutely. It’s a spiritual landmark. There’s Mount Sinai, the Mount of Olives, and Table Mountain… I feel that this is the beginning of world harmony,” he said. “I feel it here.” He tapped his chest.