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CS Local: Rainbow Falls

Graffiti falls

Rainbow Falls is surrounded by urban style graffiti giving it it’s secondary name, “Graffiti Falls” where the man meets nature in a controversial clash.

There are many waterfalls in Colorado but none quite like Rainbow Falls. Rainbow Falls or “Graffiti Falls,” as some of the locals call it, is an interesting example of natural, beautiful Colorado scenery meeting urban structure and either artistic expression or vandalism depending on your opinion.

Rainbow Falls is located just west of Manitou Springs, CO or west of Colorado Springs, CO (if you need a larger city for reference), formed from the runoff of Fountain Creek from reservoirs on the north side of Pikes Peak. It runs underneath an older concrete bridge on/off ramp for Colorado Highway 24. Unlike some places that I have talked about or covered in the past, this place is certainly no secret and it is easy to get to (if you can find parking).


It wasn’t very long ago that the short trail and approach to the falls looked very different. After the Waldo Canyon fire that started in June of 2012 near Rainbow Falls, it left the area at a high risk for serious flooding, which happened only a year later in the summer of 2013. Before the flooding, the trail to Rainbow Falls was just a short dirt path over boulders that people picked their way through. After heavy rains and major flooding through Fountain creek and down into Manitou Springs, the way to Rainbow Falls was just a mess of boulders and debris with no path. After being closed for nearly a year, Rainbow Falls reopened in the spring/summer of 2014 with not only a lot of flood mitigation in place but an incredibly accessible and mostly paved path all the way from the parking lot to the falls. The falls and bridge themselves look the same, but the trail and everything around it looks very different..

The presence of graffiti certainly remains despite the county’s best efforts of cleanup and prevention. Occasionally the graffiti work is impressive, but as a whole, most of the spray-painted text overlays the previous, reflecting whatever local cultural issue may be going on at the time. Currently it seems to be marijuana, which is why you will see “weed” in some context on the rock wall or high up on the arch and underside of the bridge. Having a strong love of the natural, remote wilderness, I was pretty upset the first time I saw the overwhelming color and graffiti all around Rainbow Falls. It really got me steamed that repetitive vandalism within a beautiful place was so rampant. Why doesn’t somebody buy these kids a large canvas, so they don’t use nature as a billboard?! But after seeing the county try to clean up the graffiti and then seeing it replaced with new paint even quicker, like an etch-a-sketch, I began to step back and not look at the paintings individually but as a part of the whole scenery. I’m not saying it’s right and there is no question that it is vandalism, but it is still intriguing to see such a “man meets nature” scenario. A younger crowd might think the location of the graffiti is immediately impressive, where a lot of the older crowd (dare I say over 30?) might be instantly offended by such a crime against the natural world. I am firmly entrenched in the latter but, with time, have come to see the temporary beauty in it. Even though it still bothers me, until the desire to keep painting rocks goes away, I am not sure there is much that can be done about it given its location.

Rainbow Falls is in a perfect geographical and metaphorical Man vs. Nature location under an on ramp to Highway 24. Highway 24 is the main structural artery that connects the proper mountains to a large front-range population in Colorado Springs and Manitou. Nearly every weekend, Highway 24 is packed with people going up the pass into nature or heading back down into the city. Rainbow Falls seems to be the evident meeting spot of the Man/Nature opposition.

So I guess until the county figures out a way to remove and prevent further graffiti, I will choose to keep going back and view it out of focus, not reading into individual young grievances. Whether you get angry like I originally did or think it’s a wonderful conglomeration of art, I think there is some validity to both; although the “artist” should be prepared for possible repercussions with this particular form of expression.

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