SALT LAKE CITY – About 8,000 members of counterculture group the Rainbow Family have arrived in eastern Utah for the annual gathering's final celebration, officials from the U.S. Forest Service said Friday.
Members join hands in prayer for world peace, releasing one big "Om." The ritual takes place every year on July 4th.
"It's just so beautiful," said Karena Gore, who travelled from Montana. It's her fourth time participating in the gathering, she said earlier this week as she listened to friends strum a guitar and sing along to a Cee-Lo Green song. The prayer is one of her favorite parts of the gathering, she said.
Authorities say it's not all peace and quiet on the mountain: On the eve of the celebration, they arrested 18 people suspected of crimes ranging from drug possession to grabbing the reigns and bridle of an officer's horse. Others were arrested in connection with shoplifting, drunken driving and public urination, Wasatch County Sheriff's Chief Dep. Jared Rigby said in an email statement.
The gathering has rankled nerves this month in neighboring Heber City, overloading the local jail with people charged with misdemeanors, officials said. A roving federal court room also rolled up to a meadow about a mile away from the expansive campsite. A judge processed the charges that included drug possession and having a dog off a leash.
Last year, the gathering drew 10,000 to Montana, where officials put together a list of advice for other forest service workers policing the gathering in future years. In the last two weeks, police have made about 65 arrests at the Utah gathering.
"Usually on the 4th, they're really quiet," forest service Spokeswoman Kathy Jo Pollock said in a Thursday telephone interview. Officials expect little commotion in the area until the group begins moving out on Saturday or Sunday, she said.
The group was originally formed in the wake of the Vietnam War. Its creed revolves around nonviolence, and it has convened every year since 1972.
No official leaders head the group, but members refer to organizers as "focalizers." Most defer to a council of elders, who set guidelines and urge members to avoid drinking alcohol on the vast campsite.
Also on Friday, the group communes for a picnic. In days leading up to the main event, cooks in about a half-dozen makeshift kitchens prepared to cook about 500 pounds of pasta for the event.
"We just come to love each other individually and as a group," member Red Carlin said.