Instead of shooting off fireworks and grilling hot dogs for the Fourth of July, members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light plan to form a prayer circle thousands of people wide and pray for world peace.
Tivana, a Rainbow member and webmaster from Seattle, explained Saturday that the tens of thousands of people expected to attend the 34th annual gathering in Big Red Park, about 35 miles north of Steamboat Springs, have been settling in and preparing for Tuesday's climactic prayer.
"Just like any other group, we have holidays and events. We don't call the Fourth of July 'Independence Day,' we call it 'Interdependence Day,'" he said. "It's a time for thousands of (Rainbow Family members) to be silent and pray for peace on the planet and for each other and with nature."
The prayer circle, which is scheduled to begin at noon Tuesday, is then interrupted by a parade of Rainbow Family children, who break the silence of the group.
"After the kids come through, we start our celebrations," he said. "It's very powerful."
Although Tuesday marks the highlight of the weeklong gathering, group members have been celebrating in the Routt National Forest for weeks.
Tivana said the infrastructure of the nearly 100 camps that have been set up provide members with food, entertainment, social opportunities, free educational workshops and games.
Professional actors, musicians and artists perform nightly at the Granola Funk theater, the Kid's Village and other stages.
"At night there's a lot of drums, entertainment and shows. We tell Hipstories, instead of histories, where people get together and talk about their experiences at past gatherings," he said.
Even though the members spend most of their time helping in the kitchens, cleaning the woods around them and visiting other camps, most haven't forgotten what the gathering is all about.
Hare Krishna head priest Visnave Swami Maharaja, a small man draped in orange robes and carrying a religious staff, said the reason the group gathers is love.
"Love conquers all. I don't think anyone would disagree with that," he said.
The prayer circle is the most important event of the gathering because it is an opportunity for thousands of people to come together for a single cause, Visnave Swami Maharaja said.
"The Ohm Circle is the build-up. We'll have 20,000 from around the world chanting and trying to heal themselves, heal the world, end the war (in Iraq), and all the control before we all self-destruct," he said. "It's an amazing thing."
Hare Krishna camps account for five of about 100 camps, Visnave Swami Maharaja said. He said the Rainbow Family lifestyle is one that some people experience every day and that others experience once a year.
The Hare Krishnas "have renounced and given up everything. We do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We break the mold of the material existence," he said. "Whether you come here once a year or once in your lifetime, it will affect your life forever and every life you touch."
Glenwood Springs resident Kay Woods said that type of experience is what she hopes her 6-year-old daughter, Shirah, gains from participating in her first Rainbow Family gathering.
"I want them to learn tolerance and to be open minded. We live a lifestyle of diversity, and that's what they get here, only it's more concentrated," she said.
Woods and her children were staying at the gathering Kid's Village, an area dedicated to providing a safe area for families and children. Rainbow Family members constructed a swing set, kitchen and teeter-totter out of wood for the children.
"I think it's awesome what everyone has done here. It's pretty amazing that they used the resources available and made something out of nothing," she said.
Woods said she had no reservations about bringing her children to the gathering because of the warmth and open hearts the other members have toward everyone.
"My kids are very safe here. (Kid's Village) is a very family-oriented camp. It's very parent-oriented, too, because they have coffee," she said.
San Diego resident Alex PiÃ±a said he helps serve about 4,000 people a day at Kid's Village.
On Saturday, several Rainbow Family youth were rolling out dough for tortillas and making Mexican-style salsa.
"The kids all help around if they can. They like to serve the food and make it and put it all out," he said.
PiÃ±a has been attending the gatherings for years and was excited to bring his 2-year-old and 18-month-old children.
"Every year this gathering gets better. I like to have the Kid's Village because it keeps them in a safe spot where moms can feel comfortable leaving their kids for a few hours," he said.