Clark Four square miles of Routt National Forest was quiet Tuesday, despite the estimated 15,000 members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light who had gathered and set up camp.
As most of the nation was celebrating Independence Day with fireworks, traditional par--ades and barbecues, Rainbow Family members were meditating silently, relaxing and praying for world peace in anticipation of the event's climax, in which thousands of people ohmed and prayed simultaneously.
The silence did not last long. By mid-afternoon, jam bands and drum circles filled the meadow with beats, and Rainbow family members danced and celebrated.
"It's a celebration for anything you want it to be," said Vanessa Monts, who traveled to the gathering from Oregon.
This year's Rainbow gathering is being held in Big Red Park, about 35 miles north of Steamboat Springs. Hippies and counterculture enthusiasts from around the world have been gathering at the park during the past few weeks for the weeklong event, which started Saturday. Many will begin to leave today.
Signs were posted throughout gathering area to remind people to be silent during the morning.
"With so many people, it's really unbelievable that that many people can be quiet," Monts said.
People started congregating in the large meadow in the morning to begin meditating.
By noon, a group of nudists had formed a section of the outer prayer circle. Others watched from a distance.
"I'm fascinated by this subculture," said Greg Marlowe, a piano teacher from Los Angeles. "I'm more of a fly on the wall."
The prayer circle grew to border the entire meadow, and smaller circles were formed closer to the center.
"The circle was so big that you can't even see the other side of it," Monts said.
Hundreds of children and their parents started marching down from the top of the hill for the children's parade.
The Rainbow Family children's parade began, and the silence ended when it breached the inner circle. Thousands of people began ohming, and the celebration began. It was expected to continue throughout the night.
"It's our independence day to be free from whatever you want to be independent from," Monts said.
Some also consider the celebration a birthday party for the Rainbow Family.
Gatherers ate watermelon and danced. A small standoff occurred between gatherers and several people from A-camp, where drugs and alcohol are prevalent. Several A-campers were trying to bring kegs of beer to the celebration.
"This is not about alcohol," one man shouted.
Jessica Bucks sat in the meadow holding her 1-year-old daughter with her husband. The family traveled from Minnesota to attend the gathering.
"It has pretty much everything our modern society lacks, like peace, love and people caring for each other," Bucks said.
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