Ariz. forest is spirited campsite during Rainbow Family reunion Group tunes in to love, tunes out world for 3 weeks


EAGAR, Ariz. -- Down a dusty, rocky trail and through a knot of pine trees, past a naked guy chewing leaves, a fully clothed Christian choir and a retired Jewish pie thrower, is the meadow where the Rainbow Family is holding its 27th annual gathering to party and pray for peace.

As many as 14,000 members of this family of old hippies and young converts, of blacks and whites, of American Indians and recent immigrants, of babies and grandparents have come from across the country to the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, just west of this two-stoplight town near the New Mexico border, for an annual gathering that lasts for about three weeks.

They gather to tune in love and to tune out what some Rainbow members call Babylon, the outside world of stock markets, guns, wars and drug tests.

"We don't want our children to see guns," said Barry Adams, one of the founders of the family. "We want our children to see tools and paint brushes and peace."

A 24-year-old woman whom everyone calls Maddog said: "Coming here is like medicine for my spirit. This is like my family reunion."

In the past, the site of the gathering, which is held in a different national park or forest each year, was spread by word of month. Now, word is largely spread through the Web.

"We aren't stuck in the '60s," Adams said with a wink.

By the Fourth of July, the peak of the Rainbow reunion, as many many as 20,000 men, women and children may be camping in tents, in tepees or under the stars.

The U.S. Forest Service has dispatched a National Incident Team and a contingent of at least 40 officers and other staff members to keep an eye on the Rainbows, who have been known to fill their peace pipes with marijuana.

The Apache County sheriff, the Arizona Public Safety Department and four towns, including Eagar, have sent in officers to patrol the edges of the sprawling encampment.

"All the extra law enforcement in town is causing more tension than the Rainbows," said Francies Leyba, 40, a night manager at the Best Western motel in Eagar.

"I don't know what all the fuss is about," she added. "It's just a bunch of hippies playing music and drinking beer."

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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