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10,000 people expected to descend on Utah forest for counterculture Rainbow Family gathering

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SALT LAKE CITY - Thousands of young people and some more weathered hikers are trekking up a path that cuts through aspen and pine to a summit of a Utah mountain about 60 miles east of Salt Lake City.

The group includes train hoppers, students, lawyers, architects and others, members say. But each belongs to the Rainbow Family, which has convened every year since 1972, sometimes in two states at once, to join in prayers for peace, sing-a-longs in the travelling Granola Funk theatre and unkempt free-spiritedness that has irked some residents in neighbouring Heber City.

"People call us misfits, drug addicts, homeless, useless. That's not true," said Red Carlin, a retired carpenter and unofficial ambassador for the group. "Because of our existence, we're outsiders. We're the people your mom and dad pointed out beforehand and said, 'Don't be like that.'"

The gathering is expected to double in size this week as more members pour in to the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest for a four-day celebration that ends Friday. On Tuesday, some came in pairs, groups or by themselves in a variety of looks: dreadlocks, sundresses, with pets and dirt-caked faces.

Members began arriving about two weeks ago in Heber City, where residents say they're wary of disorderly conduct and question how much the gathering will cost their town.

About 10,000 people are expected to arrive by Friday, the height of the celebration.

Last year, the same number of members set up camp in Montana. The group there racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in law enforcement costs, officials said. The festival prompted U.S. Forest Service officials there to draw up a list of lessons learned for other states.

In Heber City, authorities have doubled their force with help from state agencies.

The Rainbow Family has no official creed or website, and it doesn't publicly identify any leaders or list of members. It revolves around peace and nonviolence, various unofficial websites say.

A roving courtroom returned to the site Tuesday to handle misdemeanour citations for drug possession and having a dog off-leash on national forest land. Another judge is expected to go through about 50 more such cases this week.

Police cars, roving officers and a drug dog dotted the two-mile path from a parking lot up to various camp sites.

Authorities say a New Hampshire woman and a man from Texas at the celebration apparently died in their sleep. Police also say a New Mexico woman at the campsite last week stabbed a participant, seriously injuring him.

But most people at the campsite have been peaceful and have complied with rules restricting where they may set up camp and draw water, officials from the U.S. Forest Service and the Wasatch County Sheriff's Office told The Associated Press last week.

The last time the Rainbow Family set up in Utah was 2003, when members camped in Summit County. The group has convened every year since 1972.

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