PRINEVILLE — Pop-up food stands and eclipse-related sale signs adorned the main drag of Third Street in Prineville on Thursday alongside a growing crowd of people who were distinctly not locals.
Women in flowy, wild-patterned pants and ponytailed men packed Subarus, often with the furnishings of a studio apartment strapped to the roofs.
“Yesterday, the entire parking lot was full, and people were doing dances,” said Carin Hale, a cashier at the Erickson’s Thriftway. “Like rain-dance-type stuff, but you could tell they were doing it to the sun.”
The influx of free- spirited people traveled through Prineville, a town of about 10,000 people, on their way to the Symbiosis eclipse festival held at Big Summit Prairie, a privately owned enclave in the middle of the Ochoco National Forest.
The gathering has brought people from all over the globe. Ofir Karlstadt, 31, was visiting from Tel Aviv, Israel. He came to the United States to go to Burning Man, an annual weeklong festival in the Nevada desert, with 12 friends starting Aug. 27. He decided to go to Symbiosis on a whim.
“It’s been amazing,” he said.
“We did two camping nights and two motel nights; it’s been great. This place is awesome. This whole area is so nice.”
Greg Stump, a ski filmmaker and Prineville resident, was manning a pop-up DJ booth and photo booth outside of Good Bike Co., complete with dozens of elaborate costumes made by his girlfriend, Kacee Sustiata, 38.
Stump, 57, said on Wednesday, he estimated he saw 20,000 cars drive through.
But despite concerns leading up to the event, the temporary population increase has not caused any issues. Vicky Ryan, spokesperson for Crook County, said the visitors have not been breaking the law or causing problems. A change in the traffic lights to allow better west-to-east flow alleviated congestion that started Wednesday morning, when the hordes started coming through.
Everyone seemed happy and amused Thursday, as locals and tourists alike got a kick out of each other.
“They aren’t country,” Jaclyn Seaweard, 19, said of the festivalgoers. “Everybody here is like country and stays to themselves, and these people are more open with themselves.”
Many locals commented on how there had been more dreadlocks in the city of Prineville in the past 48 hours than ever before.
“Just looking through the windows of the shop, every car has someone with dreadlocks,” Seaweard said.
Seaweard and her mother, Jill Seaweard, 37, were working at Sunrise Pool & Spa. While many retail businesses reported seeing a spike in sales, the tourists weren’t picking up a hot tub on their way to the eclipse festival.
In an attempt to get in on the action, they hung eclipse T-shirts for sale in the windows, although no one had bought one.
Like most of the locals, Jill Seaweard laughed about the transformation brought about by the eclipse. Her daughter was amused but appreciated the distance between her and the hippies that the windows afforded.
Others were less apprehensive. Tara Fetterly, 39, walked along Third Street with her head on a swivel, gawking at the retrofitted school buses heading east.
“I love this stuff,” she said. “Prineville needs this; it really does.”
Fetterly owns a vintage clothing store — Clothes Encounters — and said she had her fair share of tourists coming in searching for costume material.
“I think a lot of them come in because of the aliens on the windows,” she said, laughing.
The hot items tended to be glittered or sequined.
Like other businesses, Clothes Encounters reported many of its customers over the past 24 hours hailed from Australia.
Four such Aussies were in town from Queensland, Australia. Brothers Mitch and Stew Scheffield, along with Mitch Fry and Brad Teirecky were stocking up on sustenance at the Thriftway grocery store. They flew into Los Angeles about a week ago and have been driving north ever since.
They got into Prineville on Wednesday night, and said Prineville was a nice stop on their way to Big Summit Prairie.
They had gone to a festival in Australia organized by the same group that is hosting Symbiosis but weren’t able to see the full eclipse, so they decided to come up to Oregon to view the celestial event.
Several other Australians, as well as people from other countries such as Taiwan and Peru, had also been at the store. Hale, the cashier, had been keeping a list. It included people from 27 countries and 12 states. Hale estimated about 85 percent of the customers were from out of the state and said it was the busiest stretch she could remember.
She said the most common were Australians, and she had no problem with that.
“They all seem to be super excited,” she said. “They say like ‘Cheers’ and they are just real pleasant. I have enjoyed talking to them the most.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, email@example.com