Stephen King would love this place–they take their dead outside and burn them.

What’s with these people?

Over the past dozen or so years, over fifty people have ventured into this small hamlet, and never left—unless you count smoke billowing up from an outdoor funeral pyre as leaving. 

Long shadows extend the night as the Western Slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains looms over this quirky little village. The Ashtanga Yoga center sits on one side of town and the Book of Light publishing company occupies another. The area boasts artists, poets, writers, musicians, spiritualists and yurt dwellers—oh yeah, and the Crestone End of Life Project (CEOLP). Some call Crestone, Colorado the New Age Religious Capitol of the World.

The CEOLP started out as just a few townspeople getting together to light off the corpses of their friends and relatives. Completely harmless fun—and legal. They even have their own brewpub to accommodate the funeral party and wash down the acrid fumes of the dearly departed.

Ghoulish or Smart?

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With the cost of funerals steadily increasing, maybe these folks are on to something, and it isn’t as if they just throw Uncle Walt onto the Bar-B, douse him with charcoal lighter and wander off. It is a very detailed, and some might say, spiritual, experience.

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It all begins by registering with CEOLP as a community member—sorry, no outsiders may apply; you have to be a resident of Saguache County. Frustrated Buddhist Monks will have to immolate themselves at some other location.

The next step is, of course, expiring. The CEOLP facilitator is a stickler about this step and insists on a formal death certificate. Once you have managed to vacate your body, the team is notified and the cool stuff begins.

The facilitator takes care of the legal paperwork, and the entire team is assembled, and when I say team, I mean there are a lot of folks involved in this process. There is someone who coordinates with family members, a Fire Master, and his assistants who keep the pyre burning (no embarrassing flameouts and smoky messes). A group of volunteers prepares the altar and the cremation site.

With some family members and friends traveling great distances, a team is assigned to keep the body chilled and prepare it for cremation; this involves washing, wrapping in a cotton sheet (polyester does produce some colorful flame patterns though) and a shroud.

Someone has to lead the function and that task falls on the Master of Ceremonies. The event may be simple, or the family may arrange for musicians from the local area to provide just the right ambiance—didgeridoos are even available for any Down-Under members.

This is your time to shine

You can go out like a Viking or an Indian warrior, but one thing you can’t do is experience this anywhere else in the United States. Crestone is that unique. So if you happen to be in the vicinity and see a plume of smoke, make your way to the Brewpub, it might be an open bar!

Note: Having made the above assertion, I discovered that the Show-me state of Missouri recently passed a law allowing for outdoor cremations—who knows, maybe this idea will catch fire everywhere.

David Brockett is a Vietnam veteran, former USMC pilot. Following his time in the military, he worked in healthcare as a counselor and hospital administrator. He also writes articles on politics, religion, gun-rights, and current events. In his free time, he and his wife volunteer at the local food bank, and with veterans organizations. They divide their time between their home state of Texas, and Idaho.

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