Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Crestone: Where Travel and Spirituality Meet

CRESTONE, Colorado.

This is a place where travel and spirituality merge. At 8000 feet, it takes your breath away. I bicycle up and down the high-desert, sandy foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range from my digs to this small rocky mountain town close by the New Mexico border.

I tie up my bike in town, population 120. First stop, Curt’s Olde Country Store where I pick up sea salt potato chips made in Boulder. Then on to the post office (zip 81131) where four-wheel drive vehicles zoom into the parking lot as people pick up their daily mail. I drink water and munch chips. And I people-watch.

And then there is the Twenty-First Amendment -- a liquor store -- open when I was last there, now closed. The storefront has a sign which says -- in big letters, quoting Hunter S. Thompson -- “A word to the wise is infuriating.” Old dogs lie on the street in front of this old establishment. They half-way raise their heads in disgust as you approach. Accusingly, their looks say, “Why would you disturb my savoir faire, amigo?”

There is also the Shambala Cafe located next to a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome in which grows who knows what. We won’t get into that here.

Okay. That’s travel. How about spirituality?

Well, there is a Hindu temple in the environs. Several Tibetan centers. An ashram. A couple of Buddhist stupas. The Shumei International Institute, an impressive facility located high on the mountainside.

(You can hear the drumming from the Shumei Center as it rumbles off the ridge of the Rocky Mountain range like a thunderstorm in late afternoon.)

It is said there is a crystalline formation nearby Crestone. Some say it provides the area with a special spiritual energy.

My favorite spiritual place (or should I say a favorite place, period?) here in Saguache County is a Carmelite Roman Catholic monastery, the Spiritual Life Institute. Unlike most, it is a co-ed monastic community whose welcoming sign broadcasts, "No fuss, no muss."

You go into Sunday mass barefoot, and the monks in their robes make their procession across the cool stone floor. The eastern light comes over the mountains and through the clerestory window. When you look through those windows from 8000 feet, the heavens appear dark blue. But then you also sense that you are peering into the blackness of outer space and the universe.

And then there is the altar. A rough-hewn block of Rocky Mountain stone, balanced on supports, that evokes solemnity, dignity, “gravitas.”

Following one mass, there is another celebration for one of the brothers just returned from Ireland. One monk holds up two bottles of champagne, declaring, "This will never run out!"

I cycle across the high desert, heading west from Crestone toward Moffat. Ten miles one way. The few motorists along the road I travel wave. Friendly. I stop for hydration. Halfway, hawks dive-bomb, coming close to my helmet. Protecting their hatchlings, I later learn. Out on the prairie desert, antelope roam.

For more information on Crestone, contact the Crestone Eagle, the community’s weekly newspaper at For information on the Carmelite Monesary -- For information on the Shamei Center --

© Russ Barnes, 2009, Bethesda Maryland. All rights reserved. Permissions:

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