Tibetan Stupas in the Rockies... a mirage?
The first time I heard about it, it was from a Californian friend of mine, I was intrigued, and it settled somewhere in my memory until further retrieval.
It happened three years later. While on my way from San Diego to Boulder (Colorado), I decided to take a little detour and visit Crestone, a town sitting at the bottom of the "Sangre de Cristo Mountains" on the South-West side of the Rockies. Traveling eastbound through the San Luis Valley, around sunset the Sangre de Cristo Mountains may appear reddish, that's the reason of its name (Christ's blood).
The landscape is typical of the American West, with those white-bluish clouds resting on the faraway horizon and long and straight roads as far as the eye can see.
Leaving the highway I entered the only road leading to Crestone, a twelve miles straight stretch with the snow capped mountains on the background and growing by the minute while driving on..."Crestone is a unique and powerful spot"...I recalled my friend telling me...and now I was almost there.
Crestone is a tiny town, perhaps six or eight blocks, about 300 souls, old style wooden houses, a welcoming small hotel, an organic-food shop, a petrol pump and little else...but very interesting! I liked it at once and decided to stay.
In a not faraway past, Crestone was a mining town that once the mines closed up, and in more recent times, became a magnet and eventually a community of the Hippy movement. At times, looks like the clock got stuck in Crestone, beside houses reminding the previous century, there are characters that seem frozen in the 60s or 70s. I went for a stroll around town.
The month was October and the colors of fall in South-Colorado are fabulous. Crestone rests in a grove of tall aspens; in the light of the setting sun they were golden and tremulous clusters in the foreground of a cobalt blue sky; the red and yellow hue of the leaves in the clean and crispy air had an almost supernatural look. A bunch of Mule Deer were placidly grazing by the side of the roads and in the gardens of the few houses; entering town, even if driving slowly, I had to slow down with my car to avoid running over one of these cute animals that was happily hopping right in the middle of the main road. I met some kid with ruffled hair, colorful dress and a semi-wild look of unrestricted freedom: the sons of the sons of the "Flower Children", beautiful! The air of Crestone was crystal clear in the literal sense of the word, but there was also a perceivable atmosphere of peace and tranquility. I had the impression of being in a space and time warp, muffled and slow, detached from the laws of the surrounding world. I went to sleep in a placid state of mind.
Near Crestone and by the foothill of this side of the Rocky Mountains there is the Baca Grande, a sort of residential development initiated many years ago and nowadays quite unusual and unique. Obviously there's an infrastructure of roads (many are dirt roads), water and electricity...yes, electricity!, and houses...but Crestone/Baca Grande has been the "realm" of alternative development for a long time and many of the houses are blended in the environment, architecturally devised to exploit sun-light, built with eco-friendly materials, utilizing sustainable energy sources and even if infused with a typical American pragmatism, the creativity in this field doesn't have limits...and there are other things. I woke up early and in the prime of the new day I went to explore the area.
The road to Baca Grande runs at the foot of the mountains; the view is enchanting, on one side the vast San Luis Valley bordered on the West by "La Garita Mountains" and on the other side by the mighty wall of the Rockies. A few miles down the road, on the left side and above, appears the golden pinnacle of a white Tibetan Stupa (Tanjchub Chorten Stupa of enlightenment); a side road takes me there. The last time I saw Stupas was in Nepal, eons ago, the wonderful one in the Swayambunath Hill above Kathmandu and the big one of Bodanath; here in Colorado, the Stupas are not swarmed by praying Tibetans and curious tourists as in Nepal, but the context given by the deep blue sky and the almighty mountains is quite similar. That morning I was the only visitor, I had a all Stupa just for me. I sat and meditate.
Just a few miles away there is another Stupa, also built under the supervision of one of the Tibetans Rimpoche of whom I forgot the name. And following along the road another surprise: a Hindu temple. I stopped to visit. Once again I had the impression of being in a weird twist of the space curve. Here, in the midst of the American Far-West I was facing buildings of South-Indian architecture and colors, typical statues of the Hinduist mythology, Sanskrit writings...the only missed details were the tangy smells of the spices and "Holy" cows, the background noise and the presence of the millions and millions of people populating the Indian sub-Continent...I came back to reality. The road keeps going, a side road leads to a Zen Monastery, another to a Yoga Center, another to a Meditation Retreat Center, to more Indian Temples...I understand better and better the words of my friend and I perceive the subtle and powerful vibe permeating this place.
Past the last sparse houses, Stupas and temples, the road narrows and winds through a forest populated by darting deer and painted by the psychedelic colors of the autumnal leaves. The road ends by the borders of the "Great Sand Dunes National Park", another bubble escaped through a rip on the weaving of time and space. The Park is the result of a bizarre natural phenomenon, it's the product of thousands of year of winds sweeping the San Luis Valley and amassing the sand in this corner at the foothill of the Rockies. The landscape is surreal, immense dunes of pure sand; the silence is unnatural, beside the sound of the wind, the only signs altering the landscape are the footprints marking my path. I wondered for hours in this softly muffled and magic world.
Another wonderful place worth to mention and to visit is the "Valley View Hot Springs", situated at 9,000 feet and not many miles away from Crestone. The thermal waters are part of the OLT (Orient Land Trust), a Trust that protects and preserves about 2,000 acres of land on the foothills of the mountains. The entire ambiance in the compound feels clean, relaxed and peaceful. There are rustic cabins available, communal kitchen, pavilion, showers and baths. Clothing is optional, cellular phones can be used only on restricted areas, waste is recycled and the all structures are off the grid and powered by the use of the thermal waters. There are amazing natural ponds at different temperatures ranging from 92 to 99ºF and set in the midst of nature. I soaked for hours on the warm sulfury waters roofed by the most astounding blue sky and sheltered by bushes turning red, orange and yellow in that breathtaking time of the year.
Leaving Crestone is the same straight road that takes you there. On the way out, the "The Sangre de Cristo Mountains" are on the back, while in front appears the vast expanse of the valley dotted by yellowish bushes and the big blue sky decorated by whitish cirri, the surrounding mountains forming the receptacle of the huge picture painted by divine hands. As the distance increases the energetic change is perceived; it's hard to pinpoint exactly the thin line defining the two worlds, but the change in the frequency of the vibe can be easily sensed. In visual terms, it is like imagining to exit from a soap bubble. The bubble is round, by pushing on the inner wall becomes elongated, pointed and eventually...blob! It breaks and disappears. We are out of the bubble. At the end of the road I turned into the Highway.
Although the physical landscape hadn't changed much, there were just more cars and farms, the forms of the Stupas and Temples, the Crestone kids faces and the deer in the gardens of houses were clearly imprinted in my memory, even though in the reality of the moment didn't have any more consistency, like a mirage lasted a day and a half and now dissolved in the tremulous horizon of the Far-West.
If you find yourself passing by, just stop and visit Crestone, it's there.