An inspirational pilgrimage to Crestone, Colorado, lives up to its reputation as “the most spiritual place in North America.”
by Jo Mooy
Thirteen years after first seeing the signs, “Crestone, Home of the UFOs” and “Crestone, A Spiritual Destination” we planned a summer vacation to Colorado. With a prayer for a “Most Benevolent Outcome,” three of us packed up the SUV, and headed southwest from Denver on a 235-mile journey through the mountains, in rain and sleet, to Crestone.
After a four-hour slog, we pulled into the driveway of an Airbnb that we rented sight unseen, where we were greeted by Tibetan prayer flags flying from pinyon pines on the property. Smiles turned to wonder when we saw a solar geodesic dome off the deck. Inside the dome our host had planted a Japanese vegetable garden with a bamboo watering system that was presided over by a Jade Ho-Tai Buddha. “What is this place?” we asked.
Crystals and symbols were embedded in the sidewalk that ended with a meditating Buddha statue at the front door of the home. Inside, a three-foot tall bronze Kwan Yin in the living room stood in welcome. She was joined by a bronze statue of Padmasambhava, founder of Tibetan Buddhism, who anchored the open kitchen and dining area. Every room was graced with a sacred painting from Native American to Buddhist disciplines holding space. Our “spiritual trek” to a “spiritual retreat home” in “spiritual Crestone” was a clear signal this journey had been mysteriously anointed.
Crestone, (population 140, yes 140!) nestles against the Sangre de Cristo mountains in southwestern Colorado. For thousands of years, it was a most sacred place to the native tribes who went there for healing and peaceful resolutions to disagreements. They called this area the Bloodless Valley. That feeling of sanctity, peace and healing is palpable and you sense you’ve entered a holy area which easily encases the visitor. Others who came over the years clearly felt the same enchantment because Crestone is home to 17 spiritual centers, representing Buddhist, Bon, Shinto, Sufi, Zen, Christian, Hindu, Persian and New Age disciplines.
Adding to the spiritual magic, Crestone is also a Dark Skies Community that’s recognized internationally as a Dark Sky Sanctuary. This means homes are legally restricted from using outdoor lights. At night, the skies become velvety black, and at 8,000 feet the stars seem touchable by simply reaching up. It was a wondrous thrill to stand in awe, in the stillness of the night skies, with friends on the same path. Complete silence enveloped us as we stared at the star systems and reverently let our experiences flow and blend as a holy essence descended upon us.
We chose three spiritual centers to visit using a dowsing pendulum to confirm the choices. Getting to any of them wasn’t easy. Paved roads surrender their asphalt to narrow dirt roads which become rutted trails holding on to the side of the mountains. Once you arrive, you still need to climb the rest of the way up the mountain to the site. The altitude probably contributes to the sense of isolation, but up so high the sense of sanctity and serenity was captivating. Whatever deity one believed in was present, and if you didn’t believe in one, the grandeur of the snow-capped mountains touching the skies insisted you believe in something.
We began at the yellow Ziggurat built by the father of Queen Noor of Jordan, who was so enchanted by the area that he bought the land and mountain and put up the Ziggurat as a shrine for prayer and meditation. Hugging the tower’s wall, we climbed the spiral walkway to the top on a non-OSHA approved two-foot-high barrier that was supposed to keep us from falling over the side.
If you enter a dwelling where the scent of incense lingers in the atmosphere your past experiences will trigger sacred memories. So too did the Crestone Mountain Zen Center which was founded by the successor to Suzuki Roshi (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind) and at his direction.
Brian, a Zen Buddhist monk and 30-year practitioner, guided us into the sanctuary of the monk’s meditation hall. Though we were only four individuals including Brian, it felt as though a long lineage of monks and nuns were still seated on the empty benches watching us. Dozens of exquisite relics and statues, some 900 years old, were placed around the altar. A treasured Great Tibetan Bowl* sat at the side of the altar. Brian solemnly and reverently struck it three times as the reverberating sound filled the cavern of the hall, echoing off the walls and filling our bodies and senses with his prayer.
On our last day we went to The Stupa not knowing there were two Stupas in Crestone. (Of course!) We headed to the one near town. But, the Universe had other ideas, directing the GPS to take us back up the mountain to the Tashi Gomang Stupa.
This drive was extremely difficult, as switchbacks and washed out roads had us staring into oblivion. Halfway up Tibetan prayer flags were strung across a wild river indicating we were on the right path. After one more switchback, a 43-foot Stupa filled the windshield of the car where it was perched on the canyon side of the mountain. The Tashi Stupa was built by the 16th Karmapa, who escaped Tibet during the Chinese invasion. He chose this mountain range because it reminded him of Tibet.
Thousands have made pilgrimages to this Stupa, including Rinpoches and Llamas from all over the world. We offered prayers at this site, then walked the base of the Stupa 16 times chanting the well-known Tibetan prayed, Om Mani Padme Hum. On the road down the mountain, we again marveled that the GPS refused to take us to the small Stupa in the valley, but detoured us to this one.
Yes, Crestone is a spiritual destination and a sacred haven. It’s called the “the most spiritual place in North America.” And, it more than lived up to it’s reputation. I hope you found this pilgrimage account as inspirational as we did experiencing it. Yes, we’ll go back! And maybe you will be inspired to make the journey too.
We still have 12 more centers to visit. As for the Home of the UFOs—yes we saw them but that’s a story for another time.
Jo Mooy has studied with many spiritual traditions over the past 40 years. The wide diversity of this training allows her to develop spiritual seminars and retreats that explore inspirational concepts, give purpose and guidance to students, and present esoteric teachings in an understandable manner. Along with Patricia Cockerill, she has guided the Women’s Meditation Circle since January 2006 where it has been honored for five years
in a row as the “Favorite Meditation” group in Sarasota, FL, by Natural Awakenings Magazine. Teaching and using Sound as a retreat healing practice, Jo was certified as a Sound Healer through Jonathan Goldman’s Sound Healing Association. She writes and publishes a monthly internationally distributed e-newsletter called Spiritual Connections and is a staff writer for Spirit of Maat magazine in Sedona. For more information go to
http://www.starsoundings.com or email email@example.com.