After a delicious breakfast at my campsite of granola, almond milk and some farmer's market peaches that one of my Denver friends gifted me, I was off to Kansas, saying a fond farewell to Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
Kansas. Hm. First timer here to Kansas. I was eager to see what would unfold in one of the most famous states in America - according to turn-of-the-century children's literature anyway. And besides, I have a bit of a relationship with all things Oz.
The Hipcamp I'd booked was located in rural Kansas, just outside Hutchinson, in case you know your way around Kansas. The drive from Denver area to my campsite was excruciatingly long. Oh my goodness, the road just stretched and stretched ahead. The books and the music and all the stops at rest areas to make hot tea felt endless. Miles and miles of fields of corn, wheat and crops of all varieties. They know good and well there in Kansas that they grow a ton of food for North America. (Many billboards pointed out this fine fact.) I have deep respect for folks growing the food in Kansas.
I pulled into my Hipcamp around 5 o'clock or so and began settling in. I would be staying on an actual farm. One with cows, kitties, crops and a silo to boot!
While pitching my tent, I scraped the hell out of my left leg with rebar I use to stake my tent. Blood oozed out. I could feel what felt like future-bruising starting to develop. In the spirit of radical self-reliance, I'd packed a first aid kit for my trip and I'm glad I did. I was able to clean the wound out quite nicely but I also learned a few things about what to pack in the future in terms of gauze.... Like, bring more of it.
I'd pitched my tent facing the field with the back of the tent to the grain silo. It was during the course of this mandatory activity that I threw out my back in "the spot". (Don't we all have one?) Between my gashed left leg and my back pain, I was in an uncomfortable scenario to say the least. I managed to cook my food (instant ramen) and afterwards was barely able to do more than just sit in my camp chair. It was then that the farm owner walked over to say hello. He was an older man, so sweet, so kind, telling me rain might be in the forecast and I could move to the barn if I needed to. He asked where I was from and what I was up to. I shared honestly that I was wandering around solo for a couple of weeks and was grateful for his tidy and beautiful Hipcamp farm. Of course, I was a bit of a hot mess with a pained look on my face from my broke down back and that half ass bandaged left leg. I admit: I did wonder what he thought about this tatted up girl who'd shown up to his farm.
No bother. I somehow managed to get my tent in order, do my dishes and zip up the tent well before sundown. I did some light yoga moves to try to work out the pain my back. I prayed the rosary over the phone with my friend A who was back home in D-town. I slept all night long to the sounds of insects, the breeze rustling the grasses in the field and the roar of distant thunder clouds. It never did rain, praise the lord.
The next morning I awoke to the cows being milked in the barn near my tent. The machines clicking and churning with the cows themselves moo'ing in ecstasy. I ate my breakfast, my back still totally in pain and my leg starting to sting a little bit under the bandages. The cows looked curiously at me as they left the barn and their morning milking.
After cleaning up my breakfast, I headed over to the barn for a shower. Sure enough, there was a tidy little farm store to match the tidy little farm. Fresh eggs, milk, meat filled several refrigerated cases. And lo and behold, there was indeed a hot shower in the back of the farm store. I washed my bloody leg and scrubbed my filthy hair. It was my second shower of the trip so far. The first having been at the hot springs back in Colorado days earlier.
Onwards. The adventure continues.... May it be so.
The last morning at my Crestone Hipcamp was simple enough. I ate some breakfast, drank some coffee and began the process of packing up. The cookware and tubs had to be accounted for. The air mattress and the bedding. The clothes and toiletries. Finally the tent itself and the tarp underneath. Camping and "roughing it" are fairly effortless to me after so many Burning Mans. And while I no longer actively desire to attend a Burning Man, I remain so grateful for its lifelong lessons of taking the suffering that can sometimes go along with camping in stride.
I headed out fairly early because I'd booked a 9am massage at a local hot springs. I got there at 8:15 or so and after a much-needed shower (I hadn't had one in three days after all!), I put on my swimsuit and soaked in the Joyful Journey Hot Springs until my massage therapist called for me.
The 90-minute massage was 'meh, okay' at best but who was I to complain. In the moment, I was glad to finally have the putrid mix of sweat and mosquito repellent washed off and someone massaging my sore muscles after that ten mile hike a couple days before. After the massage I soaked a little more in the springs and then headed back to my car for the cooler and bag of food. I made a picnic lunch, which I ate solo in the courtyard of the hot springs compound. Soon enough, I was off to my next destination: Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
The drive North through Colorado was gorgeous. Totally beautiful, with easy-to-drive highways and drivers who seemed a lot nicer than where I come from. My destination was Golden Gate Canyon State Park. I'd found it simply by searching places near Denver to camp. I didn't want to spend much time in the city, preferring instead to maximize the camping and hiking time during my vacation.
I arrived to the park late afternoon and after stopping at the Visitor's Center to grab a map and get oriented, I headed on to my campsite: Aspen Meadows. It's a walk-in camping area, meaning you have to park and haul your stuff to your site. On the way is a lookout for viewing the Continental Divide:
When I arrived at Aspen Meadows, I observed that luckily my campsite was somewhat near the parking lot. But still, it took about five loads to haul everything by foot to the tent pad I'd reserved. I set up my tent amongst the tall trees of the forest. I had a few neighbors and while I could hear them, they weren't really near me. I made some hot tea and settled in to rest. I read some of my Tara book I'd purchased in Santa Fe. At some point I ate dinner. It would be yet another evening when I would go to bed super early.
The next morning I was up before all my neighbors. It had been so, so, so cold in the overnight that I could barely sleep. I'd tucked my head under the covers and kept myself warm with my breath. I was in every layer I had and still I was freezing cold. In the end, it was nothing coffee and hot oatmeal couldn't fix. Soon enough I was off on a hike. A gorgeous hike.
After several miles of trail and about four hours of hiking, I was back at my campsite just as some folks were setting off! I ate some ramen and made some tea and decided what to do next. I'd looked at the forecast and saw rain was coming so I carefully packed my tent and its contents to accommodate a rain shower or two while I was away. Better safe than sorry! It's the worst to come back to a soaked sleeping bag. After lunch and packing it was onwards to Denver for the afternoon. I had set up a coffee date with an old Burning Man friend at 3 o'clock.
And man oh man was it good to see Delay! (His Burner name.) We grabbed turmeric lattes and headed to a big, glorious park that's walking distance from his house. We sat on a bench and talked and talked and caught up about all the things. The two of us were thick as thieves at the Burns we shared. He's quite a bit younger than me and I could tell that he's really grown up in the few years since my last Burn (2015). He does fancy coding stuff for graphs for Bitcoin investors. Or something. He tried to explain it to me but my inner-85-year-old-woman just couldn't process what the hell he was trying to tell me. Whatever, he's happy doing it and if he's happy, I'm happy for him. Truly.
After that I had dinner with a former co-worker in his beautiful Denver home. (An internet shy former co-worker so I won't post pics here.) It was so lovely to catch up and soon enough I was heading back to my campsite at the state park.
Sure enough, it had rained while I was gone for the afternoon. Quite a bit by the looks of things. Fortunately, I'd packed my gear neatly and everything was dry as a bone. Phew! It wasn't as cold this time and sleep was a bit more restful.
So, why Crestone? Well, a friend of mine had told me this amazing tale of land being given for free back in the eighties to spiritual groups who wanted to settle in Crestone. Amazingly, a very large number of organizations had taken up this opportunity and set up spiritual communities there. In some cases making Crestone, Colorado their North American headquarters. The whole idea simply captivated me. In fact, just the idea of an intentional spiritual community turns me on even as I watch how incredibly skeptical I am of such things. And I mean, Crestone’s got the crazy - remember the Love Has Won people?
Anyway, I was more interested in the larger and more established organizations that had settled in Crestone, not the fringe weirdness.
To get oriented, the Manitou Foundation website has a good overview of what happened in Crestone. Basically, this wealthy couple had bought tons of land in and around Crestone for a retirement community but a series of profound encounters shifted their relationship with the land. Instead, the vision became to invite as many of the world’s spiritual lineages as possible to come and make a home there.
And they did! In droves. The resultant community is fairly extraordinary. And I was excited to check it out.
I’d emailed a few places to just see how they encounter walk ups. Are they even open? Are they in a retreat session? The various websites available are mostly up to date but with all things small-town and Covid I couldn’t take any chances. Although there were certainly enough outdoor things to see if I couldn’t get into any of the places.
I woke up nice and early on Monday and had my breakfast: granola, fruit and almond milk. French press coffee. After dishes, teeth brushing and mosquito dodging, I loaded myself into the car with lots of water and my meditation cushions.
First up, Vajra Vidya. I’d emailed them and the info I got back was that it was ok to swing by and meditate. I rolled up around 8am and parked. Beautiful campus! I grabbed my meditation cushions and headed into the big double doors. Shoes off. Into another set of double doors into their main shrine room and community space. It was totally empty and the space was arranged and ready for meditation and chanting. Not really sure about the protocol about these things, I set up my personal meditation seat in the back behind everything already going on in this room. I sat down and looked around. Hundreds of buddhas, Taras and beautiful objects filled the space. I closed my eyes to absorb the vibe.
I opened my eyes about an hour later and someone had slipped in and taken a seat on one of the pre-existing cushions. I slowly and quietly, like a cat, folded up my items and took a quick picture before exiting the shrine room.
I put on my shoes and walked out front. The morning was cool and clear. I noticed a lovely Kuan Yin under a tree nearby and walked over to have a closer look. Soon enough I was in my car searching for the next place to visit.
If there was a mama stupa, a papa stupa and a baby stupa in Crestone, I visited the baby stupa first. It wasn’t far, maybe a 15 minute drive from Vajra Vidya. I found it easy enough and it’s actually on someone’s property. Like in their front yard. It was a little strange to follow the trail up to their yard and walk around the stupa. But I did.
And what’s a stupa, you might be asking? Well, it’s like a buddha placeholder. That’s how I like to think of them. They’re filled with artifacts and objects of enlightened teachers and beings. (Side note: when I travelled in both Myanmar and India I visited several stupas that have actual Buddha toe nails and hairs and things!) Stupas become places where the teachings and vibration of Buddhism can really come to life. Especially if they’re cared for and visited often. This one certainly was.
Then I was off to visit the ziggurat. I had to look that up. What on earth is a ziggurat? And why is there one in Crestone?
A ziggurat is essentially a spiral staircase to heaven. Where, at the top, one (ideally a priest) can receive the divine instruction from God because God might actually live up there. Some say the Tower of Babel was a ziggurat. Anyway, Crestone has one, don’t you know!
The origins of this ziggurat come from a commission from an American Syrian man back in the late seventies. It’s neat and I’m glad I visited it. And besides, the view is amazing from the top. It’s a desolate experience to climb the spiral. Wonderfully desolate except for the millions of winged ants that lined the walls and the floors on the ascent to God. And did I find God up there? Uh, sure.
Next it was off to the papa stupa. The biggest stupa in the area. The one in all the pictures and websites one might peruse when looking up what to do in Crestone. The drive is long. Miles and miles down a dirt road along the side of the mountains. I crept into a parking spot and walked slowly down the path to the big stupa. Three people were already there, meditating in silence.
What a sight! Gorgeous views of the Crestone area. This large, inspiring stupa placed perfectly along the mountain side wall. Prayer flags billowing in the wind. I sat for a while in the shade just absorbing the profundity of the labor it must have taken to create this amazing place. The dedication to keep it pristine. The joy of being allowed to visit this very cool place.
Back in the car, I followed the long and winding gravel road back to the “main drag” of spiritual centers. The Maha Lakshmi center - Covid closed. The Crestone Zen Center - closed because they were in retreat session. The Chamma Ling center - Covid closed. The list goes on, there are so many places on this “main drag” through the foothills.
I passed a place called the Shumei Institute. They had a hand painted sign out front saying if you wanted to visit, to call the number. So I did. They couldn’t see me right then but I could come back in the afternoon and see what they were all about. Cool!
I headed into Crestone proper to see about finding some lunch. There aren’t many places to eat and I settled on a place called the Mystic Rose for a sandwich and chips. I poked around some gift shops. I visited the Crestone Artist Collective where I got to eavesdrop on the shopkeeper and another shopper talking about Crestone. How people come to this town for one reason: to study with their teachers. I suppose in general that’s true but that wasn’t exactly the case for me. I’m just intrigued by the concept of the place and wanted to check it out. I'm not out looking for a path, I'm on a Path and it's one driven by curiosity and wonder.
After spending a little time in the town of Crestone I headed back out to the main drag of retreat centers. I visited the mama stupa. Yet another gorgeous and meticulously maintained place of prayer and meditation. A little path led the way to a small shrine room to the protector of this particular stupa and its pilgrims: Dorje Yudronma.
Onwards to the Shumei Institute for the afternoon appointment I'd set up before lunch. I parked and went inside. Full Covid protocols in place, I was content to let them let me see and experience as much as they were comfortable. A very nice British person gave me an overview of all things Shumei and I watched a little video on the Shumei Institute and learned about the mothership in Japan. They’re all about nature, art and beauty. And while the lineage hails from Japan but there are spiritual aspirants all over the world.
I got to experience first hand Jyorei, a healing modality they perform and channel. My guide was so amazing and even took me up to their sanctuary and shrine space. The main shrine was closed but I got to experience the extremely tidy and clean place where Shumei aspirants pray and meditate together. One of the most amazing things was the floral display up on the altar. My British guide told me they change it with some frequency and each iteration is somehow more beautiful than the next.
We exited the meditation space and my guide asked me if I wanted to see one more really cool thing. “Of course!” I exclaimed.
There, right there, very near the meditation hall was the entrance to an actual gold mine! Freezing cold wind blew forth from inside the mountain. Apparently the trail into the mountain goes for a good long while before it opens into a massive cavern that’s larger than a football field! They don’t open the mine entrance but every ten years or so. I would totally go in there if I could… Maybe next time the stars will align. Crestone is definitely the kind of place I would visit again.
But dang the town of Crestone is remote. That’s the thing. You really have to want to visit Crestone. Either for the spiritual centers (and your teacher, according to the shopkeeper) or for the radically amazing hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Both of these attractions could easily bring me back for another adventure some day.
Back at my camp, I fixed dinner. Made some tea. I gawked at the new campers at my Dreamweavers Hipcamp. I could go on about them, but I’ll refrain. They were my personal entertainment for the evening. Like a TV comedy show I could just watch from the mosquito-free zone of my tent window.
I read for a little while, meditated and went to bed (again) before dark. That was one of the most blessed things about my travel time. No alarms and no schedule. I woke up when it felt right and went to bed when I was tired. That’s the nature of having time off from the normalcy of life and the rhythms that come with work and living in the Default World.
May it be so.
Periodic updates from Aurah in the Field.