Cremation and traditional burial remain the two most common ways of disposition that Americans choose for the deceased. But the mountain town of Crestone, Colorado, brings something new to the table: open-air cremations.
The Crestone End of Life Project (CEOLP) is the only place in the United States that offers a non-sectarian, community-driven ceremony where your body can be cremated outdoors in a fiery pyre. Conducting an open-air disposition begins with wrapping the body in a natural fabric shroud, which is placed on a wooden stretcher on a steel grate atop an outdoor hearth. Each member of the procession places a juniper branch on the body.
The fire reaches temperatures of over 1,500 degrees, consuming the body. What remains is about three gallons of ashes. The process of dissolution takes three hours, but more than 18 hours for the ashes to be cool enough to collect.
Such a unique form of disposition, which is steeped in Hindu, Sikh, and Christian tradition, is the perfect fit for Crestone, a free-spirited mountain town that bills itself as a “Spiritual Mecca” filled with Zen, Hindu, and Tibetan Buddhist temples despite its relatively small population.
Unfortunately for out-of-towners who want to have an open-air cremation, CEOLP’s services are only available to local residents of Saguache County. Despite having a market of just 6,000 county residents, CEOLP still performs multiple open-air cremations every year for those who want a disposition ceremony performed by family, friends and community.
Open-air cremations are rare ceremonies that bring an ancient tradition of disposition to western culture.