Rodney Volkmar

For an epic end-of-life choice

Kate Wertheimer  – October 14, 2019 | Updated October 22, 2019

If you’re unsatisfied with the run-of-the-mill funeral and burial options in your hometown, may we suggest a move to Crestone, Colorado? The town, which sits in the sweeping San Luis Valley at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, is home to the only legal, non-denominational open-air cremation service in the country, operated by the non-denominational Crestone End Of Life Project, a volunteer group dedicated to offering this ancient and inspirational end-of-life choice, “returning the body to its original fire and air elements.”

The CEOLP volunteers will work with the families or friends of the deceased to plan all types of ceremonies, from small, quiet services to elaborate affairs with music, ritual, prayer and chanting from multiple spiritual traditions. The pyre itself, a concrete and brick-lined hearth, sits in a large circle marked by a bamboo fence creating a contained, sacred space for the cremations and community celebrations honoring the deceased. The body of the deceased is wrapped in natural fabric, then surrounded by juniper branches and logs. Family members or designated friends place torches on the pyre themselves to start the fire. Once the ceremony is complete, the family is presented with the ashes (of both the body and the wood, as there’s no way to separate the two). CEOLP asks for a sliding scale donation of $500 to $800 for each cremation (which helps cover the costs of providing the service, including fire department presence, stretchers, and firewood), but will provide the service regardless. 

The open-air cremation service is only open to residents of the county in which Crestone sits, with some stipulations—one being that they must be registered with CEOLP at their time of death. Though this service is currently the only one of its kind, it’s a heartening sign that end-of-life options are beginning to expand to include ceremonies and processes that are more respectful, personal and environmentally friendly.

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If you’re ready to get informed about the choices surrounding your inevitable mortality, check out the CEOLP’s non-denominational, not-for-profit parent organization, Informed Final Choices.