On a glorious July morning in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a crowd made its way through crystalline air along a dirt road festooned with prayer flags towards the Tashi Gomang Stupa. Carmelite monks walked alongside devotees of a local ashram, Buddhist practitioners of various lineages among local farmers and ranchers, New Agers and the merely curious. For weeks Tibetan lamas had been gathering to prepare for this day, the birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, when the forty-one-foot-high stupa would be consecrated. Above the stupa and to the east rose the fourteen thousand-foot-high snow peaks of the Sangres, to the west the view stretched forty miles across the San Luis Valley to the San Juan mountain range. To the south, towering over the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, rose Mount Blanca, known as Sis-na-jin to the Navajo and to the Hopi, the Sacred Mountain of the East. Visiting Tibetans remarked on how much the scenery reminded them of their own homeland.

On July 6, 1996, Bokar Rinpoche and hundreds of supporters celebrated the consecration of Tashi Gomang Stupa. Photo by J. D. Marston.
On July 6, 1996, Bokar Rinpoche and hundreds of supporters celebrated the consecration of Tashi Gomang Stupa. Photo by J. D. Marston.

The Tashi Gomang Stupa was built for His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1980, a year before his passing, the Karmapa visited the Baca Grande Estate where the stupa now stands, marking the beginning of a small but flourishing Buddhist presence in this stunning remote location in southern Colorado. In addition to the Karmapa’s lineage, current dharma centers include the Crestone Mountain Zen Center, under the direction of Richard Baker Roshi, and three centers of the Tibetan Nyingma lineage directed by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Gangteng Rinpoche, and Kusum Lingpa Rinpoche. Many individual practitioners have made the Baca their home for long-term retreats. As one visiting Tibetan rinpoche remarked, upon inquiring about the availability of suitable caves, “this is an excellent place to achieve enlightenment.”

The two-hundred-square-mile Baca Grande Estate had its origins as a land grant made to the Baca family by King Ferdinand of Spain in the nineteenth century. After that, the estate passed through various hands until it was acquired by the Arizona Land and Cattle Corporation, which developed as a retirement community in the 1970s. This venture proved unsuccessful, and in 1978 the financially troubled corporation was acquired by Maurice and Hanne Strong and several partners. Maurice Strong, the Canadian Undersecretary General of the United Nations who organized the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992, had long promoted environmental causes. Hanne, his Danish wife, felt a deep connection with both Buddhist and Native American traditions. Together, they had taken lay precepts with the Karmapa at Rumtek monastery in Sikkim.

“For thousands of years the indigenous peoples of this continent have considered this place to be one of the great spiritual centers of the world and a place of great healing,” says Hanne Strong, who felt an immediate affinity with the Baca Grande. “They have come here for some of their most sacred ceremonies, and their holy people, shamans, came here to seek their powers and develop enlightened states of mind.” According to White Rainbow, a Cree medicine man from Alberta, “In this sacred land there are keepers, grandfathers and grandmothers, who have been here for thousands of years. Our people would come here to rest, to get clear vision and guidance. This land is sacred; there is a great purpose for this place.”

"An excellent place to achieve enlightenment": The Sangre de Cristo mountains loom against a crystalline sky. Photo by J. D. Marston.
“An excellent place to achieve enlightenment”: The Sangre de Cristo mountains loom against a crystalline sky. Photo by J. D. Marston.

The Strongs foresaw a different kind of development in the Baca. Land was set aside for a number of spiritual, Native American, and environmental groups. Aside from that of the Karmapa, these included a Carmelite hermitage, the Haidakhan Universal Ashram, the Sri Aurobindo Learning Center, Lindisfarne, and the Baca Center for High Altitude and Sustainable Agriculture. In turn, this new development attracted a variety of artists, craftspeople, naturalists, healers, and New Age seekers of all kinds to the Baca Grande and the adjoining village of Crestone.

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