Insight - Crestone

Original Air Date    09.21.2018

In This Episode

Crestonians speak about the place they call home.

“From about 1910 until the 1960s Crestone was a very quiet place. We have no traffic light and no McDonalds here.” - Mary Lower, Crestone Eagle


Meredith: 00:00 Up and Vanished presents a bonus episode series. This is Insight.

Jim McCalpin: 00:05 We're lucky if we get one out of 1,000 visitors and it's the kind of visitor that's a little out there anyway. I mean, we're kind of at the end of the line. You gotta want to come here.

Jim McCalpin: 01:00 When people come to Colorado, they always go to the same places. They go to Leadville, they go to Aspen, they go to Telluride, they go to, you know. But they don't go in between those places. There aren't any towns that are left like this. They have turned into that thing. This kind of clone, stamp, redeveloped mining town/ski area, base area resort thing.

Jim McCalpin: 01:23 I made a comparison between this place in Jackson Hole and there's many, many similarities, except everyone knows about Jackson Hole and nobody knows about Crestone.

Mary: 01:34 From about 1910 and until probably the 1960s, Crestone was very quiet, little place. We have no traffic light and no McDonald's here.

Mary: 01:47 Crestone remained after the mines busted because we had the ranch, and the ranch employed a lot of people. The gold deposits down here are in what they call lugs, which are huge deposits. You could mine out a lug for 10 years. But when it's gone, it's gone.

Jim McCalpin: 02:06 This town almost became a ghost town a second time. I was just plotting this trend saying in 20 years, there's not going to be anybody left this town. But after 2012, when was marijuana legalized? After 2013, young people started moving to this town.

Mary: 02:24 So now we're in the Green Revolution.

Jim McCalpin: 02:34 People have disappeared here before. I'll tell you this, this is something unique to Crestone. If you walk around in the woods up here, this pinion Juniper forest. You walk around enough, you will find abandoned camp sites. The tent will be there. The sleeping bag will be in the tent. It'll look like it's been there for several years because the animals have been into it. The sun has faded it. It's been torn in by the wind. The cooking stuff is there. It looks like a person was camped out in the woods by themselves informally, not a campground, and just walked away from it and never came back.

Jim McCalpin: 03:14 I've never seen that anywhere else in Colorado. And I've been in the mountains a lot. Now I spent my whole 20s in the mountains climbing. They come here and then something calls them away and they just walk away. They walk away from everything they own. And we don't know where they go. But some of them have been reported missing later by their parents. They walked away up into the mountains and never came out again.

Jim McCalpin: 03:39 When you talk to the National Park Rangers, they say 90% of our people never get more than 100 feet from a paved road.

Meredith: 03:45 This is Perrin, she's from Colorado.

Perrin: 04:00 People like to think of Park Rangers as the Park Ranger from the 1950s. It's like, come on, folks. Let's go look at some bears.

Meredith: 04:07 Now, she works in Yosemite.

Perrin: 04:09 I am a Park Ranger for the National Park Service. And I'm a law enforcement Park Ranger. And sometimes that'll be referred to as a Protection Park Ranger.

Perrin: 04:23 Anytime something happens in the back country, which I think is officially considered a mile away from the trail head, you're dealing with exponential logistics. Because at that point, if you need to get somebody to critical care, you have to get them to basically where you can access them by a vehicle. And if you can't do that, you need to get them somewhere where you can access them in some other way.

Perrin: 04:46 When I show up with 911, people are like "Where's the helicopter?" I'm like "No, like I walked here. You gotta walk out with me, you know? And if you can't walk out, we're gonna have to carry out. We don't have helicopters for everything."

Perrin: 04:58 So you have like a whole host of types of land that people could go out to recreate or do whatever on, that basically isn't in an urban landscape. We don't get a ton of missing people where we're like fairly certain they're there, but we can't find them. But it does happen.

Perrin: 05:15 I know as the Park Service, we have lots of cold cases, basically starting back since we started keeping real records of them, of people that walked basically into the woods and didn't come back.

Perrin: 05:33 I mean, part of the idea wilderness, it's an area where basically people do not remain. People, we pass through. We don't stay there permanently.

Perrin: 05:54 But we want these places to be places where you can go and be a little further out there.

Perrin: 06:04 You know, you're forced to basically make decisions that you don't necessarily have to in the modern world that most people live in. And we want that. We want people to have those experiences where things are a little more wild.

Perrin: 06:19 And I think people make the mistake to think that something wild is dangerous. Wildernesses is dangerous or hiking is dangerous, and that's not inherently true. I find driving in cities to be much more stressful than spending like two days in the back country.

Perrin: 06:37 National Parks, a place like Yosemite where there's entrance booths, and there's hotels, and you can like rent bikes and go ice skating and all that, those are areas that are very different than like a swath of forest in the middle of Colorado.

Perrin: 06:55 Lots of different people use those types of land for different things. But if you wanted to basically walk somewhere and disappear, there's better types of land to do that on than others. And I say better, I mean like it's not as easy to disappear somewhere where you're driving through an entrance booth.

Perrin: 07:12 If you were looking to like escape the crowds be it because you want to meditate or be it because you're doing something nefarious, it would obviously probably behoove who to go somewhere where it's harder to access and there's less people.

Perrin: 07:29 Looking for somebody who's died while recreating in the back country is a lot different than looking for somebody who was murdered and hidden in the back country.

Perrin: 07:42 You know, if somebody is hiding a person back there, you're probably not going to luck upon like "Hey, here's their purse". You know that's probably not going to be back there.

Perrin: 07:54 You have all sorts of people that are using areas that some people would think are in the middle of nowhere. And just because somebody's been out there for an extended period of time doesn't actually mean that they just disappear. You know, it doesn't mean that they're not recognizable as this is a human body. But animals, they will clean up a lot.

Perrin: 08:23 The weather in the mountains is pretty extreme. In the winter, you have wind chill, you have snow. In the summer, you have thunderstorms with lightning. Lightning's a huge danger when you're on mountaintops. Also, as you get higher, you're more prone to like elevation sickness.

Perrin: 08:42 There's elk. There's deer, there's bobcats. Yeah, it's a beautiful state and there's a reason why people are captivated by it.

Perrin: 08:54 There's a variety of reasons why people would walk into the woods and not want to be found. They go into nature to heal. We have people with terminal illnesses that go into nature. And that is where they want to stay. And that's a mindset that I've never had to place myself into.

Perrin: 09:16 But I've dealt with several people whose plans were basically to come to whatever area to end their lives. They want to do it because they resonate with that space in a way that makes them happy. And for every person that we see that's kind of just blissed out of their mind, there's like an equal number of people, I think, in that area who's having an extremely emotional experience.

Perrin: 09:46 For a lot of people, it's probably exactly what they need. Just a chance to kind of let go and see the world through a different set of eyes. It's one of the reasons why I like being a Park Ranger.

Meredith Stedman: 10:04 If you're used to life in a bigger city, it can be difficult to imagine how you could end up in a place like Crestone. We talked to Michael Byer. He's originally from Chicago. But his family lives in Crestone now. He spent a lot of his 20s there and in the nearby town of Salida, a big change from the city where he grew up.

Michael Byer: 10:21 It's hard to live here and not have a connection with nature. The reason I love living here is because it's just in your face, wherever you are.

Michael Byer: 10:33 My way of connecting with it was dirt biking. I'd just take off on trails going north and south of town, just trying to get lost in the woods basically.

Michael Byer: 10:47 It's like this kind of end of the road community of really interesting people set in this beautiful mountain town. It's kind of a mixture because it's only been in the last 30-40 years that these religious retreat centers have moved in. And most of it less time than that.

Michael Byer: 11:07 So before that, you had kind of these old Colorado ranchers, much more rural conservative crowd. These kind of more liberal-minded people started moving into town and you still have this interesting juxtaposition between the two, of like the original people that were here, and then the people that have moved here.

Michael Byer: 11:29 I think a lot of people are solitary here. There's a lot of like hermits. I noticed that when I was working at the market. You know, people come in and grocery shop and you get the impression that you were the one interaction that they'd have with another human like that day or that week. You see people that are just kind of like in their own world.

Michael Byer: 11:49 There's way more job opportunities in cities that you have to be creative around here.

Michael Byer: 11:56 Because it's so isolated, can easily spend more time on alone here. Like it'll kind of either put in your own head, or if you want to get involved in the community you can, but it's an intense community, too. Either way, it can be really intense for people. And so, I've known a lot of people that just don't fit in here.

Michael Byer: 12:14 But the people that live here and that have made it home, there's no other place that they want to be.

Meredith: 12:21 One of those people is Christopher Long. He's palm reader, among other things. He came here when he was in his mid 20s because of that sacred connection to nature that seems to draw so many to Crestone.

Christopher: 12:34 I lived up in the up in the mountains for about a year. I wanted to live up in the woods. That was my wish, to like be up there. And I came here when I was, what, 24, 25. Got involved in the Native American church and started going to sun dance and sweat lodges. And then I became a road man and became a Yuwipi man. Probably about 40 Yuwipi men in the world. So one of 40 people that is able to do this ceremony.

Meredith: 13:05 Here in Crestone?

Christopher: 13:06 Yeah.

Meredith: 13:08 What's the name of the church?

Christopher: 13:09 It's called the Singing Stone.

Meredith: 13:11 Singing Stone.

Christopher: 13:12 Yeah. So I'm part Choctaw and I already went to a bilingual school, Choctaw and English school in Oklahoma. So I was exposed to Native culture that way through my family.

Christopher: 13:31 I'm really all for religious freedom because some people will be like "Well, you're not full blood. You shouldn't be doing that." Well, I did the work for it.

Christopher: 13:44 Some of these ceremonies are severe, very severe. Going without food and water for four days and even being staked to the ground through my arms and legs or hanging from a pit from my chest and from my back in there. And I say this, too, with humility, too, you know? I'm not bragging or anything. I'm just saying that I received all of that by doing some severe stuff.

Christopher: 14:13 We go to have sun dance, it's on the reservation in South Dakota and there's like two or three Native leaders out there, and everyone else is white, or black, or Chinese, or something. Or from other countries, you know? 35% of them from Germany, Italy, Spain and France. It's all about the at the ceremony.

Christopher: 14:40 The spiritual leaders on the reservation. They're not prejudiced. They see somebody who's like has a knack for spirituality. Oh, good. He said there was a guy yesterday who said "Well, I would come to your ceremonies, but I only deal with full bloods." Thinking to myself, well, 90% of them are Catholic, you know? And that's kind of like saying "Well, I would never confess my sins to a Catholic priest unless he was Italian", which makes no sense 'cause Jesus was Jewish. It all got mixed up right away.

Christopher: 15:19 But I do feel bad that there isn't like this established thing for Native peoples here, for Native culture 'cause there's Tibetan culture. And there's Christian culture, there's a Hindu culture, and there's all these other cultures and they're all from other countries. And the one that's here is like not really represented. Kind of shameful 'cause very ceremonies that we practice here are the ones that were done here for so long.

Christopher: 15:51 I'm about one of about 300 people that has a prescription license for peyote. So I'm registered with the DEA and the Department of Narcotics. So I have a prescription license like a doctor or pharmacist. And so, we do peyote ceremonies and then we do vision quest out here and different things like that.

Meredith: 16:18 Hearing about Christopher's experience with the Native American church was inspiring. And so were his views on religious freedom. But truth be told, we'd initially sought out Christopher for his palm reading abilities.

Christopher: 16:29 Probably one of the best palmists in the world. It's real competitive in India and Pakistan and stuff, but I'm real popular over there.

Christopher: 16:43 Okay, so I can see you react very quickly with your mind-

Meredith: 16:48 Christopher read my palm. It was the first time I'd ever done anything like that. And I can truly say his assessment of my life thus far was strangely accurate.

Christopher: 16:58 Your own plans, your own ideas. You can be very headstrong and yeah. And so, you're also very intuitive with your mind. And, yeah.

Christopher: 17:10 Everything has significance, like looking at this table. You know, I can see there's patterns and designs. We're all around the same table and I might see this tree on one side and you might see the star. And you might see something else.

Meredith: 17:28 Is this still your card?

Christopher: 17:30 Yeah. Yeah, that's still my phone number.

Meredith: 17:31 Okay. Do you ever remember people's palms you've read?

Christopher: 17:35 No. I read a lot of palms.

Meredith: 17:37 I found this. Do you know there was a girl that went missing here two years ago.

Christopher: 17:44 Yeah.

Meredith: 17:46 The family gave us a box of her pictures. I found this in her box.

Christopher: 17:53 Wow.

Meredith: 17:53 We're wondering if you'd ever read her palm. I just guessing you never get the chance. Seemed like something she planned on.

Christopher: 18:00 Yeah. Yeah, I think she had like dreadlocks, right? Yeah. I might have, but I don't know. I don't recall ever meeting her.

Christopher: 18:14 You know, I think you guys would have more of a chance to get to the bottom of some of some of it than the cops around here.

Christopher: 18:24 I know what's happened in the past with the small town and police and drug dealers, or drug manufacturers. Well, 'cause I had a meth lab next to my house for about three years. And they wouldn't do a thing about it. And it was clearly a meth lab 'cause these guys are just like wandering around, walking into my house middle of the night. "Yeah, there's a lab over there." You know?

Christopher: 18:54 But that was the previous sheriff. But some of those guys are the same people. So, you know. They're distracted anyway. They got they're own things going on.

Christopher: 19:07 But yeah, I think just talking around to people. I think you'd get more of an idea of what really happened.

Meredith: 19:14 Before leaving, Christopher gave us a little bit more background on Crestone's land.

Christopher: 19:18 This is a big burial ground. There's like bones everywhere. People were buried here from Tijuana all the way ... They even found a Mayan grave here. I'd talk to elders in the Navajo Rez that said that they collect herbs here and have been collecting herbs here for thousands of years for certain ceremonies. Also, all the way in Tijuana, Mexico, hanging out with those Indians out there. They had records of coming up here. And the evidence is here too, because there's caches of shells that people offered here. If you look like in the ant hills, you'll find little chips of arrowheads, and also grinding stones.

Christopher: 20:05 It was mainly the Utes that lived here year round at the hot springs. They had like thatched houses over the hot springs and stuff. But thousands of different people would come through to pick the pinion nuts and to meditate and pray. And also practically because it's cool up here. And so, everybody from New Mexico and Arizona, Sonora desert, and even into California, would come all the way up here and spend the hot time in the summer and then come back down.

Christopher: 20:44 Again, that's like that Hopi pueblos, Zuni, Arapaho, the other Ute bands and who knows who else. Yeah.

Christopher: 21:04 There is the migration routes and this was the Eastern Mountains. So people would come here for burial and they would come here for meditation and prayer. So that would do vision quests, like you see on the movies, where the tribe is moving and grandma's like too old. And so, she's gonna stay behind. And so, they would do vision quest ceremony. And they would make this like sequestered area where she would sit and then just not eat or drink until she died. And that's one of the things they would we do here.

Christopher: 21:40 And so, people would come here from all over the United States to do that. To die here.

Meredith: 21:57 Paulette is involved with the Crestone End of Life Project.

Paulette: 22:01 It really is like Death Valley here, but in a good way.

Paulette: 22:06 I think it seems like there's a lot of focus on death. They are death cafés and Crestone End of Life, but it's very positive.

Meredith: 22:18 I asked her to explain what they offer.

Paulette: 22:20 The only legal, non-denominational, open air cremation.

Paulette: 22:28 I fell into it very naturally. Sometimes things just fall into place so easily that you feel like this is your destiny. It's so effortless, like I just showed up at a death café meeting. And then they said "Well, we're having a meeting for Crestone End of Life if you'd like to come next week." So I said "Oh, okay."

Paulette: 22:55 Every place was too big, except Crestone, which is so small. You know, one thing, one liquor store, one of everything. But we have everything we need. Except Taco Bell.

Paulette: 23:12 But there's so much to do, it's like a spiritual playground here.

Paulette: 23:16 Once or twice a year, they will do a death café. And those are well attended. People sit around in sub groups talking about death, all aspects. What they fear about death, how they're embracing death. All subjects about death.

Paulette: 23:37 People are embracing death. Our society is embracing death more in this age. I think we're a template for the rest of the world, and the rest of the country. You know, we're like the first or something, and I think it's going to grow.

Paulette: 24:06 It's very simple. But that makes it even more beautiful.

Paulette: 24:12 The smoke is purifying. It's sacred 'cause the Native Americans used to do open air cremation. And so, what I do is I do keep the flame, the coals built up. When they're about to bring in the body and the procession. When I hear the dong, then I start putting juniper on it, so that as they walk in, it's a beautiful smell. And then, I fan them to make a fire again because I need to have flames so that they can light the torches. But everything runs so smoothly. It's like a symphony. Just really each one is special and different. Like I said, it's something you have to experience.

Paulette: 25:05 The first time I did it, this woman walked up to me and she said "Grandmother, fire." And I said "Oh, is that what you call it?" You know, I thought she was calling the fire and the whole sensor thing. I thought that was the term grandmother fire. She said "No, not that. You. That's how I see you. As Grandmother Fire."

Paulette: 25:30 And sometimes when I cry, it's just, I can't help. If I'm such an empath. And I cry so much. I cry more than anyone, you know? But it's very silent. But I can't help the tears from falling because I can sense the energy, and if it's a very sad energy, they just fall. We cry for those who can't.

Paulette: 25:58 You know, experience that grief but turn it into something creative to get through it and to heal from it because if you don't, you keep on experiencing that grief. People are so appreciative of the service that we provide.

Paulette: 26:18 People say "Oh, do you do anything special?" Or when you light the fire, this and that is, but it's more I think I try to keep my energy pure. The day before I'll fill my baskets and get them ready, and I still keep that pure intention.

Paulette: 26:40 We got this basket from Africa. And this basket I got from our annual yard sale. The Buddhist man brought it and I happen to be volunteering to put out stuff. And she put it down and I grabbed it.

Paulette: 26:59 That I'd like you to have some nice energy. These are Juniper boughs and that's handed out to everyone who comes in.

Paulette: 27:08 I'd like to get the wood that's cool. Like, see how this is so natural. Like that and looks pretty when you have fire coming off of it. It's visually good. And I try to do things with intention and I think people notice that.

Paulette: 27:31 This is frankincense. They're sacred scents. They purify, heal, and I'll let 'em fall or I'll play with my fire. And basically what I do the whole three hours or so is just smoke it and then when the smoke kind of starts to, I fan real hard and then it blows up again. And then, once I let it burn, just to make the coals hot. And then I layer it, put two Palo Santo chips there. And then, I sprinkle it. I come home smelling really strong.

Paulette: 28:11 We keep like a calm, almost like an invisibility. I think we all love what we do. I think that's what makes it special is we see the value in the service that we provide. And we feel fortunate to be in that position to provide that service. Almost as if we were chosen.

Paulette: 28:44 We just have a really awesome thing going on here. It's a very special. I was telling my husband "Oh, I can't wait." He's like "Yes, you can." Because it's hard not to picture this is going to be me someday. It's not the end, it's just a passing. I think we do a great job. I know we do a great job. Yeah.

Meredith Stedman: 29:28 Up and Vanished is an investigative podcast told weekly. Produced for Tenderfoot TV by Payne Lindsey, Mike Rooney, and me, Meredith Stedman. There's new episodes every Monday. Executive producers Payne Lindsey and Donald Albright. Additional production by Resonate Recordings, as well as Mason Lindsey, Rob Ricotta, and Christina Dana. Our intern is Hallie Bedol. Original score by Makeup and Vanity Set. Our theme song is Ophelia, performed by Ezza Rose. Our cover art is by Trevor Isler. Special thanks to the team at Cadence13. Visit us on social media via @upandvanished. Or you can visit our website,, where you can join in on our discussion board.

Meredith: 30:09 If you're enjoying Up and Vanished, tell a friend, family member, or coworker about it. And don't forget to subscribe, rate, and review on Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening.

Meredith: 30:20 Also, Michael Byyer from this episode works at Western Mountain Real Estate in the Salida and Crestone area. If you, too, are looking for a deeper connection with nature, you can reach him at

Michael Byer: 30:34 Started dating a girl who was connected with a Native American church here and that's how I got introduced to like sweat lodges and-

Meredith: 30:44 Is this the Singing Stone? The place-

Michael Byer: 30:46 The Singing Stone. Yes. Yeah.

Meredith: 30:49 We met Christopher Long...

Michael Byer: 30:51 Yeah, he's the medicine man. I did a couple peyote ceremonies. It's not like a recreational drug by any means. It's medicine. And it's used to like help you heal through things that you're working with. So you get sick, and they call it getting well when you throw up.

Michael Byer: 31:09 I ended up getting a tattoo that was inspired by a peyote ceremony. It's a ridiculous story.

Michael Byer: 31:18 Back in 2009, the summer of 2009, I was invited to this peyote ceremony. All night, you're in a teepee. Lots of like drums and singing. And I remember at one point during that ceremony, I had my eyes closed. I think I was laying down with my eyes closed. Just seeing some intense stuff going on.

Michael Byer: 31:37 And I saw my back with a tattoo on it. Like right at this one spot on my back. In my head, I was like oh, that's where I'm getting the tattoo. And then, the next morning after the ceremony, we left the teepee, and I went and took a pee in the woods.

Michael Byer: 31:54 And I like was looking at it and I was like, oh my gosh, that's something in it. And I went back and I took a picture of it. And I redrew it and decided that that was what I was going to get tattooed on my back. And so I did. And I'll show you the picture because I've got it in here. I can't tell you what it is because there's no meaning to it, really. But ...

Payne Lindsey: 32:18 I have to see this.

Michael Byer: 32:21 That's what I drew from it. And I'm happy I got it where I did because I don't have to look at it every day. And I'll forget that it's there for like months at a time. But, yeah.