Funeral pyres an option in Colorado mountain town

Cremation in the open air with loved ones attending

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Miss Gaines said she has received inquiries from Montana to New York but has had to turn them away.

“What it comes down to is having it reflect the aspirations of the community,” she said, “because you can’t really do it on your own.”

It takes up to 4½ for a body to burn completely. Because there’s no way of separating human ashes from those of the wood, the family receives about 5 gallons of ashes.

Relatives sometimes are apprehensive when a family member declares a desire to be cremated in a funeral pyre.

“I just thought it was crazy at first when I heard,” Mr. Ellis said. After experiencing his wife’s funeral, however, he said wants the same service for himself.

By all accounts, Mrs. Ellis was a free spirit. During the last years of her life, she lived with her husband and her boyfriend, Skip Benson, 59.

“We had a friendship between the three of us that very few people could share,” said Mr. Ellis, 51.

Mrs. Ellis‘ relatives described her as a giving and stubborn person who loved motorcycles, the outdoors and smoking pot. Amid the scent of juniper and burning wood was a smell of marijuana from a bag someone had dropped into the pyre. Someone joked that perhaps the mourners also should have poured in some Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Quiet, otherworldly chimes sounded from crystal bowls that a woman played at the beginning of the service. On a table were flowers and pictures of Mrs. Ellis and her family. Other ceremonies are more elaborate, with as many as 200 people attending, or even featuring a New-Orleans style funeral march.

Mrs. Ellis‘ relatives carried her from a car on a wooden stretcher and placed her on top of the steel grate. The site is encircled by a bamboo fence.

“What was a physical body will become one with the sky,” said William Howell, a project volunteer.

Crestone is nestled at the foot of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range, about 200 miles southwest of Denver.

Sangre De Christo means “blood of Christ,” and legend has it that the name comes from a Catholic missionary priest whose dying words were “Sangre de Cristo” after seeing a sunset over the mountains. American Indians are said to have called the area the “Bloodless Valley” because it was so sacred no bloodshed was allowed.

“Being in this setting, you realize that we’re all just part of nature,” Mr. Ellis said. “And she’s just rejoined nature in another form. It’s all that’s going on here.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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