Article by Martha Quillen
March 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine
The Sangre De Cristo range rises sharply on the east side of the San Luis Valley, creating a solid wall of jagged peaks.
Below, the valley is bleak, beautiful, vast, empty, unquestionably inspirational, and also — according to a growing number of people — holy.
While other mountain towns have emerged from a decade of economic reversal by converting mining towns into tourist towns, and tourist towns into casino districts, Crestone has taken another road entirely.
Crestone has become a spiritual community.
Largely by the efforts of the Manitou Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to building an ecumenical community, the foothills outside Crestone are now home to the Tibetan House, the Savitri House, the Carmelites’ Spiritual Life Institute, the Haidakhandi Ashram, and an interdenominational meditation dome built by the Lindisfarne Foundation.
Though they sound exotic, the retreats are remarkably inconspicuous. The Hindu temple is picturesque and elegant, but small, and barely visible from the road below.
The Lindisfarne Chapel is a marvel of patterned brick and blended wood, but in spite of the cluster of buildings nearby, the grounds are generally so quiet that a visitor can get nervous.
At the Carmelite mission, small retreats are tucked into the hillsides so effectively that it’s difficult to find them with directions in hand.
Their presence, however, has profoundly altered the character of the community.
Getting along is an issue in Crestone — perhaps the biggest issue. Letters in the Crestone Eagle routinely express concerns about spirituality, neighborliness, unity, community relations, and understanding. Every other community issue — and there are an astonishing number of matters appearing on the public agenda — revolves around the community’s sense of solidarity.
The Crestone community is small. If one includes the Baca Grande, a real estate development adjoining Crestone, plus all of the spiritual centers, plus the town of Crestone and all nearby homes and ranches, the population adds up to perhaps 600 residents. But they are an extremely active 600.
To fight water export by American Water Development Incorporation, the community became active in Citizens for San Luis Valley Water. In response to noise and disturbances caused by U.S. Air Guard training flights, Crestone citizens joined with Valley residents to organize an Open Space Alliance. Responding to problems with mineral rights on the Baca Grande, area residents formed a mine watch group.
Although Crestone leans toward New Age ideas, even staunch New Age devotees recognize that meditation, crystals and alternative medicines are not everybody’s cup of tea, and thus, promoting relations between diverse groups in the Valley has become a goal.
In fostering community relations, the Baca Grande is, perhaps, even more influential than the spiritual centers.
The Property Owners Association Hall on the Baca serves as a gathering place where people come together to discuss everything from mining law to UFO sightings.
This New England town meeting democracy — where everyone is encouraged to participate — has created a community that is intensely active. The monthly Crestone Eagle lists twenty contributing writers, implying a degree of involvement seldom seen in a community so small. The Baca hosts speakers and maintains a library. The community’s turn-out for meetings and hearings throughout the Valley is astonishing.
Whether the problem is flyovers, mineral drilling, or water development, a surprising number of residents from the Crestone area will be there, carrying signs, supporting neighbors, or just guarding their valley.
Kizzen Dennett, editor of the Crestone Eagle, uses the word unity often when she talks about her community. Dennett obviously feels that San Luis Valley residents have been very successful in overcoming their differences to achieve common goals. As an example, she cites how ranchers and environmentalists have put aside old enmities to protest water development.
Dennett talks about Crestone with unmistakable pride. “A lot of the people moving here are retired professionals and college professors, and there’s a lot of intellectual activity. The people here are very smart.”
Mark Jacobi, a carpenter, activist, and volunteer fireman, echoes Dennett’s sentiment when he talks about issues facing Crestone. “The people here are sharp. They don’t miss much.”
Peggy Godfrey, a cowboy poet and rancher who lives in nearby Moffat, also reflects Dennett’s viewpoint. “I think the ranchers here appreciate Crestone. I was on the fly-over committee, and the people from the spiritual centers, the Carmelites and Zen people, and everyone, really helped. They made needing peace and quiet official.”
Saguache County officials also give the Crestone community credit. County Administrator Brad Jones contends that without the encouragement of people over in Crestone, Saguache never would have ended up with a premier recycling system. [See Saguache Landfill article on page 20.]
Though few in number, Valley residents have been successful in banding together to protect their interests. Water development has been stalled, and today even the government seems to be responding to citizen complaints about flyovers.
But last spring, the perceived threat to the community didn’t come from a big water developer, an impersonal mining operation, or the U.S. government.
The Trinity Foundation, based in Albuquerque, is not Crestone’s favorite topic.
Several years ago, the Trinity Foundation identified the San Luis Valley as the sacred site chosen by their Celestial advisor, Kuthumi, for the building of a monument — which, they maintain, is necessary to save mankind.
According to the Trinity Foundation, Dr. Norma Milanovich has been in contact with both Celestial Beings and extraterrestrials for years. A former home-economics teacher and college professor, who also happens to be the Trinity Foundation’s mentor and primary spokesman, Milanovich claims that Arcturians began channeling with her, and many others throughout our world, because the Arcturians want to save mankind from destruction.
As Milanovich explains it, the universe sounds like a Star Trek episode unaccountably mixed with a PBS lesson on comparative religions. But her primary message is basic Christian millenialism inspired by the Book of Revelation — which isn’t surprising, since Milanovich claims that the Celestial Beings and the Arcturians are all under the command of “Jesus, the Christ, who is also known as Sananda on the higher realms.”
But before our world can be saved, the Trinity Foundation has to build a pink granite pyramid 396 feet high.
The finished pyramid can’t be just another pyramid like those in Egypt, either.
Milanovich claims the Trinity Foundation’s pyramid will serve as an antenna to induce “a standing columnar wave of tachyon energy.” And thus eventually, the pyramid will assist in moving the enlightened from the third into the fifth dimension, reportedly by changing the structure of their RNA and DNA.
Kuthumi, the Ascended Master channeling plans to Milanovich, says that this pyramid will be the Twelfth Wonder of the World.
Although old blueprints have been withdrawn and new ones aren’t available, initial plans called for a lower floor 30 cubits high, a capstone of obsidian imported from Jericho, seven levels, four entrances, and thirty chambers, including a crystal chamber. Preliminary plans also specified carved ceilings and pillars and numerous sculptures to depict all of the major religions of our world and the six golden ages of man, and also 12,000 pictures to detail the building of this great wonder, and to honor the 144,000 spiritual warriors who will work on it.
Milanovich arrived in Crestone last spring with an architect named Simon to explain Kuthumi’s plans.
Most Valley residents, however, already knew about the Trinity Foundation’s pyramid — and they didn’t approve.
At a meeting April 18, circle-slash “no pyramid” signs welcomed Milanovich on the road into the Baca, where she was greeted with a petition signed by 140 residents asking her not to build in the Valley unless her building could be scaled down considerably; the signers were convinced that the gargantuan scale of the pyramid could draw large numbers of both believers and tourists.
It was a meeting designed to upset everyone. Those who came because they believed in the pyramid project were understandably upset by some of the comments.
Yet those who came because they believed the pyramid could destroy the very essence of their rural environment were equally affronted.
The meeting progressed peacefully, however, and Milanovich gave her presentation.
Her style is conservative. Although the Arcturians are supposedly short and gray-green, Milanovich is an attractive woman in her late forties who dresses like Nancy Reagan and looks like a Mary Kay representative. She channels by typewriter, not onstage, and while her material is unusual, her method of presentation is ordinary.
Milanovitch is neither an actress nor a story-teller at heart. Instead, her tapes reveal a former teacher who still loves overhead projectors. On one tape, Milanovich calls herself “average” — which is definitely not true — but if the ideas presented by Milanovich make you imagine a garish gypsy, a ’60s-era hippie, or a thundering revivalist, try again.
Once Milanovich’s presentation was over, the arguments began. The pyramid would block views. It wasn’t needed, and would consume resources better used elsewhere. It was too large and consequently wasteful.
Some participants objected to the granite, apparently feeling that it was not environmentally correct. One participant said the granite would have to be “torn from Mother Earth’s breast.”
Others claimed that the pyramid would be too heavy and would sink into the aquifer under the Valley.
On the other hand, one pyramid supporter enthusiastically predicted that the pyramid would make Crestone into another Mecca or Jerusalem — an argument that also strengthened the arguments against the pyramid.
Another supporter claimed that those who objected to the Trinity Foundation’s proposal just didn’t “understand the situation on Earth.”
Although feelings ran high, the meeting never got out of control.
In the Center Post-Dispatch, reporter Ray James wrote that “Some at the meeting suggested, mostly in quiet asides to friends, that the material was psychobabble or worse, but the 3 1/2-hour meeting was peaceful, civilized, New Age literate, and everyone got the chance to speak.
Chris Canaly, a resident of the Baca, and the co-ordinator of the Valley Voice, a quarterly publication produced by Citizens for San Luis Valley Water, said, “I was proud of the people in Crestone. I think the meeting went pretty well.”
In the months following that April meeting, the press noted the unusual situation, and the arguments continued. Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times both ran stories.
Kizzen Dennett, editor of the Crestone Eagle, says that for a while, her phone rang constantly — with calls from both reporters and people excited about pyramids.
In May, the Eagle included several letters from people who felt the community had been unfair to Milanovich. Referring to the pyramid, Seyril Schochen wrote, “Cannot its environmental impact be controlled by means other than mockery, censure, denigration, summary judgments?”
Over in Moffat, a town where spirituality was still a personal rather than a civic matter, residents were amused. They joked about building a 500-foot Holstein.
Meanwhile, ideas presented at the meeting were crystallizing. At one point someone said the pyramid would sink — an understandable conclusion for those who have dealt with wallowing fences during the Valley’s mud season.
But it wasn’t a wholly accurate conclusion.
In the summer, Saguache County has many acres covered in standing water, but there is also good, dry land. As for the aquifer, most eastern states have a surplus of underground water, but it hasn’t saved them from development.
Citizens in Crestone also worried about being outnumbered; the community’s populate had already doubled in the preceding two years. Some residents had concluded that pyramid supporters were moving in to take over.
But the meeting last April brought out many more citizens against the project than for it — proving that fears of being overrun by outsiders were a trifle exaggerated, at least in this instance.
Finally, as summer dawned, the arguments faded, along with the anxiety. Dr. Milanovich had not returned, and the Trinity Foundation had not purchased land.
Actually, the Trinity Foundation’s plans are basically the same today as they were last April. A cornerstone is tentatively scheduled for 1995, and the Foundation hopes to complete the pyramid by 2001, one year later than mentioned at the meeting in Crestone. As for other details, they have not picked a site, but say that it could be anywhere in the Valley.
If anything has changed in Crestone, it isn’t the Trinity Foundation’s plans.
Instead, it seems to be the dynamics of the conflict.
The citizens against the pyramid don’t sound as overwhelmed as they once did. Apparently, they’ve decided their community isn’t in imminent danger.
Despite ample publicity, Crestone wasn’t overrun by New Age seekers, and thereby, people’s attitude about the Trinity Foundation changed. The Trinity Foundation wasn’t General Motors or Uncle Sam. It wasn’t even more powerful than Crestone.
Instead, the foundation was a relatively obscure organization directed by a woman who still maintains her other career interests.
Today, many of those who argued against the pyramid last April say they just hope the entire episode can be forgotten.
In retrospect, the arguments both for and against the Trinity Foundation’s proposed pyramid were probably unnecessary.
The Trinity Foundation has assured everyone that the funds will come in from all over the world. They also claim that 144,000 spiritual warriors will come together to build this structure.
But those assertions are based on the words of Kuthumi. For those who don’t believe in Kuthumi, the obvious question is whether the Trinity Foundation, or any other entity, could build such a structure.
So — could a pyramid be built in the San Louis Valley?
Kirby Perschbacher of Cut-No-Slak Construction in Salida says, “Sure. Technology is better than ever, and cranes should make the job a lot easier than it ever was.”
He has experience in the Valley. Cut-No-Slak has erected buildings for both the Spiritual Life Institute and the Haidakhandi Ashram, and Perschbacher feels that in spite of shifting sand and areas of high ground water, soil conditions in the Valley are remarkably stable.
Byron Kempke, a soil scientist with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, agrees. Referring to the bearing strength of land in the Valley, he says “Generally speaking, it’s not a problem.” Kempke goes on to explain that the Valley is alluvial, meaning its soil has been washed down from the mountains, and that, with the combinations of coarse materials in alluvial soils, they provide good bearing strength. There are, however, some clay-filled areas in the Valley, so Kempke advises that anyone contemplating a major building project should choose the site carefully.
Before starting pyramid construction, on-site engineering would be a must, but Perschbacher assumes that engineering could alleviate any technical problems, and says there is no reason to fear that any building properly engineered, located, and built, will sink.
Financial problems are not so easily put aside, however.
Perschbacher estimates that he could build a 400-foot pyramid, plumbed, wired and air-conditioned for $100 million. But that’s the no-frills, wall-board and linoleum model with sandstone veneer siding.
According to Perschbacher, the pink granite makes pricing more problematical. Although pink Pike’s Peak granite is available in the Salida area, no quarry is running.
Even if the granite can be quarried locally, the cost of hauling several million tons to the site will be astronomical. Add to that the cost of upgrading the entire structure from office-building to edifice standards, which Perschbacher assumes will entail using materials such as marble, onyx, good hardwoods, and precious metals, plus lighting and plumbing fixtures worthy of placement in the Twelfth Wonder of the World. Then consider the underground chamber Kuthumi recommended in early plans, and the six-sided wall surrounding the entire compound.
For that grandeur, the estimate quickly rises beyond a billion.
But the artisans have not yet arrived to carve and paint. So now assume that all artisans work for free, and that only their expenses are covered by the Trinity Foundation.
Also assume that no more than a third of the 144,000 workers will ever actually set foot in the Valley, and that no worker will stay more than two years during the six-year construction period.
At $5,000 per worker per year, the cost of providing sustenance for 48,000 workers for two years each comes to $480 million.
Now consider building this monument in the Saguache County, which has a population of less than 5,000, and it becomes obvious that the Trinity Foundation might be forced to build adequate housing for workers before they build a pyramid.
Add to all those other financial difficulties the fact that this pyramid will not be a public works project. Several billion dollars will not be fronted in government bonds. As for reputable financial institutions, they would rather lend multi-millions for a casino than an edifice — casinos have more obvious methods of acquiring cash for loan repayments.
To complicate matters further, according to Milanovich, Kuthumi has issued a directive that “every thought, every action, everything that goes into the building of the temple must be of the highest and purist.” According to Milanovich, not one negative vibration can go into building the structure.
And Perschbacher claims that such a policy eliminates every qualified builder and experienced crew he knows. But he also maintains that when it comes to construction, he’d pick skill over pure thoughts any day.
In short, it would be a miracle for this building to ever be more than a dream. Yet for those who believe Dr. Milanovich is divinely inspired, a miracle isn’t out of the question.
Pyramid supporters can go on believing and waiting.
For everyone else, this is not the project to worry about. Yet it does illustrate some of the more unsettling aspects of a spiritual community.
The forty-foot pyramid recommended by those opposed to the Trinity Foundation’s plans would have been more environmentally sound. It also would have been far more practical and affordable — in a valley where obtaining transportation, workers, cranes, building materials, and even adequate food supplies for such an endeavor could provide an insurmountable challenge.
But if you believe God is telling you to build a 400-foot pyramid, you don’t build a 40-foot pyramid, and that’s that. There is no argument.
Last April in Crestone, logic got pitted against hope. And hope won.
The pyramid supporters wanted to believe. But so did those who opposed it. The people who loved the Valley, as is, wanted to believe that a pyramid was impossible because a pyramid would sink.
Actually, that didn’t matter a whit to pyramid enthusiasts. Instead, one believer claimed that Kuthumi had obviously put entrances at several different levels so that the pyramid could sink.
For Crestone, this wasn’t the first go-round with larger-than-local spiritual planners. Before the pyramid, Shirley MacLaine had planned to build a New Age Center. But when MacLaine received a petition asking her to reconsider, she backed down. MacLaine did, however, sound a little miffed when she announced that if Crestone didn’t want her, she didn’t want it.
The Crestone community applauds tolerance and diversity, but it doesn’t want to be overrun or overwhelmed. People there don’t want drilling on the Baca or water development, either. For years the community has successfully fought usurpation and exploitation.
But the real fight probably lies ahead.
Saguache is the third poorest county in Colorado. For the northern regions of the San Luis Valley, economic development isn’t a matter of growth; it’s a matter of survival. In 1940, the town of Saguache had 1,200 people. Today, it has 580.
And it’s been a long time since either Crestone or Saguache has been able to support the retail businesses that provide life’s essentials.
Nestled between foothills, Saguache looks snug and homey, but sadly forgotten. Too many businesses are boarded, and the streets are silent.
Across the Valley, Crestone is so overrun with deer, you have to fight them for the porch swing.
In both towns traffic is nil, and the pace is slow. They are beautiful, but there are no jobs.
An influx of retirees on the Baca is not likely to change that, either. Retirees and lone eagles aren’t hiring, and therefore — for those who are barely hanging on — the growth in suburban dwellings merely threatens to displace the local population, not help it.
Even worse, subdivisions sprawl. If subdivisions are relied upon as the sole economic measure to replace the basic amenities Saguache has lost in the last fifty years, the north end of the Valley could end up looking like Broomfield.
Although the Baca community has actively supported farming and ranching, those trades may not be enough. Yet one suspects that a prospective mine, sawmill, logging operation, or building with smokestacks has the potential to cast a far larger shadow on the Valley than any pyramid could.
In the West, non-traditional religions are a way of life. Survivalists, polygamists, fundamentalists, and theosophists have been hiding in our hills since Brigham Young said “This is the place” in 1846. And hardly anyone even notices — until the Feds ride in from Washington to rout them.
During the Trinity Foundation’s April meeting, free speech was seriously curtailed — because people can say what they think about trailers, or mines, or barking dogs, but not about someone else’s religion.
That tenet is basic in our culture, and it was observed last April. Even though a few feelings were bruised at the Trinity Foundation’s meeting, the situation never disintegrated into bombast or brawling.
When the subject is secular, however, the gloves will be off, and almost certainly, that’s when the Crestone community will face its biggest test of tolerance and understanding.
People all over the San Luis Valley talk about unity. Last fall, at the Headwaters Conference in Gunnison, speakers noted that environmentalists and ranchers are recognizing that rampant land and water development threatens both sides. In Chaffee County, anglers and rafters, traditional antagonists, have united to oppose dam construction.
Certainly these are promising developments. But congratulating ourselves for that may be like Russia and the United States celebrating their friendship in 1943.
True unity cannot be gained by fighting common enemies; it can only come from co-operating for the common good. Today the northern Valley is at an impasse. They have united to spurn directions, but they haven’t chosen one yet.
The signs when you leave parts of the Valley say Vaya Con Dios. Go With God — it’s an apt sentiment for the Crestone community, but it seems unlikely that everyone will soon agree upon which path God follows.