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Guest Blog Post: Outdoor Cremation – the Funeral Pyre of a Mountain Town in Colorado

Mar 07, 2013

Outdoor Cremation – the Funeral Pyre of a Mountain Town in Colorado

Crestone, Colorado is the location of the only outdoor human cremation facility in the United States. Some may consider it an archaic tradition, but the facility in Crestone will perform a funeral pyre for anyone, regardless of their religion.

Funeral professionals say that this facility is the only one of its kind in the U.S. where family can participate in the outdoor cremation of a loved one. The funeral pyre is constructed from a concrete and brick-lined hearth topped with a steel grate. A body is ordinarily wrapped in a simple linen cloth, and then surrounded by juniper logs and branches. If they so wish, the family can place the torch to the funeral pyre, a ritual that is significant in some religions.

The funeral pyre is perhaps best connoted in culture by references to the ancient Vikings. It is still a death ritual practiced today amongst Buddhist and Hindu religions, although it is considered quite taboo in the United States.

With a move away from tradition in modern funeral rituals, and with the rise in a more ‘natural’ and ecological approach to the disposition of the dead, maybe outdoor funeral pyres may become more commonplace across the modern world.

The funeral pyre actually dates back to references in the Christian and Hebrew Bibles that likens the rising smoke from the pyre with the ascent of the soul.

The cremations in Crestone are performed by the nondenominational Crestone End of Life Project, a volunteer group who assist families by coordinating the cremation service. The project asks for a donation of $425 for each cremation, this helps to cover permits, and enables the group to offer grief counseling, repose the deceased prior to the cremation and prepare the kindling for the funeral pyre.

Currently the service is only offered to the local community. This decision was made out of respect for local residents who did not want their community over-run with outsiders wanting ‘novel’ cremations. The project is also only geared to handle a limited number of ceremonies per year.

It takes about four to five hours for a body to burn completely, and as there is no way to separate the human ashes from the wood ash, the family receive about five gallons of ashes.

The type of ceremony depends entirely on the wishes of the family. It can be anything from a very simple service, a quiet and private moment, to a more elaborate ritual with eulogies, music and singing. The setting at the foot of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range make it the perfect place to absorb a sense of the natural aspect of a life celebration.

For more information on the project visit their web site at

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Words have always been a passion for Sara Marsden-Ille, and she enjoys writing in many different contexts. As editor-in-chief and content marketer at US Funerals Online and DFS Memorials, Sara’s role is to research the behaviors and needs of today’s families, death care culture & the profession, and present them through educational content. Sara’s early career started out in field marketing for Omnicom with a number of blue chip clients. She later returned to higher education and undertook a BA in Cultural Studies and a MA in Digital Literacy. Sara then moved from the private to the public sector, and was involved in setting up a number of third sector enterprises in the UK. She is passionate about how technology is reshaping communication and language in our digital world, and the role of culture on our consumer behavior. In 2009 Sarah left the UK and began working for US Funerals Online, researching and writing about the death care profession in North America, and traveling. When she is not working, she loves to read, travel, and discover new things, new people and new places. Click here to read more articles by Sara.

About The Author

Jess Farren (Fowler)

Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at

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