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Colorado Site Called 'a Place of Power' : Spiritualists, Environmentalists Find Haven in the Baca

August 20, 1989|JULIA RUBIN | Associated Press

CRESTONE, Colo. — Hanne Strong unrolls her blueprint of a "global village" for spiritual leaders and environmentalists and pins its corners down on her kitchen table with an expensive tea set.

It shows a band of temples and churches, gardens and small, self-sufficient communities laid out along the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains here.

Some of what is in the plan already has been realized, some is in the works, and some exists just in "prophecy," Strong says.

Like Strong, who travels the area's back roads in skirts and silk blouses as comfortably as in jeans, the plan is at once earthy and elegant, serious and a little spacey, embracing the disadvantaged one minute and industrial magnates and movie stars the next.

Seeks 'Major Shift'

"Unenlightened, confused minds are ruling the world and destroying the environment," Strong says. "There needs to be a major shift in the way people think."

Strong and her husband, Canadian oil developer and United Nations diplomat Maurice Strong, hope to turn several thousand acres of desert and mountains in southern Colorado's San Luis Valley into a repository of spiritual truth and environmentally sound living--a place where political and business leaders can come to be taught how to care for themselves and the Earth.

They don't want a lot of people, who would tax the area's fragile natural balance.

The place, originally part of the 160,000-acre Baca Spanish land-grant ranch, is called just "the Baca." Area Indians believed it to be sacred "neutral" ground where tribes could come together. Hanne Strong believes it has kept that power intact.

Land Given Away

The Strongs already have given away hundreds of acres to Carmelite Catholics, Tibetan Buddhist monks, Zen monks, American Indian tribes and the yoga-based Sri Aurobindo Learning Center. They have put up chapels, hermitages, temples, sweat lodges, community buildings and gardens.

On the blueprint, Strong has set aside 2,000 more choice acres for other religious groups she believes will come to the Baca someday as earlier groups did--on their own. She does not recruit.

A native of Denmark who personally feels closest to the American Indian spiritual tradition, Strong says she respects all spirituality but intends the Baca to be for religions with "an unbroken lineage," not the so-called "New Age" groups.

"This is 'Old Age,' " she says with a laugh. "Very old."

The Strongs have sold land at the Baca to less-established spiritual groups, although not yet to actress Shirley MacLaine, a friend of Strong who visits the Baca often and wants to set up a spiritual community here.

One such group that bought land at the Baca is the Haidakhandi Ashram, which is building a Vedic temple and small community on 46 acres to follow the teachings of Haidakhan Babaji, a Hindu mystic.

Other projects under way include an Experimental Garden and Seed Bank for high-altitude crops, an educational center for American Indian youth, a world nutritional center and various healing centers.

Scattered among the spiritual groups and projects are about 100 homes, the beginnings of the Baca Grande retirement community that was cut short when the Strongs came to the area in 1979.

Most of the Baca development remains a virtual wilderness, where a visitor sees more deer than people, and signs of mountain lion and bear.

"It's a complete ecosystem," Strong says. "It's still in a pure state."

The Baca, elevation 7,800 feet, can be reached only from the west. To the east is the Sangre de Cristos, a wall of craggy, snow-covered peaks that rise to more than 14,000 feet.

Compared to the arid valley a traveler crosses to get here, much of the Baca is lush, traversed by creeks and shaded by tall trees.

Some of the spiritual groups that have moved here actually were directed to the Baca by Hopi Indian elders. Cree, Blackfoot, Ute and Sioux tribes have built ceremonial lodges at the Baca, and Navajos and Hopis make pilgrimages here.

"This is a sacred place, for hundreds, thousands of years," says Mike Sierra, a Lakota Sioux from the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, who travels to the Baca occasionally as an apprentice to a Sioux medicine man. "It's a place of power."

The area's beauty inspires all the spiritual groups that have settled here.

"The desert and the mountains are deep religious symbols for every spiritual community, and right at the heart of the Carmelite philosophy," says Sister Sharon Doyle at the Carmelite cloister, where the buildings blend into the landscape and are invisible from a distance. "Aesthetics are very important to us for creating a contemplative climate. . . . Beauty uplifts the soul. It's part of the whole consciousness of this area--respect or reverence for the Earth."

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