September 3, 2012

Mushroom Beer, Lithium Hot Springs, & Bolivia by Bike with a Basket & a Knife: Day One at the Telluride Mushroom Festival. ~ Alisa Geiser

*Note: elephantjournal.com received this admission to this event for free, in return for a guarantee that we would review it. That said, we say what we want—good and bad, happy and sad.


Enroute to the Telluride Mushroom Festival and it looks like this:

The sun sinks a burning blood orange ball over the Uncompagre as we roll windows down into the giggling reception of Orvitz Hot Springs.

Possibly for good phone humor, we’ve been granted a car-bound sleeping spot in the parking lot, level and dark and inclusive of all-night access to the lithium-fuming tubs, which are misty and magical in the dim light of mushroom-shaped solar-powered fixtures. We sink into the sweating mists with the milky shift of the stars above.

Hours in the car wash away.

Sleep is a velvet curtain, I’ve been as deep but I’ve never been deeper, soft in the cocoon of Dev’s surprisingly accommodating Prius.

Muscles soft with soaking, fed by Thai Paradise, five-stars and friendly and fresh with a decent organic wine poured heavy, along with banana curry, generous enough to feed us again the next day after a late roll in pushes breakfast back to lunch.

We arrive at the Mushroom Festival and register in a flash made faster by the slow, smiling mellow of the place, “Hi, we’re with elephant,” and soon we’re in our first lecture with Larry Evans in the Fungal Jungle. He takes us through rough-cut, hand-held footage of bicycle rides through the National Parks of Bolivia, while observing indigenous uses of the area’s diversity of fungus. He also gives us glimpses into medicinal, culinary, environmental uses and implications, bites of human destruction and the ways mushrooms can help reverse them. We see our delectable culinary friend, the oyster mushroom, feasting itself on one of the oil spills that is seeping its stinky, sticky havoc in this life-rich area.

Thick, creamy, delicious mushrooms growing from our pollution, happily cleaning up our deadly mistakes.

A continuing theme: integrating mushrooms into our wasteful way of living.

And why not? Here we have a life form that can thrive on rot, which eats the dead and us? We eat the living and don’t know what to do with the bones…or the cooking oil.

Mushrooms are their own life form and not actually a vegetable, but for the sake of food pyramid compliance, we go with USDA definitions and score our glasses of Tradd Cotter’smycobrew” on tap at Smuggler Joe’s, a local brewpub. What it lacks in complexity on the palate, this beer makes up for with medicinal benefits: an infusion of turkey tail, reishi and birch polypore, all known to offer health benefits. The faces are friendly, the bar is slammed and half an hour after the first tapping they are changing out the keg: only two remain.

Back to an earlier lecture by Ron Spinosa on using mushrooms to create self-supporting systems wherein waste is a resource rather than a problem to burn or pile up or ship to New Jersey, or a third-world country. Imagine a coffee plantation, where only .02 percent of the biomass generated becomes salable product; the other 98.8 percent of the coffee plant is considered waste, and needs a place to go.

Shitake mushrooms conveniently love coffee waste. Up to 60 pounds of the mushroom can be grown on 100 pounds of coffee waste. The mushrooms can then be sold (providing further income as well as a valuable and nutritious food source for the communities) and remaining organic matter can be fed to livestock, whose manure is then used to fertilize future coffee plants. This kind of closed system, designed by the ZERI network, can also be applied to breweries.

Coffee. Beer. Add in mushrooms, and you’ve got my three favorite food groups. Saving the world one ambrosia at a time.

Night One.

We find our way up to Bridal Veil, off-roading Dev’s Prius until a water-crossing stops us, only to be stopped once again at the base of the falls—huge orange, plastic fences and over-sized stop signs and the falls are white still, but the unnatural tumble of dirt-caked dead trees in the once pristine creek below is unfamiliar. What’s happened here?

The night is still and strange and the stars are hiding a bit. Water still pounds, but a little uncertainly now; usually slick rocks are dirty and dry. The energy of the place is uneasy. I struggle to accept that these falls are so very different than the ones under which Dev and I first met. We retreat to a place that is not, set our tent up in a moonless night, and make our way towards tomorrow.

All photo credits: Dev

Read about Alisa’s other adventures at the Telluride Mushroom Festival:

“The Curious Ways We Find Each Other: Day Two at the Telluride Mushroom Festival.”

“Masters of the Universe: Day Three at the Telluride Mushroom Festival.”

“Fifth & Final Post: Telluride Mushroom Festival.”


I’m a poet and a troublemaker, and I’ve sought and told many a fortune. Some call me a Renaissance woman, some call me crazy; I prefer the term gypsy. Roaming free through star-warmed mountains and dark-lit city streets is how I find my thorny bliss, and I won’t complain about a heavy pack or empty belly as long as wild winds scented with love or pine or soul-taut whispers are tickling my skin. While honing my gypsy skills, I’ve served as managing editor for Westcliffe Publishers, helped eco-magazine elephantjournal go national, worked for Martha Stewart, documented an illegal humanitarian aid mission to Cuba, and claimed a Guinness world record with Carmen Electra. I’ve got a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, I’m a Notary Public for the fine state of Colorado, CPR and First Aid certified, and an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church. Once, I baked a wedding cake to serve 200 people, and it was damn good. Take the metaphorical peek inside my underwear drawer at novapops.com.


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