Blooming in the Desert: The Ghost Ranch Pilgrimage Experience

Blooming in the Desert: The Ghost Ranch Pilgrimage Experience

Kathleen Norris writes beautifully about life on the Great Plains in her book, Dakota.

I tucked that book in my carry-on bag as I set out on pilgrimage with a group of companions from Columbia and Pittsburgh Seminaries.

The 2016 journey to Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico was part of a 13-day pilgrimage to the Desert Southwest and the capstone experience for my certificate in Spiritual Formation.


“Be in the desert, and let the desert bloom.”[1]


The landscape in New Mexico is strikingly different from my lush, green North Carolina home.

In the harsh terrain, I discovered the wisdom wrapped in Norris’ invitation. It provided a compass for me, inviting me daily, to sink into the rhythm of the desert-journey and to live fully awake.

I saw the blooming each morning as I looked out the large picture window in my bedroom at Casa del Sol.

Specks of green juniper and piñon trees were shooting up between cracks in the massive rock cliffs appropriately named, “Gateway to Heaven.

I heard it blooming in the intoxicating silence that filled the 21,000-acre ranch.

I felt it in the harshness of the red, orange, grey, purple, brown and charcoal-toned rocks. I smelled it in the dust-infused air.

I tasted it in the meals shared around the table with my fellow pilgrims.

What is it about a change of scenery that causes our senses to heighten?


“Be in the desert, and let the desert bloom.”


It’s easy to understand the attraction of the desert mothers and fathers to this geography.

It’s easy to capture Georgia O’Keefe’s passionate love for Ghost Ranch.

There’s a depth and richness to the gifts of creation in a place that has been undisturbed by human hands.

The night sky is simply indescribable!

Come here and you will sense the largeness of God.

Come here and you will discover the largeness of your own soul.


“Be in the desert, and let the desert bloom.”


While there was plenty to explore on our own accord, the journey was led by Wayne Mell, a gifted and compassionate guide for our pilgrimage.

A retired Presbyterian minister who served churches on the Navajo reservation and the Mexican border in Arizona, he is steeped in the history and stories of the desert southwest.

With opportunities to listen to the land and to those who make their home there, Mell helped to shape an experience filled with educational opportunities saturated with spiritual invitations – nudges to listen deeply to our own interior landscape.

“Fierce landscapes heal as well as mirror the brokenness we find within,”[2] Belden Lane reminds us in The Solace of Fierce Landscapes.

Lane cautions us that the inner journey is the most dangerous pilgrimage of all.

And, maybe that’s why so many of us simply choose not to do it.

Yet on this pilgrimage, I discovered a carefully tended space that drenched me in opportunities for rest, regeneration, exploration, stillness, play, and deep communion.

This geography and experience taught me the wisdom of being present in my own desert places and allowing them the time and space to do their transforming and healing work.


If you feel called to partake in a pilgrimage experience for spiritual growth and exploration, click here to learn more about the Desert Spiritualities of the Southwest Pilgrimage this fall.

Monica Citty Hix currently serves as Minister of Music at First Friends Meeting in Greensboro, NC. She is also the Founding Director of Inner Ground, a recently formed local non-profit whose mission is to nourish the human heart and spirit through contemplative practices and expressive arts.

Follow Inner Ground on Facebook and Instagram. Monica completed the Certificate in Spiritual Formation in 2017 and has served as facilitator for several class offerings in the spirituality program. She’s married to her college sweetheart, Phil, who shares her love of travel and dark chocolate. They recently welcomed the most exuberant Wheaten Terrier into their empty nest!



[1] Kathleen Norris, Dakota (New York: First Mariner Books, 2001), 22.

[2] Belden Lane, The Solace of of Fierce Landscapes (New York: Oxford University Press), 216.

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