North of the township of Albiquiu, NM, on the Rio Chama just before it joins the Rio Grande, there’s a windy dirt road. It’s 13 miles long and will take you 45 minutes by car. At the end you arrive at the Monestary of Christ in the Desert. The beauty of the river, the road, the canyons and the mountains along the way will knock your socks off. OMG. (Literally). Sometimes I think the Catholics manipulative, because the sites they select for churches are so naturally divine one can’t help but feel week in the knees (and that’s when they get you). Later on my trip a guy told me he thought that the most beautiful dirt road in the world.
As you might imagine, 13 miles from pavement, two hours north of the nearest Whole Foods Market, and McDonalds, in the middle of the desert, it’s so quiet your ears ring. ( or is that the bell marking the end of a prayer?) There are 30-40 brothers who tend and attend this monestary, and at any time up to 15 or so guests. Guests are welcom, and encouraged to both visit and stay in the guest house for up to 30 days. The monks have taken a vow of silence, and guests are invited to do the same, or to at least respect the silence of the brothers and other guests. Guests are also encouraged to particpate in the daily schedules of the brothers, in cluding mass and prayer services, which begin at 4:30 am, stop for physical work, resume before lunch, and again after dinner. Guests can join in chanting, take holy communion (or recieve a blessing), join in silent prayer and also do four hours of work (suggested but not required). You can choose the kind of work you have an affinity for, like helping in the gift shop, weeding, picking up poo etc. You eat breakfast with other guests (also silently), lunch–which is the main meal–in the main hall facing the brothers (prayer before, reading during, and prayer after), and dinner in the main hall, more casual with music (chanting) and “buffet style” food. During the main meal you are served by brothers who come around with bowls and vats of food. The food was fine, not bad, not foody, but filling. Our main meal was beans, fish, green salad, rice, bread, and a brownie. Dinner included the leftovers from lunch and soup. Breakfast–the same every day–is hard boiled eggs, cereal, instant coffee, home made bread (that isn’t the tastiest, nor the freshest, but makes fine toast, if you can get it not to crumble too much).
Guests can break silence in the gift shop, and in the guest hosue library. If you do want to be silent, you’re provided with an optional tag that you can wear declaring so. The geese were very bad at keeping silent.
On my first morning I woke up to go hang out in the church and hear/share chanting and attend mass. I didn’t get up at 4:30, but I did make it by 5:30. As I came out of my room I saw four deer hanging out about 5 feet from me. They were eating the shrubbery inside the encolosed the garden that housed our rooms—so I walked toward them encouraging them to leave. They didn’t seem to care about me, and were not shy at all. I got very close to them until one by one theylifted into the air and over the three-foot fence. (No hindrance for them whatsoever). That was neat. The birds also didn’t seem to care about humans.There were Magpies all over—a bird I don’t know but it has stunning graphic coloration when it flies — contrast of a black body with wings edged in white. Gorgeous.
The rooms were lovely with a asense of humble quietude. Furniture and decor very carefully considered. The armoire and stools are hewn wooden and perfectly fitted, stools and signs carefully and lovingly designed. A sign as you enter says “peace” . Anyone can visit. It’s a great experience. My first thought about it is that I wished I’d been able to stay longer. I think it would be best to stay at least 5 days. Two nights are required, but go for longer.
It’s a mission, so it is Christ-centered, but they are extremely respectful of “whatever spiritual journey you are on”.
I found out about this place from a woman I met in Boulder, who learned I would be out that way and said I should check it out and stay there if I could. This whole corridor is a complete gem. Within only a short stretch of highway is O’keefe’s Ghost ranch, her home and studio natural beauty beyond all.