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Unplug and Renew With a Relaxing Vacation

Man Labyrinth, Stone Circle, Mountain, Desert, Unplug and Renew With a Relaxing Vacation

Jen Judge

Get lost in thought walking the half-mile stone-lined labyrinth at the Ghost Ranch resort.

We are weary. We're tired of the economy. Tired of politics. Tired of texting and cellphones. We could all use a serious time-out in a soft place with gentle pursuits, natural beauty and people who understand the restorative power of quiet.

Luckily for us, America has surprisingly affordable retreat centers where you can unwind and come home refreshed and ready for another round of life in the 21st century.

Note: Unless stated otherwise, rates are the lowest available per person, per night, meals included. Activities often cost extra.

EarthRise Center at IONS

Petaluma, California
$310, single; $275 each, double occupancy (for the weekend, with meals)

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell founded IONS — the Institute of Noetic Sciences (from the Greek nous, or "inner knowing") — two years after he visited the moon.

A scant 35-minute drive from San Francisco, EarthRise is IONS' retreat center. It's a place where guests are invited to contemplate, in Mitchell's words, a world in which people are "concerned with greater good for all."

"The only path to a sustainable future on Earth," he says, "is with individuals who are free, responsible, concerned with greater good for all, and willing to put those needs ahead of personal aggrandizement."

Where to sleep

The lodging is rustic but spotless, set among 194 rolling acres in the Petaluma hills. (Don't miss the uphill hike to the sweeping view from Guardian Rock.)

How to unwind

EarthRise takes its proximity to Sonoma's famous vineyards to heart. Besides offering the chance to ponder big questions, the place also has superb California haute cuisine - ginger-miso salmon with Chinese black rice with wine, anyone? (707-775-3500;

Deep Bay Retreat Center

Lakeside, Montana
From $2,050 a week per house (8 to 12 people in a house)

Set on 10 acres of Rocky Mountain wilderness — less than an hour-and-a-half drive south from Glacier National Park — this nonprofit, nondenominational retreat overlooks Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.

Where to sleep

Visitors can choose from four first-rate timber-frame guesthouses named Earth, Wood, Fire and Water. The houses have large picture windows, with views of the nearby Mission Mountains' snow-topped peaks. Each house has a full kitchen; catering is available in the town of Lakeside.

How to unwind

Deep Bay has its own private cove, a picnic area, and a boat dock and a sun dock for swimming and sunbathing. A short but challenging hike on a woodland trail leads to the shores of Flathead Lake, whose clear green water originates in Glacier National Park. (406-844-2611;

Bethany Spring

New Haven, Kentucky
$70 (large house); $80 (cottage)

About 50 miles south of Louisville, Bethany Spring is the retreat center for the Merton Institute, a spiritual think tank named for Thomas Merton, a jazz-loving Trappist monk who wrote more than 70 books, including the classic The Seven Storey Mountain. Lectures and programs encourage what Merton referred to as contemplative living: "living in relationship with oneself, God, others and nature free of the illusion of separateness."

Where to sleep

The main house sleeps up to nine people; smaller cottages sleep two or three.

How to unwind

Wooded paths lead to a small lake and the Abbey of Gethsemani, a mile away, where guests are invited to pray with the monks. (502-549-8277;

Benedictine Center of Spirituality

Duluth, Minnesota
Pay what you can afford

Since 2008, the Benedictine sisters have run this retreat center in a stately monastery overlooking the placid waters of Lake Superior. Throughout their stay, guests feel the sisters' unobtrusive, watchful presence. The focus here is on silence and meditation. Says Sister Jeanne Ann Weber, the center's director of liturgy: "The area is wonderful for reflecting."

Where to sleep

The 12 pleasant, spacious rooms offer private solace in accordance with St. Benedict's call for "a balance of prayer, work and leisure." Guests enjoy unfussy Midwestern meals with the sisters (and we mean unfussy; at least once a week the menu is soup and bread).

How to unwind

Patrons can worship with the sisters or just bask in the jewel-colored light flooding into the chapel from 14 stained-glass windows, each depicting "women whose holy lives made them instruments of peace in the world of their day." (218-723-6555;

Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat Center

Detroit, Oregon

Nestled among more than 150 acres of national forest two hours southeast of Portland, the center is built on the Breitenbush River. Northwesterners come here for meditation, yoga, massage and hiking.

Where to sleep

The center's geothermally heated cabins are located near three stone-lined natural hot springs and a bracing cold plunge. Organic vegetarian meals are served in the big, inviting historic lodge.

How to unwind

Stroll through the ancient forest along Breitenbush River, then get a hot-stone massage or soak in a hot-spring pool. Later, catch some Shakespeare on the deck or poetry in the Cedar Yurt; call ahead for the schedule. Says events director Tom Robinson: "Because of the river, the hot springs and the ancient forest, Breitenbush has a transformative effect on people. There's a sense of letting go, settling in and deeply relaxing." (503-854-3320;

Ghost Ranch

Abiquiu, New Mexico
$390 to $834 (six nights)

About 130 miles north of Albuquerque, this 21,000-acre desert haven sweeps through the rouge-and-coral mesas of the Chama River valley, immortalized by artist Georgia O'Keeffe, who lived and worked at Ghost Ranch for 50 years.

Where to sleep

The quarters range from rustic bunk-bed dorms to Santa Fe-chic rooms with private baths. But you'll find no in-room clock, radio, television or Internet.

How to unwind

Situated about the grounds are a beautiful, new two-story adobe worship center, a charming 16,000-volume New Mexico — style library (including Shirley MacLaine's extensive spirituality collection) and a dinosaur-filled archaeology museum. The paleontology museum features a large block of rock taken from a Ghost Ranch site that's being carefully excavated by experts. Some 200 annual workshops allow you to try your hand at fly-fishing, bird-watching, photography, yoga and beadwork. You can also hike to an 8,000-year-old rock shelter — or get lost in thought walking the half-mile stone-lined labyrinth. (877-804-4678;

Kadampa Meditation Center

Glen Spey, New York
$35 to $105

This 82-acre Buddhist retreat in a spruce forest (80 miles from Manhattan) was founded by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, an 81-year-old Tibetan monk, and offers secluded trails where you might see white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and even, yes, black bears.

Where to sleep

You can choose from a shared dormitory or a simple single room with a desk and sitting area. Meals are served family-style in a log house.

How to unwind

Catch up on all things Buddhist at the Kadampa Book and Gift Shop, or enjoy a cup of really good tea and dessert (don't miss the scrumptious cherry pie with homemade whipped cream) at the World Peace Cafe. Temple talks include simple breathing meditations. Those visitors who are not attracted to Buddhist precepts can enjoy the center's many creeks and ponds. (845-856-9000;

Jessica Maxwell wrote the award-winning memoir Roll Around Heaven.

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