About Us - Spirit In The Desert

We Welcome You

Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center welcomes all people to experience the pure beauty of God’s creation in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. The sunsets are breathtaking and the sunrises are announced by the calls of the Cactus Wren and Gambel’s Quail. The gardens around the facilities on the nine-acre campus are filled with natural plants, trees, and many species of Sonoran Desert cacti.  At an altitude of 2,580 feet the campus is somewhat cooler than the Phoenix metro area, especially in the glorious evening and early morning hours.

When you arrive, you will be warmly welcomed by a people-centered staff who will orient you to your surroundings. All bedrooms have private bathrooms, a patio or balcony, most with spectacular mountain views. Our experienced chefs will serve homemade, healthy meals and our heated swimming pool and Jacuzzi are available for your enjoyment and relaxation. Meeting rooms with WiFi and AV support are provided for a successful meeting or retreat.

This oasis in the desert features three walking paths with audio-guided meditation including a Labyrinth, Prayer Path, and Islands of Silence. We also maintain a virtual bookstore, with references to a variety of inspiring and insightful books, many authored by our retreat leaders. And we have a small gift shop with items such as pocket labyrinths, prayer stones, desert artists, etc.

Retreats at Spirit in the Desert are available for participants of all faiths and traditions to experience reconciliation, renewal, healing, and transformation. Churches of all denominations and related organizations can hold meetings for leaders and members in a get-away environment that encourages positive communication and productivity. We also welcome and assist individuals who would like personal retreat for one or more days.

We look forward to seeing you at this special place where people experience hospitality and renewal of their callings in the world.

Click HERE to take a tour of the campus.

About Us - Spirit In The Desert

Make arrangements for your group retreat, organizational meeting, or personal retreat in advance with someone in Guest Services at 480-488-5218, or Email Us

For program information contact Cyndy Warnier, Program and Development Director at 480-488-5218,  ext. 430 or Email Her

Our Staff

Eric Simonson, will step into the Executive Director Position on May 1, 2020 – welcome Eric!

On behalf of the Spirit in the Desert Board of Directors, I am pleased to announce that Eric Simonson has been unanimously appointed at our April 25, 2020 board meeting to serve as our Executive Director.

Eric has been engaged in several capacities at Spirit in the Desert over the past few years.  Encouraged by his ongoing friendship with our Faith Mentor, Jim Hanson, Eric and his wife, Michelle, met Richard Andersen and were introduced to the mission and vision of this ministry.  Their lifetime connections and engagement in Lutheran congregational service sensitized them to discover the impact and value of Spirit in the Desert.  From that point forward, they faithfully attended the weekly Wednesday afternoon Touchpoint Communion services, and they volunteered in our food service program as needed.

During this time, Eric entered into the sale of his company, Sundrella Patio Furniture, with a deep-seated openness to his next calling in life.  After Richard’s sudden death, Eric was hired to manage our food service, kitchen and dining room, and, six months later was invited to serve as Operations and Finance Manager.  During these roles, he has shown his unique ability to bring into alignment his 35 years of business management experience with his passion for integrating Christian faith with the rest of life.

As you know, we are moving through our “hiatus” at the Center through July, with the hope of welcoming our guests at the earliest appropriate time.  We are very happy that Eric has focused his commitment as our Executive Director at this unprecedented and challenging time in our society and in our church.  In the words of Dennis Dahlen, “Congratulations on your appointment as our new Executive Director.  I have high hopes and high confidence that under your leadership, we will be able to turn the page on Spirit’s circumstances and exit this hiatus with strong momentum.”

In this capacity, we look forward to Eric’s leadership in support of the Mission of Spirit in the Desert, working collaboratively with our Board members, our Staff, and our wonderful Stakeholders and Friends.

As we welcome Eric, we want to express our highest gratitude to Jennifer Braaten for her irreplaceable guidance in bringing us to this place in our turbulent year.  Jennifer has enabled us to refocus our plans, resources, staffing organization and vision as we move forward. Jennifer will hand the baton of leadership to Eric on May 1, 2020.

We cherish your ongoing prayers and support in our mutual commitment to being a ministry where people experience hospitality, and find healing and renewal for body, soul and mind.

With deep gratitude,

Paul Evenson, Board Chair

denise berberichFor many of Spirit in the Desert’s guests, the Retreat Center’s well-known welcoming hospitality begins on the phone or in person with Denise Berberich, Guest Services Director.

“My job starts with identifying what people need for a successful retreat, whether that is a group of 50 people, or an individual, couple, or family wanting a renewal experience. I gather their information and put together a package with all of the details for guest rooms, meals and snacks, meeting rooms, equipment, and special requests. There are many details, and when the guests arrive, the entire staff mobilizes to provide a transforming retreat experience.”

Denise said, “I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota where I learned a strong work ethic and the importance of working together. Denise describes her employment at Spirit in the Desert as a family where everyone pitches in for the common purpose of serving retreat guests. “At the end of the day, I go home feeling that we have made an important difference for our guests. It is ministry for people from many states and countries.”

The family experience extends to guests. When people inquire about bringing a group of people for a retreat, Denise invites them to take a tour of the campus. She said, “During the tour the guests are introduced to the beautiful campus and stunning desert scenery. It is exciting to welcome them to their retreat and when they return a year or so later, it is like a family reunion.”

Cyndy WarnierCyndy Warnier came to work for Spirit in the Desert in 2008, as a part-time guest services person and already had the education, skills, and experiences for her current position of Program and Development Director. Cyndy is a retired paramedic and has degrees in music, dental hygiene, Biblical studies, and graphic arts. With her Biblical and musical skills, she creates and leads retreats and worship events. Cyndy is also an excellent photographer. Her high-resolution photos enhance Spirit in the Desert’s retreat brochures, emails, and website.

Cyndy deeply understands that the foundation of Spirit in the Desert’s relationship with its guests is providing genuine welcoming hospitality and service. She grew up in a family-owned resort business in northern Wisconsin and learned that the family’s livelihood was dependent on every one in the family pitching in and treating their resort guests very well. Cyndy brings that early learning “spirit” to Spirit in the Desert.

Asked to describe the core of her responsibilities, Cyndy said, “My job is to help provide life-changing retreats and to create relationships with people who want to invest in the mission of Spirit in the Desert. I regard my work as ministry because our guests have life-changing experiences; they can be important small changes, and sometimes they are 360 degree turn-a-rounds.”

Cyndy’s energy and enthusiasm seems boundless. Asked what motivates her, she said, “I love to come to work because of my co-workers, the vibrant nature of our campus, and serving guests from around the world.”

saguaro blooms


The mission and viability of Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center is guided by its Board of Directors. Eleven talented women and men generously give their time and expertise to support the executive staff and assure the non-profit organization is a sacred place where people experience hospitality and renew their callings in the world.

Click on the “(Story Title)” to read about the Directors

Joel Bjerkestrand, Involved from the Beginning”

Dennis Dahlen “Spirit in the Desert is Consequential”

Bishop Deborah Hutterer,   “This is a Holy Place”

Paul Evenson, Chair,  “Charitable Funds are Oxygen”

John Kautz, Secretary, Broader and Deeper

Suki Kisling, “Empowering Women”

Melissa Maxwell-Doherty, “Expanding Our Circle of Inclusion”

Nola Mellstrom, Networking to Grow Spirit in the Desert

Dave Schoenbeck, Respect

Glenn Schrader, “Energized for Growth and Leadership for Spirit’s Future”

Paula Sturgeon,   “A Place Where the Spirit Dances”

Bob Ulland, Treasurer, “Margin for Mission”

Wilder, Dave, The Opportunity to Help Others

Yates, Julie, An International Perspective

Doug Yock, “Broadening the Reach of this Wonderful Place”


Mary Wennes,  “Global Citizen and Activist”

Robert Duea, Vice Chair,   “Living the Third Chapter”