Ansel Adams said of Ghost Ranch: “…The skies and land are so enormous, and the detail so precise and exquisite that wherever you are you are isolated in a glowing world between the macro and micro.”
Every aspect of our April road trip to Santa Fe was planned. The maps and guide books had arrived from the car club. Ghost Ranch. The banner ad caught my eye. I had a vague recollection of hearing about Ghost Ranch before but didn’t remember when or where. Clicking on the banner, I was immediately immersed in the story of Ghost Ranch (ghostranch.org). Georgia O’Keefe lived at Ghost Ranch and painted the beauty of the area. As an artist and photographer, I knew we had to stop there. Our travel plans were about to change.
Online reservations are required to guarantee a spot for the walking tour which is only available on Fridays. As it happened, Friday was the only day we had available. Only 8 people are allowed on the tour due to the fragility of the landscape from drought conditions. Decisions had to be made. Ghost Ranch versus an extra day in Santa Fe. Well, that was a no brainer. Calling for room reservations I discovered that some of the older buildings are sleeping rooms only and share a common bathroom. Too close to camping for me. A more modern room that had it’s own bathroom was an easy decision. The side trip was planned and excitement grew by the day.
Ghost Ranch has a long history. In the 1920’s, the Archuleta brothers purchased the 21,000 acres to hide their cattle rustling business. It was already known to be a mysterious place to Native Americans and others who lived in the surrounding area. The Archuleta’s crimes created even more mystery. People would claim to hear screaming and crying in the night. The brothers would kill anyone who stumbled onto the ranch for fear that they would tell authorities what was happening on the ranch. Eventually one brother killed the other brother in an argument about money. The remaining brother was hung by the locals on the ranch. It stood vacant for many years because of its reputation. Arthur Pack purchased the ranch in the 1930’s and made it into a dude ranch where many celebrities including Georgia O’Keefe hung out. She fell in love with the beautiful geographical features. She bought a small parcel of land to build her house on a now restricted part of Ghost Ranch. She spent her days wandering and painting in the area but most frequently painted just steps away from her home and even from the roof of her home. Arthur Pack willed the ranch to the Presbyterian Church when he died.
Ghost Ranch is located northwest of Espanola, NM on Highway 84. The road is surrounded by colorful hills, mountains and cliffs. It’s easy to see why Georgia O’Keefe fell in love with the area. Abiquiu, where O’Keefe had her studio is located approximately 18 miles southeast of the ranch. As you travel northwest you will discover the Abiquiu Reservoir nestled among the peaks and valleys. The spectacular view is a bonus. Spending some time there before completing the short distance to Ghost Ranch is recommended. It was very windy the early April day we arrived so with a freezing wind chill we could only spend a few minutes. Turning into the Ghost Ranch driveway you will see a small log cabin and corral on the right side. Be sure to stop to walk around and take photos. The cabin was left by a movie production company by request of the owners of the ranch many years ago. Normally production crews must remove all evidence of their visit and restore the grounds to its original state. Movies that have been filmed there include: Lone Ranger 2013, Cowboys & Aliens 2011, Georgia O’Keefe 2009 (TV), Indian Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skulls 2008, City Slickers 1991. More than 100 movies have been filmed at Ghost Ranch since the 1930’s. In fact, the last day of our visit, there was a production crew at the ranch preparing to film a TV movie. The head of the production crew entertained our tour members with his explanation of what they were about to film. We promised that we would not divulge the details. Hint: It will be a western.
Today the Ghost Ranch offers spiritual, artistic and educational programs. The walking trails, which are open to the public, can be up to 2-3 miles round trip and are free to explore on your own. The lodging is comfortable and clean. There are different kinds of lodging available to suit your needs from very rustic to modern. Meals are available at the dining hall and served cafeteria style. We had supper and breakfast. The food was delicious. You can walk down the hill to the dining hall, library and visitor center. We stayed in the Timberline building which was modern and simple. It had a sitting room, bedroom and full bath. It’s important to note that there is no TV or Wi-Fi service in the rooms. Wi-Fi is only available in the library which is open 24 hrs. A large common lounge area in the middle of Timberline building had an older TV, hotplate, coffee maker, bathroom and comfortable sofas and chairs. You won’t to spend time watching TV when you have such a grand view from the veranda. Every room had a view of the Cerros Pedernal. Chimney Rock was just around the corner. Chairs on the veranda of your room welcome you to come sit and enjoy the beauty. We were the only people occupying a room in Timberline for the night so solitude and peace abounded. Despite the fact that the temperature was about 25° F, I sat at the end of the veranda watching the sun set on Chimney Rock until it was completely dark. As to the legends of Ghost Ranch, did I hear footsteps, voices from the past? I ‘m not sure what I heard but it made the experience exciting..
The following day, our tour guide, Karen, drove us to a restricted part of the ranch that includes O’Keefe’s house. We walked in the arroyos and horse trails being careful not to step off the trails and damage any of the fragile flora or fauna. Karen showed us photos of O’Keefe’s paintings and ask us to look for the subject of the painting. Some were easy to identify – others not so easy. The area is immense. Karen has spent years studying the paintings and looking for the original areas in the paintings and has identified an impressive number of them. As we were headed back to the van, we met one of the horseback riding tours. We waited for them to pass before we continued our short walk to the van. We were a little sad to leave Ghost Ranch. It was peaceful and beautiful. When planning a trip to Ghost Ranch, do plan to take one of their tours – walk, bus, horseback – or even all of them as each is unique. Online reservations are best to guarantee a spot. There are accommodations available at different pricing tiers and different comfort levels. Don’t plan on watching TV. Do plan on hiking, exploring or taking one of their educational programs. They have many geared to both adults and children. A catalog is available for the year-long season. You can sign up on the website (ghostranch.org). I suggest that before making your reservations check to see what educational programs might be available during your stay. By all means plan to stay longer than 1 day or 1 night. We will definitely return. There is just so much to see. A definite place to visit is the Museum of Anthropology and Paleontology located on the ranch with fossils from the Triassic Period. There are farm animals, hiking trails, spectacular views, gift shop, coffee cafe and you may get to see a movie being filmed.
Postscript: We visited our own Science Museum of Minnesota for the Ultimate Dinosaur exhibition and Omni Theatre production. What a thrill to find out that they filmed it at Ghost Ranch. We could hardly contain ourselves when the aerial views would show sites we saw on our visit there. I kept poking my son and whispering – “We were there”, “We saw that”. If you get the chance to see this exhibition in your city or a city near you, don’t miss it. The bus tour actually goes to the excavation sites where they found the dinosaurs and fossils displayed at the museum on Ghost Ranch.by