Georgia O’Keeffe, American’s beloved artist, lived in Ghost Ranch and created some of her famous paintings here. What landscape mesmerized her and made her stay? We came to Ghost Ranch to see it.
From Highway 84, the dramatic yellow and red cliffs jumped into our eyes. Ghost Ranch is right at the foot of these shining rocks. Sitting under a big tree with green flowers for lunch, we saw the Chimney Rocks in the distance. Several evening grosbeaks were having lunch in the tree as well. They were eating the flowers.
We started our tour from the museums. The Museum of Anthropology displays artifacts from Paleo Indian culture. Pueblos and other tribes lived along the Rio Grande area dated back to 12,000 years ago. Pottery, pueblo medallions, projectile points were among the items on display. The interpretive sign says that “Navajo and Apache arrived around the 1300’s. Spanish entered this region in the mid 1500’s. Americans followed in the 1800’s.”
The logo of Ghost Ranch – an ox skull, originated from a sketch of Georgia O’Keeffe, was leaned against the wall. The volunteer gave us the background of Ghost Ranch. Georgia O’Keeffe came to visit the ranch from Santa Fe and was fascinated by the landscape. She stayed at a cabin and the cabin was now named after her. She later bought a piece of land from the owner of the ranch – Arthur Pack, one of the earliest environmentalists. O’Keeffe built her summer house and painted landscape. She stated in her will that her house on Ghost Ranch cannot be opened to the public for 100 years after her death. Pack gave the ranch to Presbyterian Church in 1955. Ghost Ranch has been a national education and retreat center for over 55 years.
The Museum of Paleontology has a replica of a skeleton of Coelophysis dinosaur that was discovered at the Coelophysis Quarry here at Ghost Ranch. The quarry became a National Natural Landmark because of its hundreds of skeletons of Triassic dinosaur. Coelophysis is the New Mexico state fossil.
Behind the museum is the Chimney Rock Trail. The trail took me uphill and close to the spectacular Chimney Rocks. The Piedra Lumbre (shining stone) sits in the north of Ghost Ranch. Looking down to the valley, I saw horses eating feeds in the horse corrals. There were some RVs and trailers camping on the campground. Sheep and goats were grazing on the grassland. The grass was still brown. According to the volunteer at the museum, the sprinklers were damaged, and it will cost half of a million to install a new sprinkler system.
The trail goes through a brown grassland dotted with chain chollas and junipers. Big boulders covered with lichens scattered on the hillside. Some dead junipers still hold their grounds. The moving clouds cast shadows on the Chimney Rocks from time to time. When the sun peaked out from the clouds, Chimney Rocks shone like gold. The colors of rocks change with lighting. I wondered if the changing colors and the stark beauty of the desert landscape captivated O’Keeffe.
Finally, I arrived at an overlook with a good view of Chimney Rocks and the Piedra Lumbre Valley. Cerro Pedernal, a flat top mesa, sits high in the distance with Abiquiu Lake in its foreground. O’Keeffe painted a lot of it. The two Chimney Rocks have beautiful yellow color at the top and pink sandstone as their bases. Later I knew that O’Keeffe’s house is down there on the other side of the Chimney Rocks. We saw it from the distance from the highway.
We went to the library in the ranch. It is a nice little library with free Wi-Fi. There is an O’Keeffe collection. I thumbed through a book about her house at Ghost Ranch. Her patio faces Cerro Pedernal which she claimed as her “private mountain.”
“I wish you could see what I see out the window—the earth pink and yellow cliffs to the north—the full pale moon about to go down in an early morning lavender sky . . . pink and purple hills in front and the scrubby fine dull green cedars—and a feeling of much space—It is a very beautiful world.” O’Keeffe wrote to her friend (www.architecturaldigest.com).
Echo Amphitheater is near Ghost Ranch. It is a natural amphitheater carved by water over the cliffs. The rock formations have similar colors as those in Ghost Ranch. The sheer cliffs look like a layer cake. The most beautiful layer is the Entrada sandstone formation with its thick yellow layer and white and orange layer. The cliffs are capped with a grey layer of Todilto Formation. Our voices were amplified and echoed when we were standing under the big concave. Several desert varnishes stain the yellow rock face.
The desert landscape of Ghost Ranch and Echo Amphitheater is amazing. Georgia O’Keeffe found inspiration from this high desert landscape. Ghost Ranch’s workshops continue to attract people to come here to learn and to get inspired.