When I was in school studying art, long before experiencing this astonishingly beautiful place up close and personal, I sometimes wondered why Georgia O’Keeffe chose Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu above all others to claim as her home. What made it so special that she knew she belonged there?
She’d lived in other parts of the Southwest. She knew Taos and Santa Fe. She’d lived in New York and traveled abroad enough to have her pick of any gorgeous inspirational places to settle down. And yet she became part of such a remote place … in the desert. What’s to do there? Wasn’t it blazing hot in the summer, full of tumbleweeds and lizards?
Silly young thoughts … when I lived in the lush green Midwest.
Years later I understood … I ‘got it’ when Mr.D and I first drove through Abiquiu and north towards the ranch (on our way from Santa Fe to Durango) we curved up and around a bend … and there it was. First glimpse of the flat top mountain Pedernal … a narrow mesa … with sparkling blue lake, surrounded by ribboned rock formations of red, yellow ochre and white. I remember taking it all in and exclaiming “Oh yes, now I see.” 360 degree views of an amazing variety of textures, uniquely shaped cliffs and canyons, wide open desert. I could see how an artist could paint here for a lifetime and never be at a loss for beauty … as the lighting and seasons changed to offer more inspiration for preparing a palette.
She’s been quoted as saying, “When I got to New Mexico, that was mine. As soon as I saw, that was my country.”
She loved the mountain so much that she once wrote to a friend, “Pedernal is my private mountain. God told me if I painted it often enough I could have it.” After she passed away, her ashes were scattered at the top.
On this recent trip on our way to Taos, we arrived before dusk …
… and checked into one of the Coyote rooms, on top of the Ghost Ranch mesa (a different mesa across the valley floor from Pedernal) with views of the ranch and the bluffs.
Coyote, room No.3 … our view. The top part of the screen door looks like one of her framed paintings.
A few yards away, the outdoor Worship Area. We sat here for a while to just ‘be.’ The few people walking about or sitting on Coyote’s veranda all spoke in a whisper. Ghost Ranch does that … inspires you to speak softly, and maybe feel a little guilty to snap a photo and disturb the silence. But I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures.
This place is the polar opposite of where O’Keeffe moved from … New York. If an artist ever needed to clear their mind and remove any foggy thoughts … be done with the big city … or seek a place to heal and create … this is it.
As the sun set we walked around the grounds.
A view looking down on the stables.
The sky was a hazy blue, so I walked back to the room to unpack. As I stood in the little bedroom a brilliant pink glow came through the window blinds. I dashed outside and saw Mr.D waving for me to hurry …
… so I could climb up the hill and see this!
It was time for dinner, and we remembered the Abiquiu Inn and Cafe from a past trip … a scenic 20 minute drive southeast. We enjoyed crispy beef tostadas with avocado, beans, romaine, jack cheese, pico de gallo and chipotle cream. They also have a lovely wine list (the Abiquiu Chardonnay tasted like honey).
Last year we had the opportunity to tour O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu home (her summer house with the big garden) located just up the hill from the cafe. Photos were not permitted so I relish that bucket list moment in my memories.
Back to Coyote, where the rooms have no TV, no alarm clock, no radio or wifi. Standing outside, the moon had risen and the only sound was the wind. When the wind died down, Mr.D said “Now there’s no sound but the stars.”
We changed into our pajamas and read books. Still compelled to whisper. And slept more soundly than two baby bears after playing all day in an apple orchard.
Next morning … light streaming into the sitting area. The room was very clean, minimalist, with warm radiant heat floors.
A chair outside the door … perfect spot for enjoying the cool morning air and a good book of positive affirmations to start the day.
And whisper … only the sounds of people walking on the gravel roads and trails.
Breakfast was served in the large, cafeteria style dining hall below the mesa. A buffet of eggs, fruits, sausages, green chiles and breads. Most of the guests there were taking one of the Ghost Ranch Workshops, as it is now an artist’s and spiritual retreat.
Afterwards we checked out of our room by 10 a.m. and went to find the labyrinth, because we have a rule that one must never pass up the chance to walk a labyrinth. We’d heard that this one was one of the most picturesque.
Here is a map of the grounds.
We walked along the road of the Lower Pavillion, past the tiny O’Keeffe Cottage where she stayed when first visiting the ranch … not her large Ghost Ranch ‘Rancho de los Burros’ winter home which is still a private residence so it is not open for tours. She stayed here (pictured) and in other adobe cabins in this area of the ranch before building her two houses, and some are open for guest stays.
Here is a link to ranch tours … the Landscape Tour, a Walk in Georgia’s Footsteps, and Landscape Trail Rides in the morning and at sunset.
Ghost House, built in 1881.
The library … built by the Johnson family of Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals.
Library sitting room. They offer books and videos. You can get wifi service here, and there are two upstairs rooms for guest stays.
Agape Worship Center
Take your time here … pause to look up and around you. I promise that by the time you reach the center your mind will be free of anything bothersome.
People leave charms and build small cairns on and around the center stones.
When you walk out, the reverse of your steps, your brain will align. And you’ll feel a wonderful balance and lift of energy … an extra bounce in your step.
While I visited the anthropology museum, Mr.D hiked the Chimney Rock Trail, a 3 mile round trip up into the cliffs. The following photos are all from his journey …
The trail ascends quickly, before you know it you’re high above the buildings and stables.
Chimney Rock … this will look very familiar to O’Keeffe fans.
First glimpse of Chimney Rock at the top of the ridge…
My Front Yard painting.
Looking to the right, from the top.
These cliffs may also look familiar, from My Back Yard painting.
Looking down from Chimney Rock is the large adobe O’Keeffe House and studio, situated in a private area well away from the welcome center and other cabins.
The closest point to Chimney Rock.
Mr D. grew up in the Mojave Desert. He described this landscape as feeling like home, yet more magical and special. To see the beauty in the desert takes a caring eye, because it is there in the smallest of details… a single tiny flower sprouting from the dry cracked earth, to a blue bird perched on a dried limb. But Ghost Ranch’s landscape and colors are beyond compare. To finally reach the top where chimney rock stands is breathtaking. You are high on the ridge with astounding views, and you pause and feel a sense of gratitude that such magnificence has been created.
As you descend the trail you can look back and see just how far at the top of the ridge you actually were.
After the hike we took lunch to-go from the dining hall. This was our view as we dined on the front patio of the Welcome Center.
A beautiful blue sky New Mexican day … it was hard to say goodbye. As we drove away it became less so as we began making plans to return for a workshop retreat.
Only a three hour drive from Durango, this short stay was just a taste … an inspirational, relaxing, delicious taste. Next time we’ll pack the painting supplies and poetry pens.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, 1 and 1/2 hour drive south from Ghost Ranch