Hiking toward heaven: Ghost Ranch

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Chimney Rock. Click on image to enlarge, then back-arrow to return to blog article.

GHOST RANCH is 21,000 acers in the midst of red rock country about an hour north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. There are five terrific hikes through spectacular scenery. We took the hike called Chimney Rock – a moderate hike of 3 miles which took about 3 hours round trip. Photos of this hike are interspersed above and below.

Ghost Ranch was originally in the wild west, as quoted below:
The canyon was first inhabited by the Archuleta brothers, cattle rustlers who enjoyed the coverage and invisibility that the canyon provided as well as their ability to see for miles down the valley. They created two jacal homes and would move stolen cattle throughout the night to Box Canyon. By transporting the cattle through streams, footprints would be lost and they could not be tracked. Stories of people staying with the Archuleta brothers and who had gone missing (with their clothing on the brothers) circulated around the area.

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Kim McGrath, my step-daughter, taking in the Chama valley from the top of the Chimney Rock hike.

One day one of the brothers made a transaction without the other and claimed he had buried the gold for safety. The second brother killed him and kept his wife and daughter hostage until they admitted to knowing where the gold was hidden. Although the mother and daughter feared the rumored spirits of the canyon, they mustered up the courage to sneak away at night through the Chama Valley.

A group of local men then came to the ranch, fighting through their fear, and hung the remaining brother and his gang from a cottonwood tree that still stands next to one of the casitas on the property. Other visitors who stayed in the casita later on noted that they could hear voices of a man and a woman fighting.

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It’s a long way down – view from the top of Chimney Rock trail.

Roy Pfaffle won the deed to the ranch in a poker game sometime early in 1928. His wife, Carol Stanley, recorded the deed in her name, decided to name the place Ghost Ranch, and moved there two years later, after divorcing Pfaffle. Stanley constructed guest quarters and created an exclusive dude ranch that was visited by many of the wealthy and creative people of the time.

Stanley sold the ranch to Arthur Pack in 1935. He sold it eventually to the Presbyterian church, who now use it as an educational and retreat center, with hundreds of classes offered each year.

GEORGIA O’KEEFFE visited and fell in love with the red-rock geography. Ghost Ranch was the home and studio of Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as the subject of many of her paintings. She resided here in summers. Her husband back east sold her paintings – theirs was apparently a marriage of convenience. The following are excerpts from Wikipedia.

O’Keeffe was a legend beginning in the 1920s, known as much for her independent spirit and female role model as for her dramatic and innovative works of art. She received unprecedented acceptance as a woman artist due to her powerful graphic images and within a decade of moving to New York City she was the highest paid American woman artist.

In August of 1934, she visited Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiú, for the first time and decided immediately to live there; in 1940, she moved into a house on the ranch property. The varicolored cliffs of Ghost Ranch inspired some of her most famous landscapes.

Among guests to visit her at the ranch over the years were Charles and Anne Lindbergh, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, poet Allen Ginsberg, and photographer Ansel Adams.

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Oil painting titled Pedernal by Georgia O’Keeffe (1941). (Courtesy of Blair Clark – New Mexico Museum of Art).

She moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949, spending time at both Ghost Ranch and an Abiquiú house and studio.

She was famous for her paintings of the grand scenery where she lived, as well as flowers.

Georgia O’Keeffe died at 98 in Santa Fe.

FOSSILS. As described in Wikipedia, 200 million years ago Ghost Ranch and the American Southwest were located close to the equator, and had a warm, monsoon-like climate with heavy seasonal precipitation. Ghost Ranch includes a famous paleontology site preserving Triassic dinosaurs. Fossil bones were found here as early as 1885. In 1947 Edwin H. Colbert documented the discovery of over a thousand well-preserved fossilized skeletons of a small Triassic dinosaur called Coelophysis in a quarry here.

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A flock of Coelophysis that were killed at Ghost Ranch during an event (a flood?) 208 million years ago contained adult individuals ranging greatly in size (Matt Celesky).

MOVIES. Many films were made at Ghost Ranch, including Silverado (1995) – one of my favorite westerns, City Slickers (1991), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), No Country for Old Men (2007), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).

I cannot help but thank God for the ability to hike in and to gaze at his creation, and these spectacular cliffs of color.

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The Gray Nomad appreciating the geology of the cliffs.

PS: I write blogs about three topics: Science and Energy, Inspiration and Hope, and Health and Hiking.

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Tired but happy – view of red rocks from the ranch buildings back down below.


The Gray Nomad ….. Hike and feel well.
For you cause my lamp to be lighted and shine; the Lord my God illumines my darkness.
[Book of Psalms, chapter 18]

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5 years ago

I have driven by the Ghost Ranch numerous times, and enjoyed the local scenery. I had no idea of the size and diversity of the estate, 21,000 acres, wow. The history is very interesting. There is a Catholic monetary close by on the opposite side of the highway, which is also very interesting. It is located by the Chama River, in a beautiful forested area. Ian I believe you have visited there. Your pictures are fantastic, thanks. Makes me homesick for NM.

5 years ago

I am very, very envious!!!!!!! Loved the article and the pics. I have a good knowledge base of Ms. O’Keeffe and the Taos intellectuals.

5 years ago

Beautiful and interesting.

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