About 60 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico is an education & retreat center that was frequented by American artist Georgia O’Keeffe in the 1930s. It’s where she spent a couple of summers before purchasing a house on the property in 1940.
The center, called Ghost Ranch, encompasses a vast area of stunningly picturesque scenery that O’Keeffe captured in some of her paintings. The adobe cottage she purchased remains on site today, and while it’s not open to the public, you can peer into the windows to see some of the inside.
I visited Ghost Ranch as sort of a consolation destination to Taos Pueblo. Taos is the only living Native American community that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. It was unfortunately closed while I was in Santa Fe and wouldn’t open until weeks after I left. A hosteler I met recommended driving up to Ghost Ranch instead, and it turned out to be a pretty good alternate adventure.
When coming to Ghost Ranch, you’ll have to stop by the Visitor’s Center to pay a $5 Ranch Land Conservation fee with cash or card. If you have no clue where to start, you can talk to the people who work there. They’re very accommodating, friendly, and helpful. They even suggest that you fill up your water bottle using a tap in the building so that you stay hydrated while you’re out and about on the property.
If you ever get the chance to come here, there are a good number of activities and sights to indulge in. Here are a few of them:
Matrimonial Mesa Trail
There are several trails to hike at Ghost Ranch. When I visited, the area had recently received some rain, so certain trails were muddy. I wasn’t prepared and wasn’t wearing proper shoes, so one of the people working there suggested the Matrimonial Mesa Trail. The trailhead is located on the way out of the ranch, so I had to drive out as if I were leaving, and then parked in a little dirt lot to the left that can fit two cars, or three if they’re parked close together.
Because of the recent rain, the ground was soft, but it wasn’t muddy because that part of the trail was out in the sun and had dried a bit.
The trail is pretty easy and offers amazing views of stunning sandstone cliffs. When you’re out there, it’s hard to believe that the scenery is real because it looks like a huge real-life painting. I spent over an hour here standing out under the midday sun because I was so captivated by the view.
Along the way, I walked into three people riding horses. If you’d like to ride a horse along the trails, that’s another option that’s available at the ranch as well.
The Pack Memorial is a plaque fixed to a stone that honors Arthur and Phoebe Pack, who gave Ghost Ranch to the Presbyterian Church in 1955. Getting to the memorial requires a quick 5-minute hike that’s all on incline, but it’s not too bad and there’s no need to rush getting up there.
Once you get to the top, look for the rock in the middle of this picture that’s right beneath the tree:
There’s no sign pointing to the memorial and it can be easy to miss. I walked ahead for a couple of minutes and went all the way up to where the rooms are before deciding I’d probably gone too far.
You’ll be able to see the plaque fixed to the other side of that rock.
Apart from the memorial, there are nice views of the ranch from the top of the trail, and it’s nice to just take it all in for a few minutes before you head back down.
The Ghost House was built in the late 1800s and is where Georgia O’Keeffe spent the night at the ranch in 1934.
The house is air conditioned and contains several old photographs of the property along with descriptions of what they were.
At Ghost Ranch, there are two museums that are accessible within the same building: The Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Paleontology.
At the anthropology museum there are many artifacts from Paleo Indian cultures from over 10,000 years ago. When I visited, there was a special exhibit on display called Ladies of the Canyon, which tells the stories of some female pioneers, including Ghost Ranch founder Carol Bishop Stanley. The exhibit is based on a book with that title by author Lesley Poling-Kempes.
As for the paleontology museum, it turns out that, Ghost Ranch is one of the best known paleontological digs in the Northern Hemisphere, according to its website.
In 1947, the bones of a dinosaur that was alive 220 million years ago (Coelophysis) were discovered; Sixty-two years later in 2009, the discovery of the bones of another dinosaur called Tawa Hallae was reported in “Science” magazine.
In 2006, the fossils of what looked like a two-legged dinosaur that were discovered were named Effigia okeeffeae after Georgia O’Keeffe. It turned out that the fossils actually belong to a distant cousin of alligators and crocodiles, though. (More on that can be found here if you’re interested.)
Nobody was at the museum when I visited, but the Ghost Ranch website states that about 2,000 to 3,000 schoolchildren visit it every year. It’s definitely a fun way to learn about dinosaurs.
To be able to access everything available at Ghost Ranch for $5, from all the calming and gorgeous scenery to the museums, this is a great place to invest a couple of hours. For those who are big fans of Georgia O’Keeffe, it’ll be amazing to see where she drew inspiration for her artwork and walk on the same grounds she walked on and lived.