My mountain home is 5 miles up a gravel road that turns off between mile marker 9 and 10 of a two-lane highway. The 9 and the 10 are in Colorado and if you were a crow and flew 5 miles to mile 0, you’d be in New Mexico.
If you traveled another 70 miles along the road that twists along the Chama River, you would reach a stretch of land that was granted to a fortunate loyalist by the King of Spain in 1766.
It is said that the spirits already living in this corner of Northern New Mexico were unhappy with this turn of events. Native people and early settlers believed the vast valley was enchanted by sorcerers and witches. Stories of murder and spirited mayhem continued through the late 19th century, when the Archuleta brothers ran cattle in what by then was known as Rancho de los Brujos, or Ranch of the Witches. Later, it came to be Ghost Ranch.
With or without spirits, it holds remarkable beauty.
When she who introduced it to the world first saw this country in 1917, she said, “when I saw New Mexico, that was mine.”
As a matter of fact, it has come to be called O’Keeffe Country by the New Mexico tourism pundits. But Georgia cannot lay sole claim. She never owned Ghost Ranch–when she arrived its ownership had passed on to the Pack family and she had to talk them into renting her a small house on a spot of land within their property.
She left her husband and New York each summer and traveled west to her retreat. She explored miles of Northern New Mexico on horseback and in a Model A and took in the red cliffs and the white bleached bones and the high desert plants and the white shining rocks.
She stayed permanently in this place after her husband died. She purchased and lived in an adobe home in the nearby town of Abiquiu. In the last of her 98 years, she moved to Santa Fe. But the land in and around Ghost Ranch was her solace and her home and the place where her ashes were released when she died in 1986.
It was here she found energy she did not feel elsewhere. It was here she noticed that the sun’s light was different and the dry air made things in the distance look sharper. It was here she saw architecture in rocks and an enormous and vast sky. It was her respite. It was her opportunity. It was her inspiration. And she created.
On the next to the last day of December, I drove from my cabin in Southwest Colorado to Taos and then made the loop on around through Espanola, and back up Highway 84 through Abiquiu. It was late afternoon and there was a touch of snow on the ground when I arrived at Ghost Ranch.
I took pictures as the sun began to set. A few cars passed by, workers or visitors of the conference center that is to the east of where Georgia O’Keeffe first stayed. Ghost Ranch is owned now by the Presbyterian Church and functions as a place for remarkable and ordinary folks to gather and stretch their minds and souls in a setting that underscores the splendid surroundings. The Lindbergh’s, D.H. Lawrence and Robert Oppenheimer all walked and gazed at these cliffs during Georgia O’Keeffe’s lifetime. It is amazingly inspiring, even today.
If you become quiet, you sense that this land is not owned by the Presbyterians, nor Georgia O’Keeffe, nor the Packs, nor the Archuletas, nor the lucky Spaniard. You sense it is still owned by the spirits.
If you become quiet, you can feel them. And you are inspired.