That Was Mine


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. 

94 thoughts on “That Was Mine

  1. How absolutely beautiful! Both the images and the words. Thank you!
    I sit here on a freezing morning in New England, trying to find the “inspiration” to head off to work. Thanks for providing it!

  2. You live in a land that I have yet to explore and your words and images sing out to my adventurous spirit!! Thank you so much for the awe-inspiring photos. Now I must go and add a few locations to my Travel Wish List!

  3. So, so beautiful…in words and images.
    The one thing I truly miss about Where I Grew Up (Oklahoma/Texas border) are those amazing sunsets, when the sky catches fire.
    Thanks for capturing that, and the stillness of the soul it inspires.

    • The sunsets and the sunrises are pretty spectacular, for sure. So many places in the world are beautiful and this is one that I especially like. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Your words were like a first dusting of snow on already gorgeous country, just providing the accentuation; and then the photos captioned the rest. Powerful country, beautiful recreation by you.

  5. I was definitely inspired. The contrast of the deep oranges and the crystal cold blue sky is just enchanting. You are a fantastic photographer – thank you for this visit to a magical place!

  6. I’ve driven through glorious Colorado many times — the most recent trip was this past September. You have managed to take my breath away this morning with the stunning photographs you’ve shared here. Thank you.

  7. What an extraordinary place. You’ve captured that incomparable physical and visible beauty so powerfully in your pictures, and explicated the historical and spiritual beauties further with your poetic prose. To which I, who never use the word in the current fashion, am compelled to say: Awesome.

  8. Wonderful photos, and I loved the history you shared and the way you shared it as well. My favorite photo is the second to last where the sun is bouncing off the rocks in the lake. I’ve traveled around that area but never in that particular part of New Mexico. Looks like a road trip may be in order.

  9. Starting right off in 2012 where you left off in 2011, eh? You’ve set the bar so high with these photographs, even you might not be able to reach it again. Again, a visual smorgasbord to go with an enchanting life story.

    Bravo Zulu!

    • These were fun to take and I must say that it is easy to take nice pictures when you are in beautiful places. I love this particular place and enjoyed sharing it this way. Thank you, as always, Big Al.

      • Meant to tell you, I have an acquaintance in Espanola that we might visit this year. I will definitely try to see this area too.

  10. I live in Santa Fe (not a native), and I think Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado are some of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. Your photos are just gorgeous, and the written words are wonderful too. Thank you! 🙂

    • I agree–and I keep discovering new and different places all of the time. Not sure you could ever get tired of either place. Am heading off to check out your pics and blog next–thanks for stopping in!

  11. What a wonderful photo-essay! I remember being awed by the landscape and the rock forms in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico back in the 70s, and I’ve always wanted to return. the rock formations and colours are so rich and vibrant. Very interesting history too; lucky Georgia O’Keeffe, and lucky Winsomebella. Thank you for sharing your wonderful homeland.

    • I hope you have the opportunity to return. Georgia O’Keeffe was a fascinating woman and every time I visit Ghost Ranch I learn a little more about her. So glad you stopped in–I appreciate that, Christina.

  12. wow – this is just amazing – I want to go there! What do you think of Taos and Santa Fe? I visited both and remember loving both, particularly Taos.

  13. I like both Santa Fe and Taos—they are similar in many ways but different too–Taos is a little more sleepy and rough around the edges. If you are in the Plaza of Santa Fe you feel you are not in the U.S.–at least if you can visit at a time when the toursits are not too plentiful. Ghost Ranch is about an hour northwest of Santa Fe. Glad you stopped in–I always appreciate your visits.

    • I am glad you liked the photos. I have really been enjoying learning about photography. I took it up a couple of years ago and find the digital dslr cameras are so easy compared to the film cameras of long ago. Glad you stopped in…..please come again 🙂

  14. Georgia O’Keefe was one smart cookie.

    I didn’t get a chance to visit Ghost Ranch when I was in New Mexico in September, 2007. I was only there for a week and spent time down at White Sands, several days in the Bisti Wilderness, a few days in the Santa Fe National Forest watching the aspens turn golden. There just wasn’t enough time to experience anywhere near everything I had on my list. Your images are an apt reminder of what I missed.

    • Glad you got to see golden aspens but a return trip would always be nice. Thank you for your visit to my blog…I hope you will come again. And I am off to visit yours next 🙂

  15. This is stunning stuff. I’ve always wanted to visit Ghost Ranch! Georgia O’Keeffe is my favorite artist. I love the photograph of her on the back of her young caretaker’s motorcycle. If I live that long I want to live like she did. Reading this was pure joy!

  16. Always one of my favorite spots on the drive to Santa Fe. I realize now I should have slowed down and enjoyed it a bit more. Hindsite , except from a rearview mirror , is a blessing and a curse.Thank-you for sharing one of those most beautiful places, again.

  17. Oooo, lovely! That area is soooo quiet, isn’t it! I love to stand on a mesa and just listen to the wind in the trees or scrub brush, and look out across the landscape, a hundred kilometers away. The air is so clear. Beautiful!

  18. I was just looking at Cerro Pedernal, the mountain top where O’Keefe’s ashes were released. How wonderful that her spirit is now mixed with the land. YOur darkening pictures lead us along on such a beautiful journey. Thank you for such a wondrous moment of pause and reflection.

  19. How beautiful, how impressive… Fascinated me, dear Bella. I felt myself as if in these great travel… They stand amazing but she was too… Thank you, with my love, nia

  20. I think you should collect your beautiful essays and images into a book. You have a remarkable talent for bringing the reader along to the quiet places of the soul.

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