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    Published 12-13-2019



    As you drive into Ghost Ranch, you are going to be driving slowly. That's because the eye-catching beauty of the mountains surround you. You would not be human if you didn’t stop to stare at such overwhelming beauty.  However, one of the first man-made things you see is a small log cabin. It's a perfect excuse to pull off the road and explore.

    I stepped out of my car, my eyes swinging between the cabin and the mountain vistas. A sign at the cabin lets you know this is not one of the original structures. It was built in 1991 against the backdrop of the dark flat-topped Pedernal Mountain for the filming of City Slickers, starring Billy Chrystal.

    That was just one of many movies filmed here. Others were Cowboys and Aliens, 3:10 to Yuma, The Missing, Comanche Moon, Georgia O’Keeffe, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, Wyatt Earp, The Ballard of Buster Scruggs, and Silverado among others. Looking at the scenery it is easily understood why a movie company would want this setting. Hollywood can’t compete with prehistoric mesas and colorful mountain vistas.  

    The history of the area is as colorful as any movie plot. Karen Butts gave us a tour of the history of the Ghost Ranch.  After the Paleo Indians and Navaho left and the Europeans came, Spanish, Mexican and then American culture arose. Native people told stories about the huge bones found here. They warned Europeans that the land was inhabited by big snakes that ate people.  Some of the earlier occupants were the Archuleta brothers; rustler's who used the legends to keep strangers away. They hid their stolen cattle in the box canyon. One of the brothers apparently tried to cheat his brother and hid away some gold. The cheated brother hanged his cheating brother from a cottonwood tree in front of their home. He held his sister-in-law prisoner until she told where the gold was buried. Eventually townspeople came onto the ranch and hanged the remaining Archuleta brother from the same cottonwood tree.

    When it was one of the lodgings, visitors who stayed in the 1881 casita claimed that they would hear voices of a man and a woman arguing at night. Today, it is known as the Ghost House and open to visitors. The cottonwood tree used for the hangings is still alive in front of the cottage.

    The next known owner, Roy Pfaffle, won the deed to the ranch in a poker game in 1928. His wife, Carol Stanley, recorded the deed in her name believing her husband would only gamble it away. She divorcing Pfaffle and moved here two years later to open a dude ranch. She changed the name from what it was then called, Ranch of Male Witches, to the more hospitable Ghost Ranch.

    In spite of her many wealthy friends who visited the Ghost Ranch, Stanley couldn't make it profitable. She sold it to Arthur Pack in 1935. Georgia O'Keeffe first visited the ranch in 1934. The only cottage available was a small one near the present day welcome center. The cottage is still there and named the O'Keeffe Cottage. Karen told us," Georgia O'Keeffe wasn't wild about a dude ranch. In fact she said 'Dude ranches are a lower form of life.'"

     However, she wanted the privacy the ranch offered.  Eventually, Pack sold her an isolated house on the ranch. The home is still there today. It is owned by the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

    He later deeded the remainder of the Ranch to the Presbyterian Church with the agreement they would use the space as an educational facility.  Today, Ghost Ranch is still owned and operated by the Presbyterian Church. There is still a working ranch and some livestock on the ranch as well as the riding stable and horses.

    O'Keeffe was not happy about the church owning the ranch, but after several years finally made friends with Jim Hall who was the Ranch director for the church.

    Georgia O'Keeffe

    Wendy Davis took us on a tour of the Georgia O'Keeffe sites. She showed us the exact scenes of many of O'Keeffe's paintings.  One of the most common scenes in her paintings was the view of Pedernal Mountain, Spanish for flint hill because of the amount of flint found there. It’s a high narrow mesa that was the view from the front door of her house.
    The colorful red, gold and black mountains on the opposite side of the ranch were another favorite site. One with a small juniper tree in the foreground still has the same tree standing sentinel. Because of the dry conditions of a high desert, these trees grow very slowly.

    One of O'Keeffe's paintings called Ladder to the Moon, was believed to be almost a self portrait. In her later years, she kept a ladder much like the one in the painting along the side of her adobe home. At night when it was very hot she would climb up onto her roof to sleep and enjoy the night sky.

    One of O'Keeffe's most recognized paintings of a cow skull form the logo for Ghost Ranch. When she first visited, the directions instructed her to turn off the road when she saw the gravel road with a cow skull marking the Ranch entrance. She later painted several versions of the skull.

    That night, Diane Arenberg , an excellent local artist who often offers classes at Ghost Ranch, gave us lessons on painting in Georgia O'Keeffe's style. Judging my result, I doubt I will ever achieve the status of O'Keeffe but it was fun trying to recapture the beauty of those scenes on canvas.


    Because of the volume and value of the archeological finds at Ghost Ranch, there are two museums there. The Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology is named for the first woman to receive a PhD in Anthropology in 1934. She later taught at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and was the museum's first curator.

    The museum is filled with cultural artifacts, many from her find of one of the largest batch of ceramic pots ever discovered. It was found in a lava field just north of Ghost Ranch.

    There are rooms fiber arts, paintings, and native cultural arts and some dedicated to the ladies of the canyon. Like the one dedicated to Carol Standley.

    The Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology moves much farther back in time. It's named for the wife of Jim Hall, first Presbyterian director of Ghost Ranch.

    It's filled with exhibits, photographs and life-sized replicas of dinosaurs  and other fossils found on the Ranch. A diorama at one end shows a cast of a phytosaurs skeleton; this was a dinosaur that resembled a modern crocodile. On either side of it there are models of a Coelophysis, originally discovered here at Ghost Ranch in 1947, and an Effigia Okeeffeae, which is Latin for O'Keeffe's Ghost. Obviously it was named for the Ghost Ranch's most famous guest.

    At the other end is an equally fascinating exhibit. It's an 8-ton block of plaster-encased dinosaur bones that was moved here in 1985.  The museum was built around it.


    You have several different choices for lodging. All rooms are rustic but comfortable. They have basic furnishings like beds and dressers or in some cases, dorms with bunk beds. They range from rooms with their own baths, rooms with shared baths and some with a separate communal bath and shower area.

    The main level rooms with bath are ADA accessible and clustered in the main area near the kitchen/dining hall and are walking distance to museums, welcome center and other Ranch buildings. There are rooms with shared bath here too. These are usually set up with a bath between two rooms so if you are a family or group they would work well.
    Up on the mesa there are rooms with a bath, some with a communal bath in each building, some rooms have a communal shower in a nearby building.

    When I visited we had rooms with a bath on the mesa. It's a longer walk to the main level and you definitely need to drive up with luggage. On a nice day walking down to main level is a nice hike. When it is  cold or dark, not so much. The payoff is that the sunrise is gorgeous up here.

    My room was very comfortable. There was a living room with a sofa and chair and table. The bed room had two beds, a queen and a twin, and a dresser, nightstand, lamp, chair, and closet. The bathroom with shower had good pressure and nice hot water.

     There are a limited number of camping sites for both tent and RV. The campground has facilities for RV camping, with or without electricity. Most sites have a table and a fire ring, just a few have shade trees. This is a high desert, remember.

    Campfires are permitted depending on weather conditions allow. Water and a dump station are available at the campground. The campground is open year-round; the communal bathhouse where you find the ice machine, shared refrigerator, showers, sinks and coin-operated laundry is closed from late October to May. Pets are allowed in the campground and on the grounds on a leash. They are not allowed in any buildings.  

    Two cautions here, both WiFi and Cell phone connections are limited all around the Ranch. I was able to connect to WiFi in the Welcome Center and in the Dining Hall. Also dress your own bed as there is no maid service.


    The ranch hosts many workshops and conferences throughout the year.

    There are tours and trail rides: O'Keeffe Landscape Tour, Wednesdays With O'Keeffe, Walk in Georgia O'Keeffe's Footsteps, Archaeology of Ghost Ranch Tour, Paleontology of Ghost Ranch Tour, Movie Tour, O’Keeffe Landscape Trail Ride, and O’Keeffe Landscape Trail Ride at Sunset.

    Day visitors are allowed access for a $5 fee. You can purchase meal tickets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the welcome center. Breakfast is included with rooms but not with camping.

    Other activities at Ghost Ranch include a 24 hour library, a garden, a labyrinth, rope courses, kayaking and canoeing, multiple trail hikes, and massage therapists to offer massage, integrative bodywork and spa treatments daily.

    For me the most impressive thing are those unbelievable views.

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