Northern New Mexico is a place of rugged beauty, steeped in history and mystique. In the midst of that, you will find Ghost Ranch. Originally part of a land grant from the king of Spain in 1776, the 21,000-acre ranch survived legends and changing times to eventually end up in the hands of Arthur Pack in 1936. Pack purchased the land and quickly created a guest ranch for the world’s elite.
It was during those early years of the guest ranch that famous artist Georgia O’Keefe found Ghost Ranch as well as her passion for the Southwest that would follow her to her grave. Other than brief visits back east, O’Keefe never again strayed far from her beloved Ghost Ranch or the nearby town of Abiquiu. Even though she was dismayed when Pack gave Ghost Ranch to the Presbyterian Church in 1959, O’Keefe stayed on, painting images of the desert and “her” mountains. When she died at the age of 98 in 1986, her ashes were scattered over the surrounding hills.
Today, Ghost Ranch is an educational retreat of The Presbyterian Church. Visitors do not have to be affiliated with the church and rooms are available for overnight stays in addition to longer-term retreats and classes. I took this photo on a late September afternoon while I was spending a couple of days at Ghost Ranch. The New Mexico days were still warm and dry, but the evenings had started to get cool with fall approaching. It was beautiful weather, but I was at first horrified — and I don’t use that term lightly — to discover I’d be staying at Ghost Ranch. My room on the Mesa was simple (I even had to make my own bed with the stack of sheets left on a bare mattress), and I had no television, no phone, no cell phone reception, no email access. We were totally isolated. I literally shuddered at the thought.
I spent the afternoon photographing the desert and learning about Ghost Ranch and Ms. O’Keefe. I’ve lived in the Southwest for nearly two decades and I am still amazed at all the colors in the desert, but here in the New Mexico desert, it is even more astounding. The sun shines differently. The colors are more pronounced. I saw colors I never knew existed. Georgia O’Keefe once told someone she didn’t like to return to New York because it was too boring. She said it was all one color, all green, and she missed her amazing desert colors when she was away.
Once the sun set, and there was no Internet or email or television, I found myself simply doing nothing. An amazing concept. I sat outside in the dark under an enormous sky. With all those stars overhead and not a sound of technology anywhere, space seemed enormous. I felt small and somehow privileged to be a part of such beauty. I took deep breaths of the fresh air and realized why O’Keefe found her inspiration in the New Mexico desert.
If you are interested in finding out more about Ghost Ranch, visit online at www.ghostranch.org.