Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ghost Ranch--Chimney Rock Hike and Georgia O'Keefe Landscape Tour

Today was an amazing day!  We started out by hiking up to Chimney Rock, one of the landmarks here at Ghost Ranch.  It's a 3 mile hike, round trip, and about another mile round trip from our campsite to the trailhead and back.  We passed the stables on the way to the trailhead, and they wranglers were getting the horses ready for some trail tours.  Most of the horses were in a common corral, but we had noticed this one horse in a separate corral, across a dirt drive last night.  Well, not sure why this horse was separated, except we theorized that he may be too high spirited to use for greenhorn dudes.  As we were coming up to the stables, he was going nuts, whinnying and neighing and raising a ruckus, running around, pawing at the gate, acting like he was going to try to jump the fence to get to the other horses.  When we got up level with him, he started neighing loudly and looking at us and pawing at the gate, as if to say, hey you two, help me outta here!!  Pretty funny.

The hike was absolutely gorgeous, starting at an elevation of 6500 ft. and climbing to 7100 ft. at the top.  Lots of stunning views, good looks at the different layers of rock, and a super trail guide, explaining a lot about the ages of the different layers, how they came to be the shape and color they are today, how they came to be in this location.  Very interesting.  As we've been in the southwest for a number of weeks, now, we've come to know a good deal more about the geology of the region than we knew before this trip, and it's quite fascinating.  It's quite a concept to wrap your mind around that, as you're standing in this arid, dusty, sandy, rocky area, at one time the area was covered by rivers, and even oceans and beaches--millions of years ago. At one point the trail guide pointed out 3 boulders in front of us that had 3 different types of compositions, from which geologists deduced that, in this very location, they were once on an ocean beach!--95 million years ago.  Right about now, if our kids were here, they'd be saying things like "Hey Dad, did you ever go to this beach when you were a kid???"

As we climbed up, we could see more of the Chama River, and Lake Abiquiu, which was formed when they built the dam on the river.  It was amazing how the sun's light, the cloud patterns, and the different angles as we climbed just magically transformed the same view into many different shades and colors, all of it just absolutely beautiful.  Everywhere you turn out here, you can't help but just marvel at this incredible beauty--and it's very easy to see why Georgia O'Keefe, with her keen artist's eye, immediately fell in love with this place when she first saw it.  On the way up, we could get ever changing views of Chimney Rock, seeing new and fascinating details we could not see just a few minutes earlier.  At one point, looking up at the rock, you could see this twisted trunk of a juniper tree on the edge of the mesa where the chimney stands past a gap.  I was fascinated by this little tree--after all, due to the altitude and the paucity of water, these trees never grow very tall, and they grow so slowly, many of them are hundreds of years old.  So I took several shots of this tree, and when we made it to the top, we sat under its shade to eat an energy snack!  We could also see Georgia O'Keefe's house from the top of the hike and got some reasonably good photos of the house--a good thing since it's not open to the public.  It's currently owned by the foundation, but it's not definite if and when it may be open to the public, but if it is, that's likely several years away, from what we learned later.  But it was great to be able to see her house from this perspective, and to contemplate that she could look up to where we were standing every time she looked out her windows!

We were glad we got an early start, since it began to get quite hot as we were hiking back down. But the timing was good, as we had time to eat lunch and rest a bit before heading over to the Welcome Center for the Georgia O'Keefe Landscape tour.  This was a great tour, as they took us to several sites on the ranch where she painted many of her famous works.  It was fascinating to see the guide hold up photos of each painting, while she pointed out the very tree, or hill, or rock formation  that was the subject of the painting.

She first heard about Ghost Ranch when she went to Taos in 1929, but it took her several years to find it, as there were virtually no signs.  When she did find it in 1934, it was being operated as a dude ranch, but she found a room here and spent the summer there, which she then did for several years, spending the winters back in her home in New York.  Arthur Pack bought the ranch the year after O'Keefe started coming here, and she ultimately began to rent the house he had originally built for his wife, but no longer wanted to live in after she ran off with the childrens' tutor!  After renting the house for several years at the same time, she just stopped for a while, but she didn't tell them she would not be coming.  Then, she showed up one summer, went straight to the house, only to find that it had been rented to someone else.  She apparently exploded at these people "What are you doing in MY house??"  Ultimately she convinced Pack to sell it to her.  She wanted it because it is very much isolated by itself way away from the other buildings, and thus guests, but it sits in a place with just unbelievable views of  the valley, the river, the mesas, and, of course, Pedernal, the mountain in the distance that formed the subject of nearly 30 of her paintings.  She used to say that it was her own private mountain, that God told her if she painted it enough times she could have it!

In 1955 Pack decided to gift the entire ranch to the Presbyterian Church, much to her dismay--she thought she should have been allowed to buy it, so she could keep the whole place to herself, while Pack very much wanted to see it turned into a retreat/education center, open to the public for everyone to enjoy.  Even though the Presbyterians did everything they could to respect her privacy, ensuring that all guests knew that her house was on her own private 7 acres with no public access, she supposedly said she didn't want to be around "churchy" people.  So when she would be out walking around the ranch, even not on her own 7 acres, and she would see one of the ranch vehicles coming, she would apparently turn her back to the road so she didn't have to look at them!  Even when the ranch built a bridge over one of the arroyos, she would go so far as to drive her car down the bank on one side, across the arroyo, and up the bank of the other, rather than use their bridge!  Eventually, through the efforts of a longtime ranch director, Jim Hall and his wife Ruth, she softened and came to be more friendly to them.  At one time she even promised him that, when she no longer wanted the house, she would let him and Ruth have it for their retirement home.  She ultimately changed her mind about letting him have the home, but had it appraised and donated that amount for the church to build another home for his retirement.  He was only able to live there a year before he died of a heart attack, and since then it's been used as the ranch director's home.  Not a bad perk!

After the tour we visited the two museums they have at the ranch, one of anthropology, and one of paleontology.  We enjoyed seeing the artifacts from the prehistoric people who lived in area, through the ages of development, and reading about that.  But we found the paleontology museum even more interesting.  Archeologists had found one of the largest caches of dinosaur bones in the country, and they have many on display.  The museum is a constant work in progress, though, and looks like it will be so for years to come.  In addition to the bones and fossils we saw, what was really interesting was a glimpse into their ongoing work.  In the middle of the room, there was this fenced off area, containing a large chunk of rock/dirt, all wrapped in what we ultimately learned was a fiberglass/platster "bed" used to transport it from its original site to the museum, so they could work on it inside.  We met one of the archeologists there who explained how they had done this, and how this piece, probably roughly 12 ft. by 10 ft, and a couple feet thick, likely contains hundreds of bones, but that they won't know for sure until they finish the painstaking work of carefully brushing/chipping away rock and dirt to see what's under it, without damaging anything.  Amazing!

So we came back to the campsite and enjoyed a wonderful late afternoon nap!  I stretched out in the recliner outside--even though the temperature was in the high 80's/low 90's then, I was pleasantly cool in the shadow cast by the RV and it was great!  Woke up to look at the sun painting multiple murals o the rocks all around, just thinking of how O'Keefe would look at this every day and be inspired to create her remarkable work.  Though I have zero talent for painting, it's easy to feel the stirring of inspiration for its own sake when you look at these incredible landscapes.

Found a wonderful recipe on the black rice package for a dish combining it with sweet potato and onions and fixed that for dinner, along with a veggie medley--delicious!  As the sun was going down, we looked out the window toward the rocks, and thought it was not going to be a very dramatic sunset, as there didn't appear to be the rich red colors cast on the rocks.  Fortunately, however, I happened to step outside and look around, and could then see what the sun was doing to the cloud formations above the mountain, and I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.  We just sat out in the recliners until the sun had set completely, in absolute awe of this sight.  Speechless!

Heading up the trail
 View of Kitchen Mesa
 Shot of Pedernal, across the valley, beyond the Chama River
 Long view of Chimney Rock
 telephoto shot of the same view
Good views of the Chinle formations

 This rock just struck us as looking like a little bishop standing on top!
Laker Abiquiu
 The "beach" rocks
 Beautiful formations of Entrada Sandstone--the differentiation in the colors of the layers in the second shot shows how high the water level was at one time

Telephoto shots of Chimney Rock, and the second is this little juniper, which in the first shot is off to the right, out of the photo
 Where we ultimately sat to eat our snack.
 Cool hoodoos!

 Looks kind of like a face, looking up
Views from the top--you can tell where the river is by all the bright green trees
 The back side of Chimney Rock, the view as we came to the top of the trail

 Look at that beauty--the red rocks in the background are not bad either!
Hey, we're on top of the world!

Looking down on the trail we had climbed

 Our special little tree on top
Different views from the top, as we turned all around

Looking down on O'Keefe's house, the bigger building in the left of the photo. The smaller building to the right was later added as a studio

 Striking red streak down this big rock we saw on the way down

 Trisha, hugging the rock on the way down, to stay away from the ledge and the steep drop to the valley floor!
 More beautiful scenes on the way down

 Gorgeous patterns made by lichen on the rocks
Some of the sites of O'Keefe's paintings

 Though there is some debate whether this is the actual tree in her painting "Gerald's Tree,"  most believe it is
Photo of "Hill, New Mexico"
 The actual hill

 Some views of her house as we drove past--hard to see much over the fence, but no one is allowed to go closer

 Really can't see it well, but the guide is holding a photo of her painting of the arrowhead looking rock formation in the second photo below

Photo of the painting . . .
 The actual scene
We're standing in front of the scene in her painting that we're holding the photo of in this shot
In the Museum of Anthropology, shot of some of the pottery and jewelry made by prehistoric peoples of the area
 In the Museum of Paleontology, some fossils from when dinosaurs roamed the area

 Some of the archeologist's tools

 Above, baby dinosaur skull, very well intact; Below:  the chunk of rock they're working on now
 some bones they can see so far
What I saw as I woke from my nap and looked around!

The sunset

See what I mean?


  1. Replies
    1. Chuck, it was indeed a marvelous hike! And a great day overall! On to Santa Fe today!