TRIPS INTO HISTORY
Historic Sites in the U.S. and Travel Ideas
Ghost Ranch / Abiquiu New Mexico
Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico is many things to many people. This is not uncommon for a an area that transcends many eras and was occupied by so many different types of inhabitants. To be sure, just as with the American southwest in general, pueblo tribes inhabited this region which is located northwest of Santa Fe and southwest of Taos New Mexico. This is a beautiful land with colored red rocks and unique rock formations, many of them with given names. This is the land of today’s Ghost Ranch.
The name Ghost Ranch became attached to this particular location from the many stories that evolved of ghosts and legends of hangings in the ranch’s history.
Geographically, Ghost Ranch is located in the scenic and remote Piedra Lumbre basin of northern New Mexico. The area we call Ghost Ranch encompasses about 22,000 acres of color and vast expanses at an elevation of 6,500 feet.
Inhabitants of this region, after the pueblo Indians resided there, were of course the Spaniards and after them the Mexicans. The first Spanish family that lived at today’s Ghost Ranch were named the Gallegos. Their ranch was named Arroyo Seco Ranch and they survived at this location during the early 1800’s with water from the Rito del Yeso which had a small flow year around. This was the start of permanent settlement in the Piedra Lunbre basin . Settlement there was not easy because of the remoteness and the water needed. In fact, while the Rito del Yeso did flow, it was more of a trickle than anything else.
From the early 1800’s to the present, the place named today Ghost Ranch went through many transformations. From ranching to dude ranching to spiritual and artistic uses, and as a renowned educational conference center, Ghost Ranch was a home to both the famous and not so famous.
The beginning of the modern story of Ghost Ranch goes back to the year 1936 when the acreage was purchased by a man named Arthur Newton Pack . Pack was the co-founder of the American Nature Association. On a side note, just two years prior to Pack’s acquisition of the ranch, Georgia O’Keeffe, the well known American painter, began spending her summers there. She would continue to do so and would also maintain a home a few miles to the south in Abiquiu as well. Eventually Arthur Pack would give away Ghost Ranch to the Presbyterian Church in 1955. During the years that Pack and his wife Phoebe lived there, they came to appreciate both the beauty of the surroundings and the spiritual feelings the ranch seemed to inspire to those who visited it. Over all the years that the Presbyterian Church has owned this property, they have worked very hard to establish programs, facilities and the grounds in general into a world renown conference center and study site. Today, Ghost Ranch schedules issues of local and regional significance into their programs in hopes of exposing participants to new cultural, historical and religious ideas. The ranch’s location in northern New Mexico provides the atmosphere that makes the programs offered there a unique experience for all.
The Ghost Ranch website lists the programs offered. Fees listed for the various programs indicate that lodging and meals are included. Some programs are also offered on a day basis. The Ghost Ranch website has all details on dates, costs and what is included with the registration fee. Lodging at Ghost Ranch consists of comfortable housing accommodations reflective of its origins as a working ranch. All lodging is in easy walking distances to the classrooms.Walkways are via dirt paths or walkways. The library with it’s over 16,000 volumes is open twenty four hours per day. Also available are hiking trails and trail rides.
Another quite interesting offering I’ve enjoyed is the tour bus that will take you to certain remote locations on the ranch of which Georgia O’Keeffe used for some of her paintings along with some history about this well known American painter. It’s been noted that some of O’Keeffe’s favorite subjects to paint were the hills across from the ranch headquarters and Kitchen Mesa at the upper end of the valley.
Also on the grounds of Ghost Ranch are the Museums of Anthropology and Paleontology . Ghost Ranch is about a one and one-half hour drive north of Santa Fe. Whether you’re planning on registering for a class or just visiting northern New Mexico, you will enjoy a trip to Ghost Ranch.
(Photos from author’s private collection)
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Travels in Geology: Unearthing the ghosts of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
by Mary Caperton Morton Thursday, June 7, 2018
For centuries, Ghost Ranch, N.M., was known as “Rancho de los Brujos” or Ranch of the Witches. Both monikers suit this stunning place well, as all sorts of creatures have left their bones behind here in the 400-meter-high cliffs layered with red, yellow and white Mesozoic rocks.
Once the haunt of horse thieves and cattle rustlers, and home of Georgia O’Keefe — not to mention dinosaurs and sea creatures in an earlier age — Ghost Ranch, an hour north of Santa Fe, is a treat for geology, paleontology, archaeology, history and art buffs alike.
Hiking a Mesozoic Layer Cake
Driving north from Santa Fe on Highway 84 is like driving through a museum’s worth of Georgia O’Keefe paintings. O’Keefe spent 50 years living at Ghost Ranch and in nearby Abiquiu, immortalizing the surrounding landscapes in paintings such as “The Black Place” and “The White Place.”
Such straightforward titles fit the clearly defined layers of black, white, gray, red, yellow and pink rocks lining the Chama River Valley, which runs along the far eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau; the layers here are as distinctly drawn as diagrams in a textbook.
Visiting Ghost Ranch is far better than paging through a textbook, of course, because you can actually hike through the Mesozoic layer cake and witness firsthand the rocks and fossils left behind from the Age of Dinosaurs. The towering layers of rock span a period of 130 million years and preserve evidence of a constantly evolving landscape of river systems, vast deserts, saline lakes, broad mudflats and ocean shorelines.
The exquisitely stratified layers can be seen from Highway 84, but to get a better look, pull into Ghost Ranch (now a privately owned education and retreat center that welcomes the public), stop by the visitor center to sign the trail log and head out on one of three spectacular hikes: Chimney Rock, Kitchen Mesa or Box Canyon.
At just under five kilometers round-trip, the Chimney Rock trail is the shortest option. The relatively easy path starts behind Ghost Ranch’s cluster of museums and ascends through time on a gradually rising ridge to reach an overlook of Chimney Rock.
The lower part of the trail crosses badlands formed from the soft, multicolored fine-grained shale and siltstone known as the Painted Desert Member of the Petrified Forest Formation. These rocks, also more famously exposed at the Painted Desert in northern Arizona, are eroded from the red, green and purple Chinle Formation, which formed in river valleys in the Late Triassic between 225 million and 220 million years ago.
As you hike toward Chimney Rock, the trail passes through layers of orange and yellow Entrada sandstone, laid down during the Early Jurassic. These sandstone deposits are the remnants of a vast dune field that covered much of northern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah and northeastern Arizona about 160 million years ago. If you look closely, you might be able to see cross-bedded layers sweeping downward and to the north, evidence of the strong winds that continuously swept over the ancient desert.
Descending the Chimney Rock trail is like traveling back through Mesozoic time. Credit: Mary Caperton Morton
Researchers have found that the dune fields were flooded about 159 million years ago by a runaway lobe from the nascent Western Interior Seaway, which, by the Cretaceous, covered much of what is now the middle of North America. Some geologists interpret the sharp, even transition capping the Entrada layers as evidence that the invasion of the interior seaway occurred relatively quickly, without reworking of the Entrada sand dunes. For 14,000 years after this catastrophic flooding event, limestone and gypsum precipitated out of the salty water and were deposited in annual layers called varves.
The Chama River runs along the far eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau. The Chama Valley is about as green as northern New Mexico gets. Credit: Mary Caperton Morton
This dramatic change in the Middle Jurassic landscape is preserved along the Chimney Rock trail in the Todilto Formation, the darker lip capping the yellow Entrada layers. Here, the Todilto Formation is dark gray, made up of organic matter that has only partially decayed. If you pick up one of the soft rocks along the trail and break it open, you’ll smell the rich aroma left by algae, aquatic plants and other marine creatures.
Eventually, in the Mid- to Late Jurassic, the saline lake dried out and became an arid coastal plain, where rocks of the Summerville Formation, a thick section of maroon mudstone and poorly cemented pinkish sandstone, were deposited. The Summerville Formation is topped by Bluff Sandstone, another deposit of wind-blown sand. Cross-bedding in this layer dips toward the east, suggesting that North America had drifted north by the Late Jurassic, placing the Ghost Ranch region into the path of prevailing westerly winds.
Finally, the Jurassic layers at Ghost Ranch give way to the Early Cretaceous, about 125 million years ago, when shoreline and marine deposits were laid down by braided streams flowing along a coastal plain on the western margin of the Western Interior Seaway. As the shoreline moved back and forth across the area, ripple marks and the pockmarks of burrowing animals were left behind in tan and yellow layers of shale, mudstone and sandstone.
The trail ends at a spectacular overlook of Chimney Rock and the colorful valley below. The 150-meter-tall Chimney Rock is hewn from Entrada sandstone and capped by the Todilto Formation, juxtaposing ancient deserts and inland seas. To the north you can see Echo Amphitheater, a naturally carved acoustical dome just a short drive up Highway 84 that offers campsites beneath towering yellow cliffs.
Ghost Ranch boasts two other stunning hikes: Kitchen Mesa and Box Canyon. The hike up Kitchen Mesa is longer and more strenuous, requiring some scrambling through a narrow passageway in the Entrada cliffs. But once on top, you’ll be rewarded with a stroll over the crunchy white gypsum capping the mesa. This gypsum layer is the Tongue Arroyo Member of the Todilto Formation. It was deposited when the saltwater of the young Western Interior Seaway was sufficiently concentrated by evaporation.
The views from Kitchen Mesa are among the most stunning at Ghost Ranch. To the southwest, across the Chama River Valley, you’ll see the Abiquiu Reservoir, which supplies water to much of north-central New Mexico and is one of the state’s few places for recreational boating, fishing and swimming. Behind the reservoir lie the Jemez Mountains and Cerro Pedernal — a flat-topped mesa made famous by O’Keefe, who painted the distinctive peak so many times she declared, “It’s my mountain. God has given it to me.”
If you’re visiting Ghost Ranch in winter, consider hiking to Box Canyon, a dead-end canyon surrounded by 60-meter-tall Entrada cliffs that are seasonally covered by impressive columns of ice seeping from the canyon walls. This hike is level and follows a lovely year-round stream — a rarity in New Mexico — though icy conditions can make the hike slow going.
Finding Fossils in O’Keefe Country
Ghost Ranch is not only geologically attractive, but also productive — a plethora of fossils have been unearthed from the ranch’s four major quarries.
Paleontology at Ghost Ranch began in 1928 with a series of excavations at the Canjilon Quarry led by University of California at Berkeley paleontologist Charles Camp. Over a six-year period, Camp and colleagues uncovered dozens of highly articulated phytosaur and aetosaur skeletons in the Late Triassic Chinle Formation.
Phytosaurs were 6-meter-long crocodile-like reptiles, with a long, narrow head and nostrils just in front of the eyes, that lived in rivers and lakes. Three-meter-long aetosaurs, armored reptiles also with crocodile-like bodies but with pig-like snouts, also lived near water.
In the nearby Snyder Quarry, the phytosaur and aetosaur fossils are unique because most of the bones are blackened, suggesting that the reptiles were killed by a wildfire and buried soon afterward by rapid sedimentation.
Ghost Ranch is perhaps most famous for its Whitaker Quarry, which has yielded a remarkable assemblage of Coelophysis bauri fossils since it was first excavated in 1947. The 2- to 3-meter-long Coelophysis was a primitive carnivorous, bipedal dinosaur from the Late Triassic.
The fossil record at the Whitaker Quarry is exceptional in that as many as a quarter of the skeletons are found articulated, with the bones roughly assembled, and specimens range from juveniles to fully grown adults, with both males and females represented. Coelophysis fossils from Ghost Ranch are on display in museums all over the world, and in 1981, the dinosaur was declared New Mexico’s state fossil.
This type of black and white pottery is found throughout northern New Mexico. Credit: Mary Caperton Morton
Excavation at Ghost Ranch is ongoing in the Hayden Quarry, where the oldest dinosaur fossils in North America — dated to the Early Triassic, 214 million years ago — have been found. Ongoing research at the quarry is also yielding one of the most diverse assemblages of Triassic fauna yet discovered on the continent, providing new insight into the period when dinosaurs emerged. Digs led by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the University of California at Berkeley have uncovered dozens of different species of dinosaurs, amphibians, reptiles and fish.
To learn more about Ghost Ranch’s rich history of paleontology and to see some of the fossils, visit the ranch’s Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology or get hands-on by signing up for one of Ghost Ranch’s paleontology workshops (see sidebar, p. 47).
Something for Everybody: Archaeologists and Artists
Long after dinosaurs ceased to roam the deserts and river valleys that sculpted the modern-day landscape at Ghost Ranch, many different people lived here among the red, white and yellow rocks. At different times, this region was occupied by the Ute, Navajo, Apache and Pueblo tribes, and later by Spanish missionaries and Anglo ranchers.
Ghost Ranch’s Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology displays artifacts from more than 10,000 years of human history, including pottery, baskets and arrowheads, as well as 16th century relics from the Spaniards, who established the first capital of Nuevo Mexico at the nearby San Juan Pueblo.
If you have only a passing interest in rocks and your real passion is for paint on canvas, Ghost Ranch should still fall high on your list of places to visit. From the moment Georgia O’Keefe laid eyes on Ghost Ranch in 1934, it was love.
O’Keefe began spending summers at the ranch, renting a place from the then owner, Arthur Pack, co-founder of the American Nature Association. In 1940, she bought a house from Pack on seven acres of land that she called Rancho de los Burros. For the next 50 years, until her death in Santa Fe at the age of 98, O’Keefe split most of her time between Ghost Ranch in the summer and the nearby town of Abiquiu in the winter.
Ghost Ranch offers a number of options to visitors interested in O’Keefe’s time there. These include a landscape tour by Jeep to some of her most recognizable painted vistas and a hiking tour of the areas where she lived and worked. Be sure to also stop at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, where many of the painter’s original Southwest and Ghost Ranch landscapes are on display.
The view from the summit of the Chimney Rock trail features the Jemez Mountains, O'Keefe's favorite mountain, Cerro Pedernal, and Abiquiu Reservoir, not to mention Chimney Rock itself. Credit: Mary Caperton Morton
With its endlessly rocky terrain and wide-open vistas, New Mexico has no shortage of beautiful and geologically interesting places, but Ghost Ranch might well be the Land of Enchantment’s crown jewel. Whether you see this colorful country through the eyes of a geologist, paleontologist or painter, the place is a sight to behold.
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The Story Behind This Haunted New Mexico Canyon Will Give You Chills
Staff writer for Only In Your State and freelance writer. Juliet can be reached on Twitter @JulietWrites.
More by this Author
Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu has become synonymous with its most famous resident: Georgia O’Keefe. But did you ever stop to question the name of this property? Or that fact that its logo is an animal skull? Seems kind of creepy when you think about it.
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You can actually hike the Box Canyon Trail – it’s four miles round trip and involves stream crossings. Paying a $5.00 conservation fee at the Ghost Ranch welcome center grants you access to this trail and several others, including the stunning Chimney Rock Trail. Here is more information about hiking at Ghost Ranch.
Had you heard of the Archeluta brothers before?
What ghost story or New Mexico legend keeps you up at night?
It’s easy to tag a visit to Abiquiu on to our terrifying Northern New Mexico road trip for an unforgettable drive, packed with chills and thrills.
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Ghost Ranch and vicinity
We are a research and service division of:
Ghost Ranch is located approximately 38 miles northwest of the town of Española, New Mexico, just north of U.S. Highway 84.
Facilities at Ghost Ranch
Ghost Ranch is run by the Presbyterian Church as a conference center. It has facilities for lodging and camping, as well as paleontology and cultural museums.
Regional Geologic Setting
Ghost Ranch lies in the Chama Basin, a broad shallow basin along the eastern margin of the Colorado Plateau in the transition between the Plateau and the Rio Grande rift.
The Colorado Plateau, which occupies parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, has been a relatively stable block in the Earth’s crust for at least 600 million years; consequently the rocks around Ghost Ranch are generally flat-lying and are only mildly deformed by broad-scale folding and localized faulting with stratigraphic offsets of less than 120 feet (36 m). The broadly downwarped Chama Basin formed during compressional Laramide deformation starting about 75 million years ago (Cather, 2004). North to northeast-trending normal faulting associated with the development of the Rio Grande rift, an extensional feature that roughly parallels the course of the Rio Grande between central Colorado and west Texas, affected the area starting about 26 million years ago. The area was mapped by Smith et al. (1961). The 7.5-minute Ghost Ranch quadrangle was mapped in 2006 by Koning, et al. as a STATEMAP project.
The Mesozoic rocks in the breathtaking red, white, and yellow 1300-foot escarpment surrounding Ghost Ranch contain a rich, but fragmentary, geologic record spanning approximately 130 million years of Earth's history. Portions of river systems, vast deserts, saline lakes, broad mudflats, and ocean shorelines are preserved at Ghost Ranch.
The oldest rocks exposed at Ghost Ranch belong to the Late Triassic Chinle Group, a thick package of brick-red to red siltstone and mudstone and white to tan sandstone that consist of six distinct rocks units that can be traced around the Chama Basin (Lucas et al., 2005). These rocks were deposited by rivers between 205 and 228 million years ago, when the Ghost Ranch area was located about 10° north of the equator . The basal Shinarump Formation (formerly called Agua Sarca Sandstone) is a white to yellow to green, coarse-grained quartz sandstone that locally contains abundant well-rounded quartzite cobbles; this sandstone is overlain the maroon shales of the Salitral Formation. The Shinarump and Salitral Formations are exposed south of the main Ghost Ranch headquarters along the Rio Chama. On top of the Salitral Formation is a second conglomeratic sandstone – mudstone sequence composed of the Poleo Formation, a medium-bedded, yellowish-gray micaceous sandstone with conglomeratic lenses of siltstone and calcrete clasts, overlain by a thick red to reddish brown mudstone, the Painted Desert Member of the Petrified Forest Formation. In many places, a transitional, thinly-bedded sandstone unit, the Mesa Montosa Member of the Petrified Forest Formation, is present between the Poleo Formation and the Painted Desert Member. The Poleo Formation and Mesa Montosa Member sandstones can be seen along Highway 84 southeast and south of the Ghost Ranch Headquarters. Both of these sandstone-mudstone packages were deposited by large Mississippi River-scale river systems flowing from central Texas toward the northwest to Nevada .
The uppermost part of the late Triassic Chinle Group is exposed in the vicinity of the Ghost Ranch headquarters. Most of the facilities at Ghost Ranch are built on the mudstones of the Painted Desert Member of the Petrified Forest Formation. Several of the notable fossil quarries at Ghost Ranch, the Snyder Quarry, Orphan Mesa site, Hayden quarry and the Canjilon phytosaur quarry, are located in this unit at about the same stratigraphic level. The youngest Chinle Group unit, the Rock Point Formation of Lucas et al. (2005), is locally exposed in the escarpment north and east of the ranch just below the conspicuous red and yellow Entrada Sandstone cliffs. The uppermost unit is a thin-bedded red-brown to gray brown siltstone to sandstone. The world-renowned Whitaker quarry, which contains hundreds of skeletons of an early Triassic dinosaur, Coelophysis bauri , is located in this interval (Colbert, 1995).
Triassic Fossil Quarries
A remarkable accumulation of Coelophysis bauri skeletons was discovered by George Whitaker at Ghost Ranch in the summer of 1947 (Colbert, 1995). Blocks excavated from this quarry have been distributed to museums all over the world. Coelophysis bauri was a bipedal, carnivorous early dinosaur that was generally 6 to 8 feet long, although some adults were as long as 10 feet. The fossil record at the Whittaker quarry is exceptional in that the skeletons display a full spectrum of growth development, ranging from juveniles to fully grown adults, and both genders are represented. Coelophysis was apparently cannibalistic because tiny baby Coelophysis bones have been found in the rib cage of a large Coelophysis (Colbert, 1995). Cannibalism is common among reptiles. No one knows for sure why so many dinosaurs of one species died at once. Usually predators do not congregate unless there is a exceptional food source. Although a few fish and reptile fossils are mixed in with the Coelophysis skeletons, there is nothing to suggest a major food attraction. The skeletons are well-preserved (about 25% are articulated or complete) and show no signs of scavenging, so the animals were buried quickly after death. The leading hypothesis that is consistent with both the fossil and sediment record at the quarry is that the animals were killed by a flood, washed into a low spot or pond, and immediately buried (Colbert, 1995).
A bone bed in the Late Triassic Painted Desert Member of the Petrified Forest Formation that contains a diverse group of land and water-based animals, aquatic invertebrates, and abundant charcoal was found by Mark Snyder in 1998 (Heckert and Zeigler, 2003). Phytosaurs, two genera of aetosaur, a rauisuchian , an amphibian, an Eucoelophysis , and thousands of fish scales have been recovered from the quarry (Zeigler, 2005; Zeigler et al., 2005). Phytosaurs, a common fossil found at Ghost Ranch, were crocodile-like, scale-covered, reptiles up to 20 feet long that lived in rivers and lakes. Phytosaurs had a long, narrow head with nostrils just in front of the eyes. Aetosaurs , another common Ghost Ranch fossil, were 10-foot-long, armored reptiles with a crocodile-like body and a pig-like snout that also liked to live near water. The bonebed is in a 1 foot thick conglomerate containing mudstone rip-up clasts. The bones and wood are aligned, but not abraded, so transport in flowing water was minimal (Zeigler, 2005; Zeigler et al., 2005). The skeletons are mostly disarticulated, but there are no signs of scavenging or weathering, so burial occurred shortly after death. The ten phytosaur skulls found at Snyder quarry range fro 1 foot to 3 feet in length, indicating that juvenile to adults were present in the assemblage; young adult were the most common. Zeigler (2005) has proposed that the animals were killed by a wildfire through a combination of asphyxiation and high temperature, that the decaying carcasses were not at the surface very long, and that the animals were buried during the rapid sedimentation that often occurs after a wildfire.
The Hayden Quarry was found in June, 2002, near the entrance gate to Ghost Ranch at the same stratigraphic level as the Snyder quarry (Downs, 2005). Like the Snyder quarry, the bones are black, and carbonized wood is abundant. The most common skeletal fragments found so far belong to phytosaurs and aetosaurs. Bones from two dinosaurs, one small and one large, have been found (Heckert et al., 2000). The quarry is still under development (Downs, 2005).
Charles Camp from the University of California Museum of Paleontology excavated this quarry in 1928, 1930, and 1933. This quarry is at the same stratigraphic level in the Chinle Group as the Snyder and Hayden quarries. The degree of articulation of the skeletons is better at this quarry, but the diversity of the fauna is lower compared to the Snyder quarry (Martz and Zeigler, 2005). Like the Snyder quarry, phytosaurs are the most common fossil; the eleven skulls found here are mostly young adults, but juveniles and larger adults are also present (Zeigler et al., 2005). Aetosaur and and few metopsaur bones have been found. No charcoal has been found at this quarry, but silicified wood interpreted to be pyrofusinite, which forms by fire, is common (Zeigler et al., 2005).
Orphan Mesa sites
Several fossils have been found around Orphan Mesa, including a partial Euceolophysis baldwini dinosaur fossil (Sullivan and Lucas, 1999) and parts of phytosaurs (Sullivan et al., 1996).
A significant gap in the rock record (unconformity) spanning about 44 million years occurs between the late Triassic rocks and the Middle Jurassic rocks at Ghost Ranch. The oldest of the Middle Jurassic rocks, the Entrada Sandstone, forms the prominent red, yellow, and white cliffs just above Ghost Ranch. The Entrada Sandstone contains spectacular cross-beds that are several feet high, indicating an eolian (wind-blown sand) origin for this unit. The Entrada Sandstone deposits at Ghost Ranch are part of a vast dune field that covered much of northern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah, and northeastern Arizona (Korurek and Dott, 1983; Blakey, 1994; Peterson, 1994). Paleocurrent indicators show that the Entrada sands were transported by wind blowing toward the south to southwest (Tanner, 1965). The Entrada sandstone is estimated to be approximately 161 to 165 million years old.
The Todilto Formation, which consists of a basal limestone and shale unit (Luciano Mesa member) and, in places, 25 to 100 feet of gypsum (Tonque Arroyo member), was deposited on the Entrada Sandstone. Locally, a thin bed of limestone sits on the gypsum. The contact between the Entrada Sandstone and the Luciano Mesa limestone member of the Todilto Formation is relatively flat and quite sharp, which has led Ahmed Benan and Kocurek (2000) to speculate that that the Entrada dune field was flooded catastrophically, with very little reworking of the sand dunes. The Todilto Formation was most likely deposited in a salina (Lucas et al., 1985); in other words, in a moderately deep, oxygen-poor, body of saline water that was isolated from the main body of the Jurassic ocean by a barrier. First, limestone precipitated from the evaporating sea water. Anderson and Kirkland (1960) noted that the basal limestone was deposited in thin layers, with each layer consisting of limestone, clay, and dark organic material. Each layer, or varve, represents a one year cycle related to seasonal variations in runoff, water temperature, and abundance of lake organisms. Anderson and Kirkland (1960) carefully counted the varves and found that it took 14,000 years for the basal laminated limestone to accumulate. Two fossil fish have been found in the limestone of the Luciano Mesa Member adjacent to the Chimney Rock trail at Ghost Ranch (Hunt et al., 2005). Later, as the saline waters of the salina became more concentrated by evaporation, gypsum precipitated. The Todilto Formation, based on fossil evidence (Lucas et al.,1985) is approximately 159 million years old.
The Todilto Formation grades up into the Summerville Formation. The basal 25 to 40 feet of the Summerville Formation is tabular white to tan sandstone interbedded with green to red mudstone and shale. Limestone is interbedded with the basal Summerville Formation toward the west. Ripple marks and casts of gypsum crystals are common in the basal Summerville sandstone. The basal sandstone unit is overlain by a thick section of maroon mudstone and pinkish-tan, poorly cemented sandstone deposited on an arid coastal plain (Lucas et al., 1998). Pedogenic carbonate is common in the maroon mudstone, particularly near the top of the unit. The Bluff Sandstone, which is exposed near the top of the Summerville Formation, represents a return to eolian (wind-blown sand) deposition in this area. Cross-beds in the Bluff Sandstone record winds blowing toward the east, suggesting that the Ghost Ranch portion of the North American continent had drifted north into the zone of prevailing westerlies (Lucas and Anderson, 1998).
An unconformity between the Summerville Formation and the overlying Morrison Formation marks a time of a major plate tectonic reorganization of the southwestern United States and a shift from an arid to a more humid environment in this region (Lucas and Anderson, 1998). The Brushy Basin member of the Morrison Formation, the only member of the Morrison Formation present at Ghost Ranch, is made of pistachi-green to salmon-pink mudstone with a few interbedded tan and green sandstone beds. The Morrison Formation was deposited by rivers flowing toward northeast across a broad, fairly low-gradient muddy floodplain that dipped toward the north to northeast away from the developing Mogollon highlands in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona. Dinosaurs roamed these floodplains. A few fragments of dinosaur bone, including one femur, have been found north of Ghost Ranch (Heckert et al., 2005). Radiometric dating of ash beds (40Ar/39 Ar on sanidine; Kowallis et al., 1998) in the Brushy Basin member in Utah and Colorado yields ages of 148 to 150 million years for this unit.
The mesas around Ghost Ranch are capped by Cretaceous coastal plain, shoreline and marine units that were deposited along the western margin of the Western Interior Seaway ~93 to 125 million years ago. Approximately 25 million years of Earth's history is missing across the contact between the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation and the Early Cretaceous Burro Canon Formation.
The Burro Canyon Formation consists of cross-bedded medium to fine-grained sandstone, quartz and chert pebble conglomerate, and pale-green to pale-red mudstones (Ridgley, 1977; Ridgley 1987; Owen et al., 2005). The unit was deposited by braided streams flowing across a coastal plain towards the northeast to north, toward the Western Interior Seaway . This unit is about 100 to 125 million years old (Owen et al., 2005; Varney, 2005).
The Dakota Sandstone is composed of interbedded tan- to yellow brown-weathering sandstone and dark gray carbonaceous shale and siltstone. Ripple marks on tops of sandstone beds are common. The sandstones are locally cross-bedded, but, in general, the sandstones were intensely burrowed by marine organisms living in the shallow water along the shores of the Western Interior Seaway . Burrows are structures in sedimentary rocks formed by organisms digging or moving through sediment when the sand or mud was soft; organisms burrow through sediments seeking shelter, protection, or food. The Dakota Sandstone records the alternating rise (shale) and fall (sandstones) of sea level as the shoreline moved back and forth across the area~ 98 to 100 million years ago. Gradual, long-term rise in sea level deposited rocks of the Graneros Shale of the Mancos Group, a mud deposited on a shallow ocean floor about 98 million years ago.
The youngest units exposed around Ghost Ranch are Quaternary terrace and pediment gravels along the drainages, and extensive landslide and colluvial deposits along the escarpment. Many of the terrace gravels contain quartzite,granite, and metavolcanic rocks that likely was derived from the Tusas Mountains to the northeast of Ghost Ranch, either directly from the Proterozoic rocks in the Tusas Mountains, or from clasts recycled out of the Tertiary El Rito Formation on the west flank of the mountain range.
- Ahmed Benan, C.A. and Kocurek, G., 2000, Catastrophic flooding of an aeolian dune field: Jurassic Entrada and Todilto formations, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, USA: Sedimentology, v. 47, p. 1069-1080.
- Anderson, R.Y., and Kirkland, D.W., Origin, varves, and cycles of Jurassic Todilto Formation, New Mexico: Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, v. 44, p. 37-52.
- Blakey, R.C., 1994, Paleogeographic and tectonic controls on some Lower and Middle Jurassic erg deposits, Colorado Plateau. In: Caputo, M.V, Peterson, J.A., Franczyk, K.J. (Eds.), Mesozoic Systems of the Rocky Mountain Region, USA. Rocky Mt. Sect., SEPM (Soc. Sediment. Geol.). Denver, pp. 273-298.
- Cather, S.M., 2004, The Laramide orogeny in central and northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, in Mack, G.H., and Giles, K.A., eds., The Geology of New Mexico, A Geologic History: New Mexico Geological Society Special Publication 11, p. 203-248.
- Colbert, E.H., 1995, The little dinosaurs of Ghost Ranch: Columbia University Press, New York, 247 pp.
- Downs, A., 2005, The Hayden Quarry, a new Upper Triassic fossil locality at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, p.355-356.
- Heckert, A.B., Zeigler, K.E., Lucas, S.G., Rinehart, L.F., and Harris, J.D., 2000, Preliminary description of coelophysoids (Dinosaruia: Theropoda) form the Upper Triassic (Revueltian: early-mid Norian) Snyder quarry, north-central New Mexico: New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Bulletin 17, p. 27-32.
- Heckert, A.B., and Zeigler, K.E., 2003, The Late Triassic Snyder quarry: a brief history of discovery and excavation, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Bulletin 24, p. 5-13.
- Heckert, A.B., Lucas, S.G., Downs, A., and Hunt, A.P., 2005, Fossils at Ghost Ranch: The Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology Collection: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, p. 40-41.
- Hunt, A.P. Lucas, S.G., and Downs, A., 2005, A new fossil fish locality in the Middle Jurassic Todilto Formation at Ghost Ranch, north-central, New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, p. 45.
- Kocurek, G. and Dott Jr., R.H., 1983. Jurassic paleogeography and paleoclimate of the central and southern Rocky Mountains region. In: Reynolds, M.W., Dolly, E.D. (Eds.), Mesozoic Paleogeography of the West-Central United States. Rocky Mt. Paleogeogr. Symp., vol. 2. Rocky Mt. Sect. SEPM (Soc. Sediment. Geol.), pp. 101-1 16.
- Koning, Daniel J.; Kelley, Shari; Zeigler, Kate E.; Lucas, Spencer G., 2006, Geologic map of the Ghost Ranch quadrangle, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico , New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, OF-GM-127, Scale 1:24,000.
- Kowallis, B.J., Christiansen, E.H., Deino, A.L., Peterson, F., Turner, C.E., Kunk, M.J., and Obradovich, J.D., 1998, The age of the Morrison Formation: Modern Geology, v. 22, nos. 1-4, p. 235-260.
- Lucas, S.G., Kietzke, K.K., and Hunt, A.P., 1985, The Jurassic System in east-central New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 36, p. 213-243.
- Lucas, S.G., and Anderson, O.J., 1998, Jurassic stratigraphy and correlation in New Mexico: New Mexico Geology, v. 20, p. 97-104.
- Lucas, S.G., Hunt, A.P., and Spielmann, J. , 2005, Jurassic stratigraphy in the Chama Basin, northern New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, p 170-181.
- Lucas, S.G., Zeigler, K.E., Heckert, A.B., and Hunt, A.P., 2005, Review of Upper Triassic stratigraphy and biostratigraphy in the Chama Basin, northern New Mexico: N ew Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, p. 182-192.
- Martz , J.W., and Zeigler, K.E., 2005, Taphonomy and sedimentology of the Upper Triassic Canjilon Quarry (Painted Desert Member of Petrified Forest Formation, Chinle Group), Chama Basin, north-central New Mexico, and a comparison with the Snyder Quarry: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, p. 41-43.
- Owen, D.E., Forgas, A.M., Miller, S.A., Stelly, R.J., and, Owen, D.E., Jr., 2005, Surface and subsurface stratigraphy of the Burro Canyon formation, Dakota Sandstone, and intertongued Mancos Shale of the Chama Basin: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, p. 218-226.
- Ridgley, J.L., 1977, Stratigraphy and depositional environments of Jurassic to Cretaceous sedimentary rocks in the southwestern part of the Chama Basin, New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 28, p. 153-158.
- Ridgley, J.L., 1987, Surface to subsurface cross sections showing correlation of the Dakota Sandstone, Burro Canyon (?), Formation, and upper part of the Morrison Formation in the Chama-El Vado area, Chama Basin, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey Map MF1496-D, 2 sheets.
- Peterson, F., 1994. Sand dunes, sabkhas, streams, and shallow seas: Jurassic paleogeography in the southern part of the western interior basin. In: Caputo, M.V, Peterson. J.A., Franczyk, K.J. (Eds.), Mesozoic Systems of the Rocky Mountain Region, USA. Rocky Mt. Sect., SEPM (Soc. Sediment. Geol.), Denver, pp, 233-271.
- Smith, C.T., Budding, A.J., and Pitrat, C.W., 1961, Geology of the southeastern part of the Chama Basin: New Mexico Bureau of Mining and Mineral Resources Bulletin 75, 57 pp.
- Sullivan R.M., Lucas, S.G., Heckert, A.B., and Hunt, A.P., 1996, The type locality of Coelophysis , a Late Triassic dinosaur from north-central New Mexico (U.S.A.): Palaontologische Zeitschrift, v. 70, p. 245-255.
- Sullivan, R.M., and Lucas, S.G., 1999, Eocoelophysis balwini , a new theropod dinosaur from the Upper Triassic of New Mexico, and the status of the original types of Coelophysis: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, v. 19, p. 81-90.
- Tanner, W.F., 1965. Upper Jurassic Paleogeography of the Four Corners Region. Jour. Sed. Petrology, v. 35, p. 564-574
- Varney, P., 2005, Dakota outcrop geology and sequence stratigraphy, Chama Basin, New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, p. 193-217.
- Zeigler, K.E., 2005, The Snyder Quarry: A fire-related Upper Triassic fossil assemblage in north-central New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, p. 48-50.
- Zeigler, K.E., Heckert, A.B., and Lucas, S.G., 2005, Taphonomic analysis of a fire-related Upper Triassic vertebrate fossil assemblage from north-central New Mexico: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 56, p.341-354.
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Guide to New Mexico’s Renowned Ghost Ranch
New Mexico icon Georgia O’Keeffe was a close personal friend of Witter Bynner and spent many of her first days in Santa Fe at our estate as Witter’s guest. It was Witter who first took Georgia to explore what is now known as O’Keeffe country with a visit to Abiquiú and Ghost Ranch… places O’Keeffe would later make her home. Would you like to retrace some of Georgia’s first steps in New Mexico and etch into your memory an excursion of incredible beauty? Imagine lofty rock walls that make you feel small in comparison, and being surrounded by mesmerizing, vibrant earth tones. This is what you’ll experience at the renowned New Mexico Ghost Ranch, where you’ll step into the natural world. Use this guide to New Mexico’s renowned Ghost Ranch to prepare for a beautiful trip through time.
“All the earth colors of the painter’s palette are out there in the many miles of badlands. The light Naples yellow through the ochres – orange and red and purple earth – even the soft earth greens.” -Georgia O’Keefe
Your trip to the Ghost Ranch begins as soon as you leave the Inn and hit the road. In fact, you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous scenery for 60 miles as you drive from Santa Fe to Abiquiu . The rock formations in shades of burnt sienna, yellow ocher, oranges, and earthy hues are incredible. As creamy clouds drift across the desert sky, the changing landscape offers a surprise at every bend.
New Mexico’s renowned Ghost Ranch has a history that is as colorful and remarkable as the dramatic red and yellow cliffs that characterize the landscape. Ancient history is revealed through discoveries of a significant number of dinosaur fossils, most notably that of the Theropod dinosaur, Coelophysis . Recent history begins with Roy Pfaffle, a man who won the ranch in a poker game. Roy’s wife, Carol Stanley, recorded the deed in her name and chose the name, Ghost Ranch. This ranch has a rich past, which includes cattle rustlers, a Dude ranch, and the brief residence of famed artist, Georgia O’Keeffe.
The Piedra Lumbre , a geologic formation that crops out in the Picuris Mountains, was considered “the best place in the world,” according to Arthur Pack. In fact, that was enough incentive for Georgia O’Keeffe to visit the area, fall in love with the geography and make it her part-time home. One particular geographical feature that captured her attention and often appeared in her paintings was Cerro Pedernal. She commented that Cerro Pedernal “is my private mountain” and that “God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” Fortunately, it’s still here for all to enjoy.
Eventually, Carol Stanley sold the ranch to Arthur Pack, who later sold it to its current owners, the Presbyterian Church. It’s no surprise that Ghost Ranch is classified as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service when considering the beauty of the area. This property is a must-see for all who visit Santa Fe.
What can you expect as you visit Ghost Ranch today? The administration’s mission to foster well-being and spiritual health through historic and beautiful landscapes permeates the property. So, it’s a great place for contemplation and inspiration.
- Activities – There are many activities to entertain you for several days, so you’ll have to choose your favorites. Activities vary depending on the season but include: canoeing, kayaking, guided hikes, and archery. The more adventurous types will enjoy wall climbing. Perhaps the best way to see the terrain and be part of the environment is to simply go hiking in the area or go on a trail ride. The sunset ride is a highlight.
- Museums – If you enjoy learning about anthropology and paleontology, take the time to invest a few hours at the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology, Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology, and Ghost Ranch Library.
- Workshops – The Ghost Ranch offers dozens of workshops that span all ages and skill levels.
- Tours – The O’Keeffe Landscape Tour will take you to O’Keeffe’s painting locations where you can see in person the actual scenes that inspired her masterpieces. Other Ghost Ranch Tours include Paleontology, Archaeology, and Movie Sites.
You will appreciate the gorgeous sunny skies that dominate most days at the Ranch. However, that also means protecting yourself from overexposure. Make sure you are prepared if you’re coming for the day and will be involved in outdoor activities.
Things to include for the day:
- Seasonal casual clothes; a jacket or sweater for cool evenings; sturdy and comfy hiking shoes
- Rain gear and perhaps an umbrella
- Protection from the sun: hat, sunglasses, sunscreen
- A small day pack with snacks if you plan to hike or do other outdoor activities; a water bottle is a must. Consider our deluxe picnic basket for two which is perfect when you’re day-tripping to explore our Land of Enchantment. We will fill your basket with selections of artisan and house prepared lunch foods, including sandwiches, salads, fruit, sparkling water, and house baked goodies.
- Bug repellent
- And please remember your camera or smartphone to capture memories.
A comprehensive look at the ranch may help you envision what you’d like to do while visiting. So, check out this panoramic view from an aerial perspective. Map of Ghost Ranch
We hope this guide to New Mexico’s renowned Ghost Ranch has whet your appetite for an exhilarating trip. After a day spent in the beautiful outdoors, you’ll relish returning to your guest room at Inn of the Turquoise Bear in Santa Fe, where you can relax and enjoy the many comforts and amenities . Sitting on the patio, sipping a glass of wine, and conversing about your day is a delightful finish to an inspiring day.
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Ghost Ranch: Where did it get its name?
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Ghost Ranch Background "Dinosaurs once walked the soggy wetlands that became the arid high desert of Ghost Ranch. Millions of years later Navajos and various other tribes roamed the valley. The Spaniards settled here and then came the cattle rustlers, the wranglers and the dudes. Arthur Pack, one of the country’s first environmentalists, bought the Ranch and sold a little piece of it to Georgia O’Keeffe. Scientists took respite time here from the stresses of building the nuclear bomb at Los Alamos. Famous guests have included Charles Lindbergh, Ansel Adams and John Wayne. Arthur Pack and his wife Phoebe gave the Ranch to the Presbyterian Church in 1955 and even though Georgia O’Keeffe wanted the Ranch for herself she eventually became friends of the first director of Ghost Ranch, Jim Hall. The history of Ghost Ranch reads like a novel. Why it's called Ghost Ranch "When the cattle rustlers were hiding their stolen goods in the box canyon alongside Kitchen Mesa, they discouraged their neighbors from looking around by spreading the rumor that the land was haunted by evil spirits. “Rancho de los Brujos” it was called, “Ranch of the Witches,” which naturally evolved into Ghost Ranch. The turn-off to Ghost Ranch was marked by an animal skull long before Arthur Pack bought the ranch in 1936. When Georgia O’Keeffe came looking for the Ranch she was told to watch for the skull on a fence post. O’Keeffe made a drawing of an ox skull and gave it to Arthur Pack; he promptly adopted the artwork as the logo for Ghost Ranch. When Pack gave the Ranch to the Presbyterian Church they used a sketch of Chimney Rock as a logo. By 1971, partly as a result of O’Keeffe’s encouragement, the familiar skull design was firmly established as the official Ghost Ranch logo. "For more than fifty-five years Ghost Ranch has been a national education and retreat center owned by the Presbyterian Church. At one time in history it had the largest number of employees in Rio Arriba County. From the beginning Ghost Ranch has been deeply involved in support of the surrounding communities and committed to the preservation and protection of the environment." ghostranch.org (Please register to post and comment.)
Both sides of my family trace their roots in the Santa Fé area to the 1600s. In the earlier years they were primarily farmers, builders, craftsmen, artists (wood carvers and weavers), and educators. I graduated from SFHS & NMSU and received my BA & MA in Speech & Language Pathology. I divide my time between Santa Fé and the San Francisco Bay Area.
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Maria; Nice to hear from you. Very good story on "El Rancho de los Brujos." Have you ever stayed at the retreat center? I heard about it but have never visited the area. Now, it is one of the places I want to visit and stay at next time I get to No. N.M. The other place I want to visit in that general area is the monastery of Christ in the Desert. Someone mentioned to me that parts of the movie "The Lone Ranger" was made in Ghost Ranch? Is this true? It is good to see an article from you again. P.S. I had a great lunch at your relatives place in Sept. when I was there.
"the adobe palace," erected 1650., irvin trujillo.
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Discover Ghost Ranch: New Mexico’s Iconic, Hidden Wonder
Discover 21,000 acres of enchanting mystery at ghost ranch, new mexico.
Tucked against the dramatic backdrop of northern New Mexico’s vast and towering landscape lies the legendary Ghost Ranch . A place whose 21,000 acres of red rock canyons, mountain vistas and bucolic lowlands are bathed in a rich precolonial cultural history dating back through 8000 years of habitation. There are few other places anywhere in the west whose pedigree in history is as genuine, mysterious or as notable as the Ghost Ranch’s . Open year round, the ranch’s iconic entrance gate has been welcoming travelers for well over 55 years.
The Entrance to Ghost Ranch, NM. Photo: Charles Watkins
I came to the Ghost Ranch this past winter on a friend’s recommendation. She had visited the Ranch many years ago for a spiritually therapeutic retreat, leveraging the sublime landscape to ease a busy mind. As a fan of the southwest, I was certain that I would like the place, but there would be no way for me to forecast how much I would succumb to the people and landscape of the Ghost Ranch by the time I left.
Not far from the towns of Abiquiu, Taos, and Santa Fe – the Ghost Ranch is part historic western dude ranch, educational campus, religious retreat, scientific centerpiece, art enclave, and comfortable getaway. I had no idea that such a deceptively modest place could offer so much in so many ways to so many people – all while maintaining its original authenticity and rustic patina. My experience there would be quick, but it would be studded with a tapas style sampling of much of what the Ghost Ranch has to offer.
The final approach to Ghost Ranch. Yes that view is for real. – photo: Charles Watkins
Day 1 at Ghost Ranch
My stay kicked off with a quick meet and greet with the welcoming staff at the Visitor’s Center. From there we walked over to visit each of the Ranch’s two museums where curators would help me peel back several layers of interesting legacy. It wasn’t long before I realized just how deep the ranch’s scientific contribution goes, or that some of the West’s most iconic artists once called this place home, or that the Ranch’s own history would be so richly textured with mystery, intrigue and rebirth.
Between the two, the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology is designed for dinosaur enthusiasts young and old, and features many of the excavated skeletons from the ranch’s very own population of Triassic age dinos. Named Coelophysis – it is a theropod that lived approximately 203 to 196 million years ago. It was a small, slender-built, ground-dwelling, carnivore, that could grow up to 10 ft. long. So important was the discovery, that the ranch continues to operate as one of the Nation’s key Triassic archeological sites, with some of its 500+ pits still active in the academic community.
After the museums, I was whisked away for a walking tour of the campus’ dozen or so buildings. Our first stop was at the oldest building on the property. Here is where the Archuleta brothers, who were law breaking cattle thieves in the 1880’s built their home and based their illegal operations out of. They originally named the area “Ranchos De Los Brujos” or Ranch of the Witches, hoping it would bolster rumors of evil spirits haunting the valley and discourage their neighbors from snooping around (the name would later evolve into Ghost Ranch when it changed hands). It wasn’t long before one of the brothers got a little greedy and double crossed the other, leading to his untimely death. Now a murderer, the remaining Archuleta brother was eventually tracked down by the law and hung in front of his own house… hence the name, Ghost House. And yes, you can stay in the Ghost House if you are so inclined.
After the walking tour we boarded a small bus and took off for an hour long guided exploration of the grounds surrounding the campus – retracing the paintings of the artist and ‘Mother of American Modernism,’ Georgia O’Keeffe. While the Ghost Ranch has certainly inspired many artists over the years, it arguably had the most impact on O’Keeffe and her work. Already a well-known American artist at the time, it was New Mexico’s landscapes, many of which she painted while at the Ghost Ranch, that she later became internationally famous for. Knowledgeable visitors can look around and identify many of the scenes she painted. Red and gray hills like those across from the roadside park south of the Ranch headquarters were frequent subjects. Kitchen Mesa at the upper end of the valley is an example of the red and yellow cliffs she painted many times. Cerro Pedernal, the flat-topped mountain to the south, was probably her favorite subject. “It’s my private mountain,” she said. “God told me if I painted it often enough I could have it.” And of course, the Ghost Ranch logo, used on everything from stationary to T-shirts, was adapted from an O’Keeffe drawing the artist had given to Arthur Pack in the 1930′s.” So inspired by the area that she would eventually leave New York and move to the area permanently in the late 1940’s.
With the dinner hour quickly approaching, I met with the staff again and joined them for dinner at the ranch’s large communal dining hall. We had a well prepared meal of fresh greens and traditional green chili posole and shared a table with a couple of ranch hands, a tour guide, the Director of Marketing and a few tourists for casual conversation about the day’s experiences. It seemed that everyone, whether they were longtime residents or just visitors, shared a similar enchantment by the beguiling landscape. After dinner I departed for a quick nighttime hike – taking in a diamond encrusted night sky and the calm, quiet space.
Ghost Ranch in the Evening Light. Photo: Charles Watkins
We stayed in the Library Building. Built in the 1930’s by Robert Woods Johnson of Johnson & Johnson fame, their family vacationed here often during the years when the place was a guest/dude ranch. Authentically southwest in its decor, the room was comfortable and was outfitted with two queen beds and its own private bath. Accommodations at the ranch vary from historic originals like my own to newer quarters built atop the mesa behind the campus. The Ghost Ranch’s accommodations, while basic, offer many options depending on your taste and needs. All however are thoroughly clean and completely restful.
Day 2 at Ghost Ranch
We woke to another gorgeous New Mexico morning. Breakfast was served in the Dining Hall and was more than adequate to prepare us for the day’s highly anticipated horseback ride. The hour+ long guided horseback ride would take me across Matrimony Mesa beside the Ranch – advertised excitedly by the staff as a genuine treat. In the late morning sun, our group gathered at the stables where we met our guides and horses. The guides were extremely friendly, vastly knowledgeable about the area, and first rate horse handlers who loved their jobs as much as they loved the animals.
Casually trotting along the trail, with commanding views of the campus below to our right and the massive sweeping vistas of red stained cliff-faces to our left, we learned more about the Ghost Ranch’s history. Keeping us to the highlights – the guide mentioned that the Ranch was originally part of the Piedra Alumbre (Shining Rock) Land Grant, given to Pedro Martin Serrano from the Spanish King Charles III in 1766. For the next hundred years the land was generally used for cattle grazing, game hunting, and trade routes. After the cattle rustling Archuleta Brothers in the mid 1800’s, the Ranch would change hands several more times – once even through a lost poker bet. Our guide continued the story through the 1940s, 50s and into the present where we learned that the ranch has also been used in several Hollywood movies including City Slickers, Cowboys and Aliens, No Country for Old Men, 3:10 to Yuma, an Indiana Jones movie, and the 2016 Magnificent 7 remake. We eventually looped our way back to the stables, dismounted in a fashionably novice technique, thanked our trusty steeds for their labor, and bid a fond farewell to the guides.
Ghost Ranch Horseback Ride. Photo: B&R Magazine
By the time we reached the end of the ride, my time was coming to a close. I shared one last meal with the staff, thanked everyone for their hospitality, said my goodbyes to the Ghost Ranch’s stunning surrounds and made my way back home. No longer than 5 minutes down the road, I felt the tidal pull of the Ghost Ranch on my psyche. The people, property, landscape, history, and art all combine in a unique way there, creating something indescribably special and real.
Find out more
To learn more about the Ghost Ranch or book reservations on classes, retreats , tours and accommodations , be sure to visit their website or call ahead. You can also discover more information about the Ranch’s famous dinosaurs, horseback rides, Georgia O’Keeffe’s life there, and info on the Ranch’s numerous hiking trails .
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The Monsters and Killers of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
Ghost Ranch, located in Abiquiú, New Mexico, has it’s fair share of interesting stories. The 21,000 acre retreat was once the home and studio of modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe who was infatuated with the barren landscape featured frequently in her art. The area is also an important palaeontology site with an impressively high concentration of dinosaur fossils. And, Ghost Ranch’s stunning redrock landscape has been the backdrop of numerous popular films including Red Dawn (1984), Wild Wild West (1999), No Country for Old Men (2007), and 3:10 to Yuma (2007). Today the ranch is a retreat and education centre run by the Presbyterian Church.
But the Christian retreat that promises to ‘enrich your mind, body, and soul’ was once the homestead of a pair of brothers who didn’t strive to accommodate their own guests in quite the same way.
The Archuleta Brothers, West American Serial Killers
The Archuleta brothers, drawn to one of the few water sources in the area, moved to the then vacant ranch during the late nineteenth-century. Here they let their cattle roam and built cedar-and-adobe houses for themselves and the one brother’s wife. Because of the isolated location and the convenient water source, other cattlemen would pass through and ask the brothers if they could stay the night. Allegedly, many of these cattleman would disappear and their horses, goods, and cattle would ‘mysteriously’ come into the possession of the brothers. All signs pointed to serial murder.
The murders were believed to be committed by luring the unsuspecting cattlemen up the surrounding cliffs and pushing them off or, alternatively, pushing them into the well on their property. This seems counterproductive considering the general lack of water sources, but I guess these things matter less when you murder for sport.
Some claimed to hear the cries of the brothers’ murder victims if they wandered too close to the ranch. Others say the brothers purposely spread a rumour that their ranch was haunted in order to keep away local busy bodies and law enforcement. Allegedly, the brothers hung dummies from the trees in order to send a warning to anyone who approached. Because of this, the ranch was given the name ‘Rancho de los Brujos’, or ‘Ranch of the Witches’ by the local community.
After a dispute over buried gold, one of the brothers killed the other – an act that isn’t unheard of when it comes to serial killer duos. Seeing an opportunity to reclaim the area, locals rode to Rancho de los Brujos and hung the remaining brother from a cottonwood tree, putting an end to the Archuleta murders once and for all.
It wasn’t until 1928 that the name of the ranch was changed to Ghost Ranch by Carol Stanley, the ex-wife of Roy Pfaffle who had won the deed to the property during a poker game. The name is fitting considering the strange paranormal rumours that Ghost Ranch can’t seem to shake.
Vivaron and the Creatures that Haunt Ghost Ranch
The daughter of one of the Archuleta brothers came forward years later and confessed she had seen six-foot tall humanoid creatures covered in red hair that would crawl out of the sand and scream like tortured children. She dubbed these terrifying monsters ‘earth babies’. And her father had sworn he’d encountered a winged cow on numerous occasions that was actually a witch in disguise. It seemed that despite the brothers starting rumours of hauntings, there was some suspicion within the family that the ranch really was haunted.
Most famously, the ghost of a 30-foot-long rattlesnake-demon known as Vivaron was said to haunt the area around Huerfano Mesa, a sacred Navajo mountain. Vivaron would hide during the day in the tunnels under the mountain and emerge at sunset to commence its nightly hunt. And according to some versions of the story, Vivaron’s favourite food was children.
In 2016 a new species of reptile was identified at Ghost Ranch. The reptile has been named Vivaron after the snake-demon and was identified as a new species of rauisuchid , a distant relative of the modern day crocodile. Vivarons were between 12 to 18 feet long and lived in the area of Ghost Ranch around 212 million years ago. Rauisuchids were some of the largest and most dangerous carnivores in Pangea during the 16-million-year-long Triassic Period, so it’s suiting that this new rauisuchid was named after baby-eating Vivaron.
To celebrate the discovery of the new rauisuchid, The Guinness World Records cheekily awarded Vivaron the distinction of being the ‘Oldest Ghost’ ever recorded. The ghost of a 200-million-year-old reptile certainly puts any spirit haunting an old Georgian manor to shame. So if you’re a paranormal investigator who’s tired of the same old boring poltergeists and spectral children, perhaps ghostly prehistoric reptiles can be your new calling?
Want more weird stories from the Wild West? Check out The Tombstone Thunderbird Photograph and the Mandela Effect on Curious Archive!
Sources and Additional Reading
Ghost Ranch – Main Retreat Website Guinness World Records – Oldest Ghost International Business Times – 200 million-year-old ‘monster snake’ reptile identified as new species (2016) Las Cruces Sun News – Pulse: Weekend at Ghost Ranch for a little history, high desert scenery Psychology Today – Nineteenth-century Serial Killers at Ghost Ranch (2013) Scientific American – Paleo Profile: Hayden’s Rattlesnake Demon (2016) The Durango Herald – The spirit of Ghost Ranch (2010) Western Digs – Giant Triassic Predator, Named for Baby-Eating Monster, Discovered in New Mexico (2016) Wikipedia – Vivaron / Ghost Ranch
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Categories: Paranormal Encounters Weird History
Tags: America cryptids haunting history paranormal True Crime Wild West
Ashley is a history lover, paranormal enthusiast, and easily swayed sceptic with a BA and MA in the History of Art. Originally from Canada, Ashley lives on England's Isle of Wight (one of the most haunted islands in the world!) and enjoys internet deep dives into peculiar histories from around our weird and wonderful planet.
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Plan Your Visit
Cellular signal is limited at Ghost Ranch. Within the campground (which is in a canyon) we were able to get extended Verizon service with our cellular signal booster but not ATT. If you need access, you can walk to the library and use their free WiFi. The library is open 24/7. Besides providing internet access, it also has a wonderful book collection. Their website states that the WiFi isn’t always reliable, but we didn’t have any issues. Throughout the week it worked well, even during thunderstorms.
The ranch offers three daily meals in the dining hall. It’s a great place to meet people and to get a quick, delicious meal. The food is served cafeteria style and it’s all-you-can-eat. We’re new to RVing and we couldn’t have asked for a better place to start our journey. Some days we didn’t feel like cooking and near the end of the week, we ran low on food. At the dining hall, we were able to eat a quick meal, which gave us more time to explore.
If you’re a full time RVer and need to receive a package, the ranch will typically lend a hand. Many Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hikers stop at the ranch to use the campground and to get a warm meal. Before continuing on the CDT, they ship supplies to the ranch to refuel their packs.
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17 Reasons To Include Ghost Ranch In Your New Mexico Vacation
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The stunning canyon and cliff country of New Mexico’s Ghost Ranch has ensnared some of the greatest artists of the 20th century for good reason. Ansel Adams captured the landscapes on his large-format cameras. The most famous female artist of the 20th century, Georgia O’Keeffe, made the ranch her home for the last decades of her life.
I could see why she found the space so inspiring and why filmmakers continue to gravitate toward locations in the area. While I was there a short time on a press trip, it was long enough to experience the power of the scenery and get a sense of adventure. I’d like to join those who return often to learn in workshops and rejuvenate at retreats. Here are 17 reasons to visit Ghost Ranch during your New Mexico vacation, inspired by my press trip experiences and subsequent research.
a. v. ley / Shutterstock
1. Follow Georgia O’Keeffe’s Footsteps
Georgia O’Keeffe painted the hills, bones, and stone walls relentlessly and over decades at Ghost Ranch. She said that she worked at her home in Abiquiú but Ghost Ranch was where she lived. Fleeing the pressures and distractions of New York City, Georgia first visited friends who lived in New Mexico and then returned often.
This broad and barely accessible land gave her the space to focus on drawing and painting. Inspiration sprang from long walks exploring the canyons, rock formations, and distant mountains. I found that the very things which drew O’Keeffe to the remote landscape remain for the rest of us to enjoy. The current owners work to preserve both her legacy and the country that captured Georgia’s heart.
2. Immerse Yourself In Local History
Ghost Ranch wasn’t always so tranquil. At one time in the early 1800s, it was feared as Rancho de los Brujos (Ranch of the Witches). People disappeared in the recesses of the stone formations that tower over the broad plains of the region. However, the frightening reputation was more by design than nature. Two bandit brothers, violent to their dusty boots, stole livestock and horses from nearby ranches then hid the animals in nearby Box Canyon until they could be sold. Anyone who came looking for their missing animals went missing themselves.
The subterfuge lasted until one brother was murdered in anger and his wife fled to the nearest village. She inspired a posse to find the survivor. Hanging Tree, which still stands over a small cabin in the center of the ranch, earned its name before the villagers returned home.
Carol Bishop Stanley eventually opened the acres to the public as a dude ranch and changed the name. Other families came and went until Georgia O’Keeffe landed there. By the time she passed, the dude ranch had become a retreat and adventure center. The energy of peace and contemplation still reigns over the rugged acres.
3. Enter The Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape
My introduction to Ghost Ranch was with a guide and motorbus ride to actual locations of O’Keeffe’s paintings. The enthusiastic guide expertly pointed out O’Keeffe’s favorite spots. It was thrilling to get off the bus and stand close to the same vistas framed in O’Keeffe’s masterpieces then get a glimpse of her home from a distance. There was ample time for questions as well.
Our guided walk took me through O’Keeffe’s backyard and past many of her painting locations. This activity is limited to eight guests, which makes it easy to learn about the history, plant life, geology, and culture of the area. I was glad to be wearing my walking shoes and to have filled up my water bottle before the trek. A fountain with filtered water is available inside the Visitor Center.
4. Spend A Wednesday With O’Keeffe
One of the highlights of this area is a chance to see O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiú. There are Wednesday tours with pre-registration which start at the O’Keeffe Welcome Center near the Abiquiú Inn. While I couldn’t take pictures inside, it was still a thrill to walk through O’Keeffe’s Abiquiú house and have lunch before joining the O’Keeffe Landscape tour at Ghost Ranch. The tour returns to the Welcome Center, which has a great gift shop and screens a historical video.
5. Make The Most Of Art Intensives
Clay, glass, and other artistic workshops are offered as seasonal Art Escapes at the ranch. I spent a few hours one evening learning about painting and pastel with local artist Diane Arenberg and wished I was staying longer for her immersives. Most of her sessions run from a weekend to a week long. Other classes include Composition, Plein Air work, and critiques that culminate in a Masters’ Show. The classes are held in the ranch’s Art Center. For more information, check the Ranch schedule .
6. Pay Your Respects At The Pack Memorial
One morning, I took a short walk from my comfortable lodging along the mesa trail behind the Ghost House to a stone memorial dedicated to Arthur and Phoebe Pack. Arthur Pack owned the ranch in its early days and negotiated with Georgia O’Keeffe on the sale of his first house. He bequeathed the ranch to the Presbyterian Church in 1955.
GUILLAUME LECLERC / Shutterstock
7. Take To The Trails
There are nine trails that crisscross the ranch campus. I wandered the land before the day’s activities began. On my return trip, I’ll be certain to take the Kitchen Mesa Trail, a challenging five-mile loop with 600 feet of elevation. It rises to a lookout with views of the Piedra Lumbre basin and Mount Pedernal in the distance. Box Canyon Trail is an especially tempting four-mile round-trip trail that rises 500 feet while winding back and forth across the property’s central stream. The most popular trail to Chimney Rock is a challenging three-mile round trip walk that rises about 600 feet to the sculpted pinnacle.
8. Experience Retreats And Landscape Meditations
There are two labyrinths on the Ghost Ranch site. I found the main labyrinth near the central road along a path that begins at the Arts Center Building. The stone spiral is a tool for contemplation drawn from many traditions across the world. It was a lovely practice as the dawn’s light illuminated Orphan Mesa. There’s a second labyrinth at Casa del Sol. It weaves uniquely in and out of the Piedra Lumbre landscape. I also passed a ceremonial water wheel set along the trail between the Arts Center and the main labyrinth.
9. Enter A Karesansui Garden
As a fan of Japanese landscape design, I was thrilled to hear about this garden created of rock, gravel, and stone, which abstractly represent water and the elements. Typically, this type of garden is found near residences of Zen abbots. This Karensansui space is not allied with a residence but set independently near the main labyrinth at Ghost Ranch.
Monastery Of Christ In The Desert
10. Visit A Monastery
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert is an autonomous abbey following the Benedictine traditions. It’s a quiet space with a guesthouse for private retreats. Both men and women are welcome to join the monks at Mass in the Abbey Church. Religious and artistic articles are available in the gift shop. The monastery is 15 miles northwest of Ghost Ranch.
11. Explore A Mosque Near Abiquiú
For over 40 years, Dar al Islam, a non-profit Islamic organization, has been committed to cultivating understanding, compassion, and empathy among non-Muslims and Muslims alike. The campus, which is near Abiquiú, hosts retreats and meetings in buildings designed by the world-renowned architect Hassan Fathy. Visit Dar al Islam’s website to arrange a visit. I was thrilled to discover that the Dar al Islam property contains The Black Place and The White Place , two paintings by O’Keeffe.
12. Tour The Ruth Hall Paleontology Museum At Ghost Ranch
Perhaps the ancient monsters that frightened the first inhabitants of Ghost Ranch were dinosaurs. Georgia O’Keeffe created notable paintings from more recent bones she collected at the ranch, and just north of the property is one of the best-known digs in the Northern Hemisphere. I could imagine joining one of the dig workshops and discovering remnants of creatures over 200 million years old. One new species, a small archdinosaur, was named Effigia (O’Keeffe’s Ghost). Even if you can’t join a dig, it’s exciting to get close to the bones and equipment inside the ranch’s small museum.
13. Anthropology Comes To Life In The Ranch Museum
The Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology , adjacent to the Ghost Ranch Visitor Center, is named for the woman who led a group of students to the world-class discovery of the largest collection of Gallina artifacts in the world. The museum displays other artifacts from Paleo Indian people who lived here 10,000 years ago in addition to current creations. It’s a small exhibit, but I was excited to learn about the ladies of the canyon via vintage pictures and artifacts from local pioneering women, including Ghost Ranch founder Carol Bishop Stanley.
14. Take A Trail Ride
Two ranch rides are inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe — the Landscape Trail Ride and the Sunset Trail Ride. Riding a gentle steed through the low brush was a quiet joy. We stopped for pictures with the cliffs behind us and rode past O’Keeffe’s low adobe home. Our guide filled us in on the area’s history and colorful stories as we loped along. I’d love to return for a private ride up into the foothills one day.
15. Enjoy Water Fun
When the lifeguard is on duty, ranch guests can escape the desert heat in the immense, unheated pool next to the dining hall. I was there for cool fall days, so the pool wasn’t open. If I were there during the summer months, it would be such fun to kayak or canoe Abiquiu Lake. Swimming lessons and hikes can be arranged as well.
Wikimedia Commons ( CC BY 2.0 )
16. Challenge Yourself On A Ropes Course
As I entered the Ghost Ranch Property, we passed a loose grid of tall posts slung with ropes. High- and low-rope and wall-climbing activities are available during the summer when staffing allows. It’s easy to imagine how fun teamwork and problem-solving adventure courses can be.
17. Indulge In Self-Care And Body Work
Ghost Ranch’s nationally certified and licensed massage therapists offer integrative bodywork, massage, and spa treatments daily. Appointments must be made at the Welcome Center in advance. The treatments would make a welcome conclusion to long hikes and adventures at Ghost Ranch.
From a pure country experience to an artful retreat, I can see returning again and again for a Ghost Ranch vacation.
Elaine of Trip Well Gal has been jumping into travel and living in the most unexpected places for decades -- from suburban Southern California to a cold-water cabin in SE Alaska. While others were planning retirement, she took every chance to explore, taste, meet, and share her discoveries. Ever curious about life and the world, Elaine founded Trip Well Gal nearly ten years ago as a commuting yoga teacher and used her public radio experience to produce the Indie-Excellence Award Winning audiobook, Drivetime Yoga and then Flytime Yoga .
As a freelancer, she focuses on finding the stories underneath issues and those who can tell them best. She’s written for Hidden Compass , Edible San Diego , San Diego Home and Garden , Luxury Living International Magazine , Trivago , Roam Right , Hipmunk and other online outlets. Enamored with the storytelling possibilities of video, she’s an obsessive photographer and filmmaker for her YouTube channel with over 50k views. The blog has evolved to focus on helping Boomers get out into the world and do it well with consciousness and care for the planet and our neighbors.
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New owners of Jeffrey Epstein’s New Mexico ranch protest property value
Posted: January 2, 2024 | Last updated: January 2, 2024
SANTA FE, N.M. ( KRQE ) – The new owners of Jeffrey Epstein’s “Zorro Ranch” property in New Mexico are protesting the property’s value.
In a complaint filed in Santa Fe County District Court just before Christmas, the new owners of the roughly 8,000-acre ranch in Stanley, New Mexico, are asking for a refund in taxes paid on the property.
The New Mexico ranch was sold to San Rafael LLC last year for an undisclosed amount. However, according to the property’s Notice of Value statement from 2023, Santa Fe County values the property at $21,130,201. The most recent estimated property tax amount listed is $151,475.
Court documents show the new owners are now arguing the property is worth much less than that, at $9 million.
“We like to see any information they have,” said Isaiah Romero, Santa Fe County Assessor.
“I know this sold last year, we want to see the closing documents, we want to see what was included in the sale, and that’s a lot of the work that the Assessor’s Office does,” Romero added. “We want to break down all information possible to get to a close scope of value, as all appraisers do.”
Nexstar’s KRQE reached out to the representative for San Rafael LLC but had not received a reply for comment at publication time.
The Zorro Ranch is one of the highest-valued properties in Santa Fe County.
Epstein purchased the Zorro Ranch in 1993 from former Democratic Gov. Bruce King. Epstein built the 26,700-square-foot mansion with a sprawling courtyard and a living room roughly the size of the average American home. Nearby was a private airstrip with a hangar and helipad. The property also included a ranch office, a firehouse and a seven-bay heated garage.
While Epstein never faced charges in New Mexico, the state attorney general’s office in 2019 confirmed that it was investigating and had interviewed possible victims who visited the ranch.
Epstein was found dead in August 2019 in his Manhattan jail cell, where he was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
The county assessor said generally, it could take weeks or sometimes years to conclude a property value dispute.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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