The Ghost Ranch mystique will lure you in and not let go. It happened to me.
Its colorful early history includes cattle rustling, betrayal, and murder. Later, the deed to the 21,000 acre property changed hands in a poker game. Eventually a family made it their home and promoted it as a dude ranch, it also was home to a famous painter and to dinosaur bones. For the last 60 years it has been an education and retreat center.
Somewhere along the line the ranch became respectable, yet never dull. It won me over when I drove in early one morning intending to stay only a few minutes, then started exploring and pretty soon it was supper time. So I spent the night, then spent three more nights. Many guests return each year to reconnect with old friends; others come simply to be.
But why? It’s not glamorous or cushy. Things you WON’T find at Ghost Ranch include: hot springs, mud treatments, golf, tennis, restaurants, room service, TVs, air-conditioning, night clubs or retail therapy. It’s hot in summer, cold in winter, and dusty year-round. The lodging is spartan, the cafeteria meal is fixed-menu, at night it’s too dark to venture out without a flashlight, and cellphone coverage is so poor that teenagers frequently can’t text their friends! Yikes!
Yet still they come. Perhaps part of the appeal is that time barely exists here. Other than a handful of new buildings, the 100-acre campus looks much as it did 30 or 40 years ago, so maybe returning each year means you CAN go home again. And no one pays heed to clocks, at least not until mealtime – the food may be limited in scope, but it is superb quality.
But I think its greatest asset, paradoxically, is the absence of luxuries. By stripping away the etcetera of our lives, the emphasis shifts to the few things we really need: wholesome food, fresh air, exercise, a good night’s sleep, a sense of community, and meaningful activities – activities being things we do, not things we watch others do. Judging by the ranch’s repeat business, they’re doing something right.
Things you WILL find at Ghost Ranch include: hiking, meditation, silversmithing, horse-back riding, painting, photography, pottery, archeology, sculpture, archery, calligraphy, music, rafting, and more. There are classes and workshops to make it all happen. For info on physical activities go here, for the more cerebral pursuits go here,
Oh, and there is wifi in the large library facility, open 24/7, so teenagers of all ages can get online and text!
The access road is an hour north of Santa Fe, and light years from the rat race. A ten minute drive from Hwy 84 ends at those bluffs. The ranch is nestled at their base and up in a shallow canyon. For Abiquiu history go here, for Ghost Ranch history go here.
Ghost House, built circa 1881. It is a public area and always open – offering sitting rooms inside, a front courtyard shaded by huge cottonwood trees, a meditation garden in back, and a single lodging room off to one side.
The library has several rooms, this is the theology room. There is also a large salon full of sofas and chairs that is more casual (less quiet) and popular with the younger crowd. You can check out books, movies and books on tape. There are two guest rooms upstairs.
The Packs bought Ghost ranch in the 1930s. They were conservationists, and over the years helped fund local wildlife preservation, archaeological and paleontological excavations on Ghost Ranch, hospitals in NM and AZ, and cofounded a museum in Tucson, AZ. A short bio of Arthur Pack is here.
The library was built as a residence in the 1930s by the Johnson family, of Johnson & Johnson drug company. They were friends of the Packs and also of Charles Lindbergh. The Johnsons lived here several years with their children, moving here after Lindbergh’s baby was kidnapped. I visited Lindbergh’s boyhood farm home while paddling down the Mississippi River last summer, for pics go here and scroll down half-way. Charles Lindbergh took aerial photographs of the ranch and other areas in New Mexico.
View from the Welcome Center. I think the Welcome Center was the Pack’s residence.
To one side of the Welcome Center are the library, cafeteria, chapel, religious center, swimming pool, housing, arts complex, cabins, mud buildings, trails, and more.
Meal time – there are also picnic tables outside under the eaves and under leafy cottonwood trees.
Riding my bike down a trail in the back country, came across a half-dozen ladies painting.
The lady below was near the Welcome Center.
Behind the Welcome Center and about 60-ft up on a mesa is more housing – ranging from old bunk houses with several bunk beds in each room and communal bathrooms, to this newer wing of rooms with private baths and a nice central lounge.
Social room, screened on both sides, in an older bunkhouse. There is no air-conditioning, but it’s not really needed. Temps may be hot during the day, and the sun strong, but at 7000-ft things cool down a lot in the shade and at night. But hydrate!
To the other side of the Welcome Center are museums, a meditation room, stables, lodging, and a large campground that runs a half-mile up into the hills. My campsite was the farthest uphill, a quarter mile past anyone else. Picked it for the shade, to keep the car cool for better sleeping at night. I didn’t want to crack the windows due to dust and concern over critters getting inside. Great campground. There was a water spigot next to that concrete water trough, and a nearby structure had bathrooms, showers, kitchenette, ice machine and laundry. All the comforts of home.
A little bridge linking the two parts of my site.
Campsite picnic table, with fire-ring to the left. There is no reserving sites, it’s first-come.
View downhill, to the south. Cerro Pedernal in the distance
The Spiritual Direction Center. Ghost Ranch is owned by the Presbyterian Church, but is more spiritual than religious. In the 1950s, the Packs tried gifting the property to a number of charities, with the directive that it stay intact in perpetuity and be available to the public. Most turned it down, probably unwilling to take on the operating expense, except the Presbyterian Church.
Met a group of charming ladies from San Antonio. They now live all over but come here once per year for fellowship and to paint. This is the last evening of their stay, at a wine-and-cheese gathering to present their artistic masterpieces. And I got an invite! I meant to go back to my camp first and change into nicer clothes, but lost track of time – which, as noted, can happen easily here.
I’ll be back, too!