Welcome back. Somewhere between the sun and a man’s last breath lies a stretch of land in north central New Mexico that many think is enchanted and many others consider to be heaven on earth.
Traveling from Cimarron up into the Sangre de Christo mountain range you first come to towns with names like Angel Fire, Taos and Red River. This area is called the “enchanted circle” where the mountains contain lush valleys filled with trees and green grass. As you pass over the mountains going west the landscape on the other side slowly changes to a desert terrain and big rocks replace the trees. These are huge rocks hundreds of feet tall, shaped by thousands of years of wind and rain and colored in shades of purple, pink and bronze. Santa Fee is 100 or so miles to the south of this area and Pagosa Springs, Colorado is 105 miles away on the north border.
Famous in the early years before statehood as a hideout for bandits, another place in this region that is supposedly haunted is known by locals in Spanish as “El Rancho de los Brujos” or in English as “ranch of the witches.”
From the earliest days of settlement to the present this area has drawn film stars, artists and writers, both rich and poor. Known for its beauty and peaceful setting, nowadays visitors to the ranch routinely find relics of the past not only from early human inhabitants but also from the dinosaurs who roamed here in big numbers.
The beauty and mystical quality of the area was best captured by one of America’s most famous painters, Georgia O’Keefe who lived and worked here from the 1920s until her death in the 1980s. O’Keefe came to the area to visit other artists who were already living in Taos and Santa Fe and when she discovered this place she found her spiritual home. The remoteness and the rugged grandeur of the landscape gave her an endless source of subject matter for her paintings and also suited her need for seclusion.
When she first came to New Mexico O’Keefe had been living in New York with her husband, the famous photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz. Together they had been building a name for her work but at the time she was not as well-known as he was. After discovering New Mexico O’Keefe began spending more and more time there and after Stieglitz’s death in 1946 she moved there permanently.
O’Keefe learned about Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, New Mexico in 1934 when Arthur Newton Pack was running a dude ranch on the property. For the next few years she was a guest there every summer until in 1937 by a fluke she found “El Rancho de los Brujos” where Pack owned a small adobe house. She convinced him to sell her the property and it eventually became her fulltime home in the spring, summer and fall. During the harshest winter months when Ghost Ranch became inaccessible, O’Keefe moved to a second home in the village of Abiquiu which she had purchased from the Catholic Church and rebuilt into an eight room home with a large studio and gardens.
Over time O’Keefe’s many paintings of this particular New Mexican landscape, ranging from the gently rolling red hills to the imposing jagged mountaintops made her beloved Ghost Ranch famous around the world. Today there is a museum dedicated to her work in Santa Fe and her home on the ranch is open to the public by reservation only. I’ve been here many times before and I can tell you it takes some work to get to but it is well worth the effort.
Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….