I’d set the clock for 7am gosh it was hard to move today, I’d slept so deeply. And I needed it. The room was chilly, the New Mexican sun was already up and pushing in from behind the curtains, the birds were chirping and rushing from tree to tree just outside the door. The stone floor cold on my feet as i slipped out of bed.
I nipped to the communal bare bones bathroom out and along the passageway across the front of coral block. The brightness, the clearness and the peace all jump upon a warm sleepy body at that time. As if they have been waiting, sense movement and rush in. I hurried along pointlessly trying to keep ahead of those fingers, rushing to turn the hot water shower on.
There was just me in there, the plastic shower curtains seemed to want to take hold of me too until the warm water pushed everything back, just for a little while at least until I was ready awakened and prepared.
Dressed and then enjoying my slow crunching footsteps up the sand and dirt road past the reception and into the dining hall. I always liked that room, Subdued but humming, chat conversation and laughter loose already. Some of these folk had been up for hours already, you knew it. Impressive. Got my plastic tray and joined the queue, scrambled eggs hash browns and chili tomato sauce, Classic Hispanic New Mexican breakfast, serve your self have as much as you like. I always loved breakfast here. Never ever missed it. Oh and a cup of coffee and over by the window again to gaze tenderly out onto the alfalfa fields, yellow and brittle looking, bright sunshine and fresh clear clean air. Wonderful.
Afterwards went to sit in the library just because the place always seems so still, so old and so peaceful, the well trodden wooden floor boards as you enter, what is it about sitting amongst shelves of well thumbed books that feels so good and such a fine mix of subjects, quality and choice there too. All subjects all faiths denominations and opinions blending nicely, fitting together perfectly, complementing one another, just as it should be. No arguments, just choices and what ever your choice was it was ok. The place is truly a gem in the desert. I could live in that house
I decided I would give myself a break today and write up later or tomorrow, I have been quite disciplined so a little breather would be ok. I went back to my room slipped back under the blankets and slept till 12.30, it was such a luxurious feeling to be able to sleep in the afternoon, not sitting up, though the room is in a shady corner and so a little like a cooler box in there,but in the summer it will be the sought after room
I decided to go for a walk up to Kitchen mesa which looks out over the ranch and from there looks directly down onto the kitchen, hence the name, but that is underselling it really. It’s a tough walk and a climb at the end up onto the top of the mesa. It doesn’t just look down on the kitchen it towers way above the ranch. It was really dry biting cold that day, but just the thing to clear the heavy sleepy blanket wrapped around my mind that morning
I know exactly where the trails are so set off up towards the back of the ranch and was out amongst the river rocks the sage, crossing the arroyo into the wilderness. The trail first leads straight through the 230 million year old Triassic red Chinle rocks of the now world famous Dinosaur quarry
Back in 1947 Edwin H Colbert found Hundreds of Coelophysis skeletons right here underneath the hundreds of millions of tons of rock above. At the top grey todilto rock from the inland sea that eventually flooded the Jurassic sand dunes you see petrified just below it. Then Entrada from the middle Jurassic below them and underneath all that the Red Chinle rocks from a time at the beginning of the dinosaur period 230 million years ago, the Chinle seam here is one of the most important Triassic dinosaur quarries in the world and was another Ghost Ranch flag on the map.
The coelophysis is the most famous of all the finds here though there have been many other. They have a specimen in the museum that they have been slowly cleaning up ever since I was first here. I popped in later and to me it seems to be taking longer to clean it up than it did to form, I couldn’t see any progress at all in all that time. The creature ran on its hind legs was about 6-10 feet long had a long narrow scull with sharp teeth, short grasping arms, thin hollow bones and three toes rather like a bird
Fascinating to be there and just wander through it and let my imagination wander. In 1976 the quarry was designated a national landmark and believe this or not, coelophysis was second dinosaur in space. In 1998 a skull from the Ghost ranch quarry was taken up on the space shuttle, why? I have no idea and to be honest still baffles me and for the record the first was a piece 0f bone from a baby maiasaura in 1985. very eccentric if you ask me.
My imagination now fueled, I was over a little red sandy rise and you are in such an exquisitely beautiful place, It’s like something being switched off and something else being switched on. The peace and silence of such a place is invasive, just the sound of the wind through the remarkably twisted and ancient juniper trees, down there in the valley quite tall and strong but up above on mesa tops stunted and twisted into remarkable forms. As I climbed upwards flurries of snow blew down the valley and along the trail, dry chilling, snow and dust, cold but invigorating.
Once up and against the cliffs at the end of the valley, there are two ways up to the top of the mesa, a steep rocky 50% degrees climb on fallen rocks or a vertical toe hold climb. I went for the toehold for old times sake. Great stuff.
The origin of the name Ghost Ranch has a few different versions. but the generally accepted one is that originally the land here belonged to Archuleto Brothers who became known to the Locals as ‘Los Animales’ well actually before them it belonged to the Indians.
They had shrewdly claimed the land here as it had one of the few reliable sources of water in the region and used if to graze their cattle. And for centuries before Europeans arrived the Native Americans had they say held ceremonies up in box canyon a natural amphitheatre and it was said by the Archuleto brothers that the spirits and the ghosts of those Indians were still up there, lights and strange noises had often been heard they said.
Just so happens that the brothers were notorious cattle rustlers and murderers and kept their stolen heards up in the canyon and called it Rancho de Los Brujos ‘Ranch of the witches’ to keep superstitious locals and prying eyes away. There were rumours of a flying cow that killed anyone that saw it; a howling 6-foot human like beast that was covered in thick red hair that would rise up from out of the red sands and snatch unsuspecting people who wandered up there, also a 30 foot long Serpent called Vivaron. There are stories too of buried treasure and the ghosts of the cattlemen murdered by the Archuleto Brothers who still wander the land looking for revenge.
Eventually one of the brothers killed the other in a fight over the whereabouts of some buried gold. At the news of this the locals found their courage formed a posse and the other brother was hung from a cotton wood tree out there on what is now the ranch. The treasure was never found and they say is still hidden out there somewhere in the red sands.
A little later and by a fortuitous series of events a great man called Arthur Pack one of the US first environmentalists bought the ranch in 1936 and turned it into a Dude ranch where people could come out and get a taste of what the real west was like. There are delightful and evocative pictures of him and his second wife phoebe around the place dressed in cowboy gear, looking wonderful, oozing happiness and confidence.
Georgia O’keefe came to visit the ranch in the 1934 intrigued by a statement of Arthur Pack that Ghost Ranch was “the best place in the world” fell in love with the place and began travelling out every summer. Ghost Ranch gave her the freedom to “paint what she felt”. If you are familiar with her work you can see the effect the land had on her. Quite a forceful character by every account she eventually demanded that Arthur sell her a small piece of land with a little adobe house called Ranchos de los Burros. Which he kindly did, the packs seemed to have a soft spot for her.
Pedernal the flat topped mountain to the southwest was probably her favorite subject “God told me if I painted it enough times I could have it“ she is reported to have said.
I’d never heard of her before I arrived but I was soon under her spell, there is no denying her beautiful work full of sensuality and longing captures the feeling of this land for sure. When she died on March 1986 she was cremated and her ashes now dust the top of Pedernal as was her wish
In 1955 Arthur Pack gave the ranch to the Presbyterian Church, much to the horror of Georgia, she thought they should have sold it to her. She “Didn’t care much for the Presbyterians but she eventually became a great supporter of the place in later years as the pressies; as I call them turned the place into the wonderful retreat and educational center that it is today catering for all faiths, thoughts and leanings and an endless train of artistic inspired creative groups and classes.
As I came up on top of the Mesa I had a feeling Big Name was around. I was still kind of awed by what had happened over at ship rock. As I made my way slowly around the western rim a hawk flew out of nowhere I waved “Hello brother“ I glanced across the valley looked up again and he was gone.
I cupped my hands to my nose and breathed in the sage which i’d had been rubbing on them all the way up, the ravens soared and tumbled above.
I remembered fasting over on the very top of Montosa Mesa to the east behind the ranch 4 days 3 Nights, the ravens had came every day, hovering just above me. peering down at me checking whether I was still alive. Noisy and inquisitive, I Love the ravens. I remembered there only being 2 or 3. I counted 9 this time. They played all day up there tumbling on the rushing winds, forced upwards against the massive Entrada cliffs below. Across to the east to the right of Pedernal a great dust storm was brewing. The winds lifting and spreading a great creamy cloud of stinging sand into the air.
I was taking photos balanced on the edge of the cliffs, the winds testing my skill to stand still and straight, It’s so easy to get carried away taking photos in a place like this everything is incredible. The thought is snapping something to enjoy later. It takes you away from the moment somehow. Best to have a certain time for it and certain times for your soul to feel the place, that is really what a person takes away from a somewhere like this.
As I looked out across the beautiful pastel coloured landscape its hues and subtleties I thought, ‘I know every part of this place’ I had ridden the horses to just about every corner of this vast 21,000 acre ranch, I stood for a long while remembering its hidden secrets and of course all the characters I had met there
I supposed what was so life changing for me there was that nobody knew me or anything about me when I arrived, I was given a chance and was judged on what I did there, which was work really hard at what ever was asked with enthusiasm and an open heart, I wanted nothing and was given more that I could possibly of dreamed of all the way back in Blackpools and charming red bricked Lancashire England where those ideals I brought with me were taught me
“Tell the truth and work hard and you’ll want for nothing” my Nan had always said to us. She proved in my case to be absolutely right. I was as free as the Ravens, as lithe and fit as light footed horses in amongst the red canyoned walls of Northern New Mexico, I simply couldn’t believe it and there looking out across that beautiful land thinking back, I still can’t, but it was.
I walked back saying my thanks again out loud to Connie Guiles who it was had really opened it all for me. She just saw me and I think and somehow knew that I was to be trusted. She bought me my first pair of slim fit long legged Wranglers Jeans, another life changing event, I kid you not.
I Looked down at my dusty boots as I climbed back down; it was always a badge of honour to me when we had time out and rolled into down in Santa Fe, Ranch dust on my boots and the faint smell of horses, I swear to you that smell really is an aphrodisiac, it drew people.
On the way back I overtook a group of elderly hikers I’d seen across the mesa. all wrapped up n the latest Day-Glo gear and walking spikes. They heard me coming up on them.
“Attention hiker coming through” the leader called back to his troop dramatically, was really very sweet. Gosh I hope I’m able to do that when I get to their age. It is a really tough climb. Good on them.
Then back along the canyon floor, but I cut off before the dinosaurs, across the dust and ducking through the Junipers off the trail and down into the arroyo, where warning signs told the unwary to stay out as there had been a huge flash flood last year which had destroyed a few of the outlying buildings. I wanted to see Tom, Conies Husband and director of the ranch. I took care.
Tom had died back in September 2006 after I had left. He really was one of the greatest men I have ever come across. Connie was wild, emotional shrill and very funny, on the surface Connie was all southern charm but was i’m sure a tank commander in a past life, she would have suited a chewed up cigar and what she didn’t know about horses “aint worth knowing” she taught me so much and allowed me such freedoms. Tom was silver haired, dry, calm, tall slim and long limbed and had the voice of the ranch. If it could speak it would sound like Tom Guiles soothing, rich and reassuring.
His grave is in the place of remembrance just off the trail to box canyon right out back of the ranch. I put a stone on the pile there and simply said
“Thanks for everything Tom, we’ve missed you” A great man.
It was really with the horses there that I began to take energy and healing seriously, though i never said a word at the time, except once to Connie after a remarkable healing had taken place with a very stressed horse I’d asked her if horses cried.
I remember she looked at me curiously and said “Your a very strange guy Mick” I was in the corals every day testing out touch with them. They knew, and when I had to leave that time, I was deeply saddened and had gone to say goodbye to them in the corals they had sensed my sadness, had all gathered around me, nudging me,crowding me and walking in a rough circle nuzzling me and my boots. I learnt all about touch and quietening yourself inside from them. They knew if you weren’t.
I slowly and dreamily walked back along the dirt track stopping in to look at the Navajo Hogans, and got back in time for dinner, I had my own supplies but just couldn’t resist one more dinner there, in the hum of the dinning hall again in my usual seat looking west down and across toward Pedernal
A lady came to join me called Holly Hock, said she married her husband just for the last name. She was mathematics teacher who traveled extensively. It was nice to chat with her she was animated her hands to created beautiful lines of expression in the air as she talked She was just visiting the ranch and was a great life long fan of Ms O’Keefe. Just as we were getting up to leave
She said “Fancy a little walk”
“Sure” I said
She was a little uneasy on her legs. I reverted back to ‘Wrangler Mick’ in no time at all guided her gently along, showed here a little hidden trail just as the sun was setting, told her a few things about the ranch, just as if I used to own the place, it was sweet. She’d stood behind ,me rested her hands on my shoulders as we came down a steep incline back to the ranch. It has always felt good to be trusted.
I wished her well and off she went to the Abiquiu inn 22 miles down the road. I sat in the library for the rest of the evening writing. All he lights were put out except the one where I was sat in the theology room.
I have wanted to write all of this for some time, there is much more but it’s late and tomorrow will be another step back into civilization.
So good night sleep tight.