Summer 2021 Tour Chama, New Mexico Episode 2: Ghost Ranch

Our second activity while in Chama, New Mexico, was a trip to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu about 46 miles from Chama.

Ghost Ranch

I learned of Ghost Ranch about 15 years ago when I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Taos. Ever since then, I have wanted to see the place where O’Keeffe found creative inspiration and spent much of her life.

Ghost Ranch Welcome Center

Ghost Ranch History

  • During the Triassic time period, we would have seen dinosaurs roaming through jungles and swamps along a seacoast. Contrast that terrain with the multicolored canyons and cliffs, plains and grasslands, and streams we see today.
  • The ranch’s archaeological record predates adobe walls and kivas. Hearths and other sites found on the property are dated 6,000 BCE, or 8,000 years ago.
  • More modern times saw cattle rustlers hide their stolen property on the land.
  • A working ranch became a Dude Ranch in the 1920s.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe came to the ranch in 1934 and bought 12 acres at the edge of the ranch in 1940.
  • Arthur and Phoebe Pack bought the 21,000-acre ranch in 1936.
  • New Mexico’s state fossil Coelophysis was found at the ranch in 1947.
  • The Packs donated Ghost Ranch to the Presbyterian Church in 1955.
  • The National Ghost Ranch Foundation was established in 1972.
  • Several movies used the ranch for their setting, including Indiana Jones, Cowboys and Aliens, City Slickers, and Silverado, to name a few.
  • In 2018, the Presbyterian Church transferred operations of Ghost Ranch to the Foundation.
  • The year 2020 marked the 65th Anniversary of Ghost Ranch.

What to do and see

The ranch offers several tours: some on a shuttle bus, some on horseback, and others traversing one or more of the nine trails on foot.

We chose the Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Tour. Our mask-wearing group climbed aboard the bus. The tour guide’s skill in telling stories about O’Keeffe and the history of the ranch while driving down a dirt road amazed me. Maybe navigating dirt roads with no traffic made it look easy.

Our tour guide holds up a photo of O’Keeffe’s painting of the dead tree

She pointed out subjects of O’Keeffe’s paintings and passed around laminated photos of them for us to compare to what we saw.

Without the tour guide, we can see what O’Keeffe might have seen

I could almost see O’Keeffe standing in the middle of the desert with her easel and paints and brushes as she captured an image on canvas.

Standing in front of another painting subject of O’Keeffe’s.
What do you see in the shape of the mounds?
O’Keeffe’s summer home is not open to the public
Colors shift from muted to bright, depending on the sun’s light

After our tour, we visited the Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology and Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology to see the ancient artifacts from Paleo-Indian culture through contemporary pottery and weaving from local Pueblos. Although small, the museums had informative displays, which kept us busy for about an hour.

Museum building
Example of Indian Rug sold in federally licensed trading posts established after the American Frontier Wars ended in 1890
Indigenous farmers placed Corn Mother effigies—representing nourishing qualities of mother earth—in their fields
Black and White pottery found around Piedra Lumbre Valley
Paleo-Indian display of bison head, a modern atlatl and spear, and various spear points.
Museum’s Courtyard

Besides tours and museums, Ghost Ranch is a place for relaxation, reflection, and spiritual rejuvenation through its many retreats and workshops offered during the year. Visitors can hop on a horse for a guided trail ride on the property and, in the summer, jump in the pool to cool off.

Not sure if the Georgia O’Keeffe Cottage was a meeting place or overnight rental

Various “simple and rustic” accommodations are available, ranging from private rooms with baths to communal living spaces and shared baths, to tent and RV camping facilities.

Meals are served cafeteria style in the Dining Hall. Since we didn’t see any other places nearby to grab a bite to eat, we bought meal tickets for lunch at the Trading Post.

Eat inside our outside at the Dining Hall

Wrap up

I hope to return to Ghost Ranch, spend a few days, and perhaps sign up for a retreat or workshop. I’d also like to wander around on the trails and explore more, ride a horse, or go to the nearby lake and paddle board. It was too hot the day of our visit to do much more than ride around in an air-conditioned bus and walk through the museums. I’d also like to take the tour of the O’Keeffe House and Studio in Abiquiu. It’s open with limited reservations available.

Next up: Our last Chama, New Mexico, episode will feature a quick peek at Heron Lake State Park and Echo Amphitheater.

Safe Travels

Summer 2021 Tour Chama, New Mexico Episode 1: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

On Friday, July 16, 2021, we moved our base camp to Chama, New Mexico. The short two-hour drive on US Highway 64 through lush canyons and meadows was a delight. About halfway, we stopped at an overlook and picnic area where wildflowers were in full bloom.

Yellow-orange daisies
Green, lavender, white, and yellow among the thistle

I imagined where we live in the Bay Area, the drought would have already forced the wildflowers to shrivel up and die. So, it was a treat to see their smiley faces at their peak in New Mexico’s higher elevations.

Little Creel RV Park in Chama squished us into a small space that crowded the trailer next to us. The park owner said not to worry. The men next to us would leave over the weekend and might not return on Monday, and they didn’t all week.

Although the room slide encroached on the neighbor, the awning and picnic table area had plenty of room, especially since no one pulled in next to us until two days before we left.

All set up

First on our agenda while in Chama, was to ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. At Coffee & Espresso Bar, we started our day with a breakfast sandwich, Danish, and a cup of coffee, and then we watched the volunteers prepare the engines and hook up the cars.

Listen to live music while sipping coffee
Cozy up to the fire pit and stay nice and toasty
Chama depot, store, visitor center, and restrooms
Rail yard
Fire ‘er up
Coupling the cars
All aboard

We ended up in the first seat in the first car behind the engine. One would think a steam engine would be preferable to diesel because of the smell. In order for the steam engine to work, it needs fire to heat the water to create the steam. And what fuel did they use for the fire?

Our car behind the engine

Coal. I could barely stand two minutes outside on the platform. Soot and red-hot embers of coal swirled around me and flew in the door whenever it was open. And forget about resting your arm on the windowsill unless you wanted a holy shirt sleeve.

View from the train

It was comical to see one passenger—a man in his fifties—so excited about riding the train. He stood on the platform for the entire trip while soot and embers rained down on him. His grandson brought him snacks and drinks, but the man never budged.

The train, the train.
Whoa! Where are we going?

Pulling the mountain was not much faster than walking due to the incline. We were thinking it would be faster on the way back, but we were wrong. The Engineer/Conductor told us the old-fashioned brakes required they keep the downhill speed to a minimum to avoid becoming a runaway.

Say cheese
Hmm . . . settings, settings.
New Mexico State Road 17
Quick stop in Cumbres for water
Filling the tank
Homes and cabins in the meadow
Join the party in the open car
Los Pinos water tank and rail crew

At the Osier train stop in Colorado, we all disembarked for a buffet lunch in the dining hall. On one side of the building, they served a turkey dinner, and on the other side, they served meatloaf. Salads were also available downstairs.

Dining Hall

I opted for the turkey dinner. The turkey and gravy were tasty. All I can say about the canned green beans is that they weren’t fresh, and a couple of bites of dressing were more than enough. The best part of the meal was the not-too-sweet pumpkin pie with whip cream and flaky crust. I should have had two slices.

Livestock loading pen

After lunch, everyone gathered outside, wandered around the other buildings, and waited for the train to return.

Osier was once a small community with a store, rooming house, and depot. The volunteers built the water tower in 2000 using materials and specifications as the original.
Section House built in 1881 for the section foreman and family. Restored and renovated from 1993 to 2003.
Original or replicas?
Cascade Creek
Tiny blue daisy-like flowers dotted the grass
Trains use the double tracks and loop to turn around

All the passengers climbed aboard for the trip back to Chama, taking the same seats as before. The atmosphere in the car was a stark contrast. Those of us in the front were mostly quiet, enjoying the scenery outside the windows, or nodding off into a tryptophan coma. In the rear, a group of women may have had more than their share of the alcohol served during lunch.

Covered bridge waiting repairs
Picture the aspen dressed in their fall colors?

The women giggled, they laughed, they squealed, and they teased one another. When we stopped to refill the water tank, one lady came up to the open seat across from us and alternated hanging out the window to yell at someone to get the water guy’s attention, and ducking back into the car to yell at her sister, “Alma, come here.”

Approaching Lobato Trestle, the second highest bridge on the line at 100 feet (30.5 meters) above Wolf Creek

Apparently, the water guy was good-looking and Alma was single. And then there was the man who showed up at each road crossing. The women would hang out the windows, and wave and squeal like teenage girls.

Wolf Creek below the trestle
Bringing up the rear

It was a kick to watch a group of middle-aged women acting like teenagers and the grandpa acting like an excited boy. Their antics were just as engaging as the scenery outside the window. It was also cool to see all the people who parked and got out of their cars to take photos and wave at us.

Bustle racks above the seats. It’s in the details.
Time to go

What could be better than riding on a historic train, gazing out at the scenery passing by, listening to the docent tell stories about the people and history of the railroad, and snuggling in the seat with a best friend and spouse? Not much in my book.

A few facts about the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (CTSRR)

  • The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (DRGWR) operated from 1880 to 1968, transporting ore, livestock, freight, and passengers.
  • Cumbres Pass, Colorado, is at 10,015 feet.
  • The 1920s ushered in automobiles and graded roads, reducing the need for passenger rail service.
  • DRGWR discontinued passenger service in 1951 and freight shipments in the late 1960s.
  • The States of Colorado and New Mexico jointly purchased 64 miles of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1970 and renamed it the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.
  • CTSRR was designated as a National Historic Landmark on October 12, 2012.
  • Since 1981, Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec’s vibrant volunteer program has and continues to preserve and restore the buildings, property, track right-of-ways, signs, and rolling stock. Through its assets and scenic tours, they also interpret the history of the railroad.
  • Each summer, the Friends hold volunteer work sessions in Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico. Volunteers can choose from “mechanics, woodworking and painting to landscaping, food service, photography, and record-keeping.”
  • Catch a train ride at either Chama, New Mexico, or Antonito, Colorado.

Interested in learning more about Cumbres & Toltec Railroad? Visit their website at https://friendsofcumbrestoltec.org.

Coming up in future episodes: Ghost Ranch and Heron Lake State Park

Safe Travels