Ghost Ranch got to me and it had nothing to do with spirits. My heart shook in the presence of towering rock formations, the light illuminating Box Canyon, and across the Piedre Lumbre Basin the shadowy overseer, Pedernal Mountain. Ghost Ranch hikes flooded me with a quiet awe that made it hard to leave. The magnetism of being outdoors here was undeniable. Good thing that there’s multitude of Ghost Ranch hikes and other trail systems in the area. The Ranch is a comfortable and perfect base for experiencing the inspiring landscape.
This post includes affiliate links and was generated from a press trip. As always all opinions are my own.

O’Keeffe’s Prelude to Solitude

My Ghost Ranch experience began at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her work fills galleries chronologically from the first drawings in Texas, where she was a teacher, to New York skylines where she was first propelled to fame by Alfred Steiglitz, and finally to her stark landscapes, bones and flowers from New Mexico. While restless in New York she found refuge, solitude and beauty on repeated visits to New Mexico and never tired of the landscape, her remote house, or the vast views.

Goodbye Big City

O’Keeffe jilted New York forever after her husband passed. She wrote to the painter, Arthur Dove: “I wish you could see what I see out the window—the earth pink and yellow cliffs to the north—the full pale moon about to go down in an early morning lavender sky . . . pink and purple hills in front and the scrubby fine dull green cedars—and a feeling of much space—It is a very beautiful world.”
Georgia walked far and long daily throughout her life. At Ghost Ranch she would take a long stroll before breakfast with a big walking stick to set off the vibrations that frightened snakes away from the trails. Later she would walk again. That and work framed her days. Her ambling legacy informs programs and the Ghost Ranch hikes trails that remain.
Trail ride guide points to O'Keeffe's home at Ghost Ranch

Trail ride guide points to O’Keeffe’s home at Ghost Ranch

Channel Georgia’s Fierce Independence

On my first morning there, I woke up before dawn determined to follow the light spilling into the Canyons and to watch the shadow of Orphan Mesa fall across the land. There are several close hikes through the ranch ‘campus.’ I began on the Mesa where several guest buildings rise above the landscape, then wound watching fat rabbits skitter into the brush. A large deer strode into view and ate berries from low bushes. He looked up and then sauntered slowly out of view, preferring to nosh in private, I suppose.

A stone Memorial sits on a knoll above the Registration Building. It’s engraved to Arthur and Phoebe Pack who owned the property when when Georgia first came to stay. They would cross each other on Ghost Ranch hikes but seldom spoke. Pack cautioned dude ranch guests to not bother the artist in the dining hall or while she stayed in a small cabin under the Hanging Tree. Later O’Keeffe convinced Pack to sell her his original house and several acres to guarantee her privacy. Today her low adobe house can only be admired from afar and remains off-limits to the public.
Orphan Mesa from the road at Ghost Ranch

Orphan Mesa from the road at Ghost Ranch

Continuing downhill on my morning hike I watched the light shift quickly and crossed a dirt road to get a better glimpse of the cliffs through the cottonwoods along the creek bed. As I turned to walk back towards the dining hall I spied the clear imprint of a mountain lion’s claw frozen in the mud. That was my sign to return to the standard trail!
I strode past the Art Building where visiting artists teach painting, clay and photography classes; paused at the Medicine Wheel and waited as a guest completed the Labyrinth. Then the spiraling path led me to contemplation as the light changed again and flooded Chimney Rock with gold.
Most of the trails are easy to manage but the seasons can play havoc with hiking plans. The weather swings from extreme, dry heat in summer to icy roads and snow in winter. I was fortunate to have dry clear skies and was prepared for the temperatures ranging between the high 50’s to mid 30’s. Check websites like for information about Northwest New Mexico Hiking Trails and at the Visitor Center for others in the Ghost Ranch area. Also, guided hikes are offered at the Ranch by appointment or as part of retreats and workshops. Independent hikers can register at the visitor center for maps and tips. If you’re not a Ranch guest there’s a small fee to use the trails.
Georgia O'Keeffe Landscape Tour guide at Ghost Ranch

Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Tour guide at Ghost Ranch

Box Canyon Trail

Here you can hike into the same territory where cattle rustlers hid their prey. The entrance to the Box Canyon trail is gated at the far end of the Labyrinth Road and just beyond the Arts Center. Hikers must register before taking to the trail. It passes the aqueduct and crisscrosses the stream.

Most Popular of Ghost Ranch Hikes: Chimney Rock Trail

The most popular of the trails is a 3-mile round-trip hike up to Chimney Rock. The Ranch is already at 6500 feet, high enough for those of us accustomed to sea level breathing to feel the impact. Chimney Rock trail rises to 7,100 feet to the top of the butte. The views of  Piedra Lumbre basin, and Abiquiu Reservoir are worth it.

Matrimonial Mesa Trail

Get close to the sandstone cliffs which loom over the ranch on the Matrimonial Mesa Trail. From the dining hall there’s a short trail to the red mounds. The colors and shapes are mirrored in many of O’Keeffe’s landscape paintings.
Georgia O'Keeffe, the photographer, near her Abiquiu home

Georgia O’Keeffe, the photographer, near her Abiquiu home – Picture mural inside the O’Keeffe Visitor Center in Abiquiu

Follow Georgia’s Routes Outside Ghost Ranch

Georgia set up home in New Mexico and bought a car to explore the region – before knowing how to drive! She fitted it with a front seat that pivoted to use it as an easel and stay in the shade to paint. Ever resourceful, she also carried supplies to dig out of sandy stream bottoms.

White Place and the Black

O’Keeffe painted two places often. She called them the White Place and the Black Place. Although the Dar al Islam mosque and education center now own access to the White Place, they welcome visitors who want to hike and see what inspired Georgia. It’s also a favorite location in many motion pictures. The Mosque is about 15 miles southeast of Ghost Ranch.

In the Bisti Badlands of Navajo country you’ll find the Black Place. Georgia said it resembled, “a mile of elephants with gray hills and white sand at their feet and she painted it often during the 1940’s. It’s about one hundred and fifty miles northwest of her home at Ghost Ranch.

Abiquiu Lake Trail Loops

Abiquiu Lake Trail Loops

Inspiration Beyond a Ghost Ranch Base

Listen up in Carson National Forest

In the Carson National Forest of Rio Arriba County there’s a sandstone cliff formation known for sound, specifically the echoes off a tall, stratified cliff wall. The Echo Amphitheater faces the red stripe and horizontally stratified wall. Follow the flat, concrete trail from the parking lot but be prepared for the last section up a steep stair to the amphitheater. It’s approximately 60 miles from Ghost Ranch.

Wander Through History at Bandolier National Monument

While there are only three miles of road in the Park, hikers can choose from more than seventy miles of hiking trails. Designated a National Monument by President Woodrow Wilson, Bandolier was named for the Swiss-American anthropologist who spent years studying the cultures in the region and supported preservation of ancestral Pueblo archaeological sites. Bandolier is approximately sixty miles south of Ghost Ranch.

Revered Orphan Mesa above the cabin built for the movie, City Slickers

Revered Orphan Mesa above the cabin built for the movie, City Slickers

Walk with the First People of the Region

Visit Pueblos

Two pueblo communities are close to Ghost Ranch. Visitors are welcomed when they are open to the public. It’s best to check the websites or contact them ahead of time. Each of the vibrant cultures have their own etiquette. Before you go find out more.

Nambe and Ohkay Owingeh

The Pueblo of Nambe is about fifteen miles from Santa Fe at the base of the Sangre Cristo Mountains. The Spanish interpreted the Tewa language name and translated it to refer the rounded earth and village.

The Tewa language is still used at the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo which is about twenty-five miles north of Santa Fe on the Rio Grande. The name, “Place of the Strong People,” can be traced to ancestors said to have emerged from a northern lake. Visit for more information.

View from O'Keefe's bedroom window at Abiquiu

View from O’Keefe’s bedroom window at Abiquiu

Georgia at Abiquiu

Georgia loved being at Ghost Ranch but in the early twentieth century it wasn’t accessible year round. Winters could be fierce, freezing what water pipes there were and generators had to be fed for light or heat. In her wanderings she found a crumbling adobe building on a ridge at Abiquiu with astounding views of the river valley below. Today the house where she gardened, raised her dogs, and housed visitors is preserved as if she were about to enter from another room. No pictures are allowed inside but know that her love of minimalism kept distractions and color under tight control. From her bedroom she could view cliffs and watch clouds pass over the lowlands. Tours are available at the O’Keeffe Welcome Center with lodging at the Abiquiu Inn next door. Bodes Grocery Store sits on the ‘new’ highway. During Georgia’s tenure it was a stones throw from her gate.

Hike near Abiquiu

A series of trails first developed by the Army Corps of Engineers runs behind the Visitors Center in interlocking loops. Lake and mountain views punctuate the trail.

Georgia O'Keeffe's Mount Pedernal inside the Santa Fe Museum

One of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Mount Pedernal paintings inside the Santa Fe Museum

The Power of Pedernal

The table top profile of Mount Pedernal looms over the Ghost Ranch basin and it was one of O’Keefe’s favorite subjects. Today you can hike in the mountainous forest area where she had her ashes scattered. She claimed the mountain saying, “God told me if I painted it often enough I could have it.” Now it has her.

Find out more about Georgia O’Keefe’s life in this fascinating book.

It’s a quick read and the author has a lot of fun with her insights.

I hope this has your hiking feet twitching to visit Ghost Ranch! Getting into this part of New Mexico shifted my energy so deeply from feeling city manic to a silence so profound I didn’t want to speak for hours. Let me get woo-woo for a moment. Santa Fe New Mexico is said to have been built on a powerful energy vortex. Ghost Ranch hikes may be every bit as moving. I have a sense it’s part of why Georgia spent her last 46 years here and didn’t want to leave.

There are many ways to get to New Mexico. Consider fashioning your own eco-trip as I did (in this earlier post) when traveling from Los Angeles to Santa Fe.  Thanks for spending a few moments with me and know that this post includes affiliate links which help to keep the blog going and are offered at no additional cost to you. Thank you and enjoy!

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