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Know the West

Eight decades of magic and beauty at Ghost Ranch

  New Mexico’s most famous resort, Ghost Ranch, has charmed many visitors. One overwhelmed admirer proclaimed that any description of the place amounted to "an advertisement for God and New Mexico." Area historian Lesley Poling-Kempes tells the story of Ghost Ranch and its lovers in her absorbing new book, Ghost Ranch.

Ghost Ranch covers 20,000 acres of spare, wild earth at the northern edge of the Piedra Lumbre basin in north-central New Mexico, where El Rito del Yeso begins its journey toward the Chama River.

For centuries, Tewas, Navajos, and Apaches hunted seasonally in Yeso Canyon. In the late 1800s, after ranchers hanged a gang of cattle rustlers there, locals swore the place was haunted and dubbed it el rancho de los brujos — the ranch of the witches. A poker win in 1927 delivered the land to Carol Stanley, a Boston-born musician who ventured West and eked out a living managing guest houses. Stanley named the place Ghost Ranch and built its casitas and bunkhouses. By the time she sold the ranch in 1935, it was renowned among its wealthy clientele for "practical simplicity" and epic beauty.

A frequent guest at the ranch, painter Georgia O’Keeffe purchased a cottage there and became the most famous of Ghost Ranch’s lovers. O’Keeffe immortalized the surreal energy of those desert lands, painting iconic animal skulls and cliffs throbbing under cloudless skies. The local landmark, Cerro Pedernal, "is my private mountain," she once declared. "God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it."

Ghost Ranch is now a Presbyterian retreat center open to all denominations. And the magic that ensnared O’Keeffe lingers, writes Poling-Kempes: "Every person who has ever called Ghost Ranch home for any length of time continues to call Ghost Ranch home for the rest of their lives."