by Jamie Clifford, courtesy Ghost Ranch
Published June 20, 2018
Escape to the high desert, surrounded by mesas, cottonwood trees and colorful sandstone formations, with a retreat at the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. The ranch sits in a canyon in the Shining Rock Land Grant where cattle rustlers once hid out with stolen herds. To discourage visitors, they spread the rumor that the land was haunted and called it Rancho de los Brujos, or the Ranch of the Witches. Years later, in 1928, Roy Pfaffle won the deed to the ranch in a poker game, and his wife, Phoebe, registered the property under the name the Ghost Ranch.
When the ranch started experiencing financial strain, Pfaffle sold the property to famous conservationist and writer Arthur Newton Pack, whose family had visited and become fond of the ranch. Pack was a co-founder of Nature magazine and helped to establish the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona. Later in life, he wanted to preserve the beauty of the land and have the ranch continue as an educational facility, so in 1955, the Packs gifted the ranch to the Presbyterian Church, which has operated the property as an educational and retreat center for over 60 years.
The Ghost Ranch property sprawls across 21,000 acres of northern New Mexico and includes over 20 gathering spaces of varying sizes to fit the specific needs of different groups. Meeting spaces and accommodations range from historic adobe buildings on the main ranch to new additions such as the hacienda-style hotel on the mesa level.
The Casa del Sol Retreat House is a historic, hacienda-style ranch house popular with groups visiting for spiritual retreats. The adobe home was built in the 1930s, with bedrooms surrounding a central plaza and a living room with a large picture window overlooking Cerro Pedernal, one of northern New Mexico’s most recognizable features. The living room is well suited for smaller meetings, and many smaller workshops and programs are also held here.
Another area available for retreats is the Agape Worship Center, a historic Spanish plaza with stunning views and a sanctuary area that can be used for worship or larger functions. Its Agape Gathering Room is also popular for smaller lectures and talks. The worship space can seat up to 175 people, and the Gathering Room can seat up to 70 people in a lecture-style layout. There is also an outdoor reception space available to groups.
More than 250 programs on various topics are offered throughout the year, among them spiritually focused retreats and fun workshops on painting and silversmithing. The Jazz of Pastoral Life is a popular workshop for clergy and is led by the “jazz pastor,” pianist and Presbyterian minister Bill Carter. Carter speaks to church leaders on ways to deal with stress and cultivate a lively, engaging ministry. Exploratory workshops on archaeology and geological sites around the property get groups involved in exploring sites like Chimney Rock, ancient dwellings of the Aztec and Pueblo cultures, and the dinosaur quarries. The Ghost Ranch staff can also work with planners to bring in a speaker or create a program on a specific topic.
The Ghost Ranch hosts a number of festivals throughout the year. The Fall Writing and Arts Festival is held annually each October and the Bluegrass Festival every May. Throughout the summer season, visitors can also drop in on one of the open studios to see artisans — who also lead many of the workshops at the ranch — at work on their crafts.
The Coelophysis Dinosaur Quarry at the Ghost Ranch is recognized by the National Park Service as a National Natural Landmark and is the top Triassic Period site in the world. Archaeologists and amateur dinosaur lovers from all over the world come to visit the fossil beds and take part in the digs. Archaeology lovers will also enjoy touring the Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology and the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology during their downtime, both of which are on the property.
Enjoying the landscape is an experience in itself. There are many hiking paths to explore the geological features, which include trailheads to Chimney Rock, Box Canyon and Kitchen Mesa, and also horseback-riding tours around the property.
The town of Abiquiu was home to famous painter Georgia O’Keeffe. She first visited the area in 1929 and fell in love with the northern New Mexico landscape. She was a regular visitor to the Ghost Ranch each summer until she purchased Rancho de los Burros and seven acres in 1940. Her love of the area has inspired dozens of paintings, including the skull that adorned the entrance to the ranch for many years. She gave a sketch of the skull to Arthur Pack, who adopted it as the logo for the ranch.
Today, visitors can take one of the landscape tours offered by the educational staff at the Ghost Ranch to experience the same landscapes that O’Keeffe painted and hear the stories behind some of her paintings. Groups can also contact the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation to schedule a tour of the artist’s adobe home and studio. O’Keeffe fans will enjoy a real-life look at the black patio door and cottonwood trees featured in many of her paintings.
Location: Abiquiu, New Mexico
Size: More than 20 meetings spaces of various sizes
Capacity: From 200 to 300 people during the winter, about 400 people during the summer