This is adventure for the people: Owned and run by the Presbyterian Church since 1955, Ghost Ranch is a nonprofit, open-to-the-public educational retreat center in one of the most beautiful settings in northern New Mexico. Inexpensive and easy to access, just outside of Abiquiú, the property known for its colorful rocks remains a natural landscape preserved and managed for the masses— but don’t think that means you won’t be alone out there, even during the high season (June 8-Aug. 18). There’s plenty of space in which to get lost out on the 21,000-acre spread and surrounding Carson National Forest.
Horseback Riding You’d have to have been asleep to have missed that Ghost Ranch was the longtime home of 20th-century artist Georgia O’Keeffe. She lived in a house among its red hills and cliffs, painting them dozens of times before her death in 1986. But even if you don’t like her art, it’s hard to not appreciate O’Keeffe as an adventurer. A tough old loner, she was in the habit of turning her back on ranch visitors—it was, when she first moved there, a highclass dude ranch—to avoid having to chat with them. Basically, she just wanted to paint. And if you take the two-hour Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Tour by horseback (for intermediate to advanced riders), you’ll be following some of the same trails she navigated in her black Ford Model A as she hunted for sites at which to set up an easel.
The ride begins at the Corral Block, just west of the ranch office, and heads overland through an area that’s closed to unguided visits—the low hills behind the house she once owned, with cliffs in red, gray, mauve and orange sedimentary rock of the same ilk as Utah’s Monument Valley and Bryce Canyon. But really it’s the open plain that makes it worth being on horseback: Textured with cholla, juniper, piñon and sage, slowly sloping down toward the Chama River Valley, here’s where you can trot and canter, forget about art and dudes and paintings, and just be with flinty topped Cerro Pedernal as it looms in the distance. Reserve a spot on a twice-a-week scheduled ride, or bring your own group by appointment (four-person maximum, $65 per person). If you’re a beginner, opt for the one-hour basic trail ride instead ($45 per person).
Hiking If, on the other hand, your interest in O’Keeffe rivals your interest in watching paint dry, you might prefer the ride’s most popular alternative: Hike to the top of Chimney Rock. The prominent landform is conspicuously one that O’Keeffe never committed to canvas in all her years there. Plus, hiking on the ranch is free (at least for now). All the staff asks, Tours and Activity Coordinator Karen Butts says, is that you sign in at the office before heading out. The trailhead to the three-mile route is just west of ranch headquarters and easy to find. Once you’ve made the 700-foot climb to the top of the mesa (you won’t be on Chimney Rock itself, but right next to it), you can see most of the ranch’s sprawling terrain. If you’d rather make a whole day of it—and if there are no thunderheads rolling in—you can just keep going. Take a topo map and plenty of water, and head north into national forest land, on up to Mesa Montosa. Or try the Kitchen Mesa hike. Butts’ personal favorite, it’s four hours round-trip and takes you up a wooded box canyon to a climb that even involves some hand-over-hand scrambling up a cleft in the rock, to yet another summit that O’Keeffe never put down on canvas.
High Ropes Challenge Course
Although “challenge” is a relative term that, in tourist markets, is often meaningless for ablebodied adults, the challenge courses at Ghost Ranch actually live up to the name. The Low Ropes course isn’t adventurous per se, but it is designed for team-building and problem-solving exercises. Then there’s the High Ropes course—and this one is no joke. The circular complex of vertigo-inducing trials is composed of 12 full-sized telephone poles, connected by 11 “elements” (made of ropes, loops, trapezes and even a suspension bridge) spanning the distance between them near the top of their 50-foot height— plus a standard climbing wall at the center. The plan is simple: Strap on a harness and hook into the course’s belay system, then choose your first challenge and progress from there. The first, actually, is just getting to the challenges by climbing a pole, ladder-style, on metal prongs bolted into the wood. Then it’s swinging like a monkey on a jungle gym to the next pole, or stepping across a series of hanging loops, or—the most difficult—pulling yourself up to a full stand at the very top of a pole and leaping to a trapeze several feet away. “Nobody makes it,” Butts says. “It’s set too far.” Groups can reserve a threehour time slot with a facilitator, and individuals can partake from 1-3 pm on Friday afternoons.
Canoeing and Kayaking
It’s a littleknown secret that the Ghost Ranch property extends across Highway 84, touching the shore of Abiquiú Lake at what is perhaps the most private launch point on its 12-mile length. What’s even juicier is that the original ranch road— a dirt track that led to the now-submerged former highway—goes right to it. Only recently taking advantage of this opportunity, Ghost Ranch now sends a guide down to this waterfront gem every Wednesday during the high season, for 5:30 am boating at dawn. Choose either a canoe or kayak, and spend an hour paddling through the perfectly still water before the day’s winds have risen, while you watch the sun come up over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This works out even better if you know secret No. 3: Ghost Ranch has a public campground. Comprised of sites for 32 tents and 20 RVs, it comes complete with picnic tables, fire pits, a bathhouse with showers and shade shelters. Set about a half-mile behind the main office, up a dirt road that winds back toward the semicircle of cliffs, it’s a beautiful spot, to boot. Tent sites are $19 the first night and $16 each night after, and you don’t even need to cook your own dinner. That’s served, cafeteria style, every evening at 5:30 in the dining hall (buy your meal ticket at the office), and everyone’s welcome.