Greg and Luna in O'Keeffe Country

Ghost Ranch Trails - Kitchen Mesa

Date May 6, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Publication SantaFe.com

Categories Outdoors & Recreation

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Last week Luna and I had been up to Gold Hill in Taos. The weather was below freezing and the snow was deep enough to need show shoes. Barely a week later we were in high desert country; the weather is in the 70's, plenty of sun and summer hiking boots. Ghost Ranch, in Abiquiu was less than three hours from Taos. Part of the beauty of northern New Mexico is this change in climate and scenery.

Ghost Ranch is a 21,000 acre retreat center. It sits in the middle of the Piedra Lumba land grant and was first started as a working ranch in 1766. It blends perfectly with the red rock mesas and surrounding high desert landscape of Abiquiu. There is housing and camping on the site and people come from everywhere to take part in their workshops, and seminars. The ranch itself as well as the surrounding area is rich in history and folklore. Hiking and outdoor activities are plentiful and Abiquiu Lake is within a few miles. The gift shop behind the dinosaur museum has trail maps. Two species of dinosaur remains have been excavated here.

Abiquiu itself is well known for its finely sculpted mesas and wide open spaces. There are no sub divisions here; people come to build their own unique homes and live in solitude. Mt. Pedernal sits in the distance and has its own unique history. It holds a strong part in ancient Pueblo creation myths. It has also become an iconic symbol in the vast array of paintings by Georgia O'Keefe. This mountain is about 9000 feet tall and can be hiked in the warm months. Abiquiu Lake, at the base of Mt. Pedernal is a fresh water reservoir popular in the summer for outdoor activities.

Abiquiu is rich with ancient history. Pueblo Indians were the earliest settlers and their landmarks remain today. Ancient Pueblo sites are found throughout the region and many are owned and preserved by the New Mexico Archeological Society. The Pueblo sites in the area were evacuated about century ago and the Native American's migrated to the various pueblos that exist throughout New Mexico today.

Ghost Ranch itself is easily located about 30 miles north of Espanola on highway 84. Ghost Ranch was most famous as a dude ranch in the 1920's-1930'. Many famous artists, philosophers, movie stars, and politicians visited or stayed there. It is most noted for the home of the landscape painter Georgia O'Keefe. It was eventually donated to the Presbyterian Church in 1955 to preserve its heritage and maintain the area for generations to come.

Ghost Ranch has three primary hiking trails. The trails are well marked and well maintained. The shortest and most well known is the chimney rock trail. This half hour hike takes you to the top of a narrow mesa with massive vistas of the area; to the west is Abiquiu Lake and Mt. Pedernal. Chimney rock itself is within striking distance and its spire reaches up to the crystal blue skies. The longest hike goes to box canyon. This trail takes about an hour one way and follows a creek ending in a series of small waterfalls. The trail takes in views of the surrounding sandstone mesas painted with the deep color of red chili and white gypsum. Then you hike down into a stream bed and follow it until the end. The sound of the flowing water and the scent of the pines provide perfect companionship. The peacefulness of the area provides a quiet respite and a relaxing hike. The third hike takes you up to kitchen mesa.

The first part of this hike circles around kitchen mesa, a 100 foot tall massive red rock formation with sculpted detail outlining its multihued rock formation. The first hour of the hike is full of desert landscape. Cholla, chamisa, prickly pear, saltbush, juniper, pinon and greasewood are just a few of the high desert flora that guide your way. When you reach the base of the mesa it becomes challenging and a certain amount of dexterity is required. There is a crevasse that goes up the mesa that has to be traversed. It's a matter of reaching the worn handholds embedded in the rock and pulling up and crawling between the rock walls. There were two particular spots that I had to pick up Luna and lift her to an area where she could find a grip. A larger dog wouldn't have made it. Although the climb up is short the terrain is rocky, steep and the potential for a slip and fall is present. Proceed through this area with caution and go slowly.

The top of the mesa was different then I had expected. The area is large; the trails around the mesa are well marked and easy to follow. The views are spectacular. Slim red rock formations reaching straight up for hundreds of feet, Abiquiu Lake with its smooth blue surface and Mt. Pedernal appearing like an ancient volcano. The Sangre' de Cristos greet you to the east. Looking westward you can easily see Mt. Pedernal along with the rocky outlines of the Jemez Mountains.

Abiquiu is one of the hidden treasures of Northern New Mexico. Although a relatively small area its beauty and scenery have been well documented for over a century. You can sense the history, the cultures, and the people that pioneered this area. Standing next to chimney rock, or sitting quietly next to a waterfall in box canyon, or on top kitchen mesa you begin to understand why this area draws so many special people. There is a wild feel to the entire area that hasn't been dampened by modern footprints.

It took a little work to get Luna down through a few rough spotsm but she knows how to cooperate in this type of landscape. The hike back was pleasant and easy and the drive home was quick. Luna and I are very fortunate to live near such a remarkable place.

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