The Magic Place:
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

by Emily Hancock  <Submit your comments to the author>

I found the house where Georgia O'Keeffe lived and painted the first night I spent at Ghost Ranch. She lived in an adobe, smack on the Painted Desert, a flat stretch of sand and sage with hills and cliffs to the back, a wide line of low mountain with a narrow flat top to the front. Stepping outside or climbing the handmade ladder to the roof to paint, she did not exaggerate its colors. She didn't have to. The hills at the edge of her desert really are red. The cliffs beyond really are grey and pink and yellow, the colors layered in wide bands like the layers of a wedding cake. Above all, she loved the mountain Pedernal. She was fond of proclaiming that if she painted it often enough, God would give it to her. Perhaps God has.

Though the ranch house is off-limits to the public, O'Keeffe's winter home in Abiquiu is open for tours. The aesthetic of the house is stark: white walls, white sheeting torn to cover the windows, to cover the bed. Bare bulbs in the ceilings, smooth stones on the windowsills, a rattlesnake skeleton in a glass case. An Eames chair here, a banco built into the wall there, a dining table made of plywood, hinged to fold easily out of the way. A complete lack of clutter. Two walls of glass. The White Place she painted lies through one of them. On my solitary walk there, it is stark, silent, the spires of chalky rock chiseled like Cathedral spires in Europe. Along the dry arroyo that runs between them grows a single red flower, no taller than my thumb.

Stark but not harsh, this landscape mirrors O'Keeffe's fierce independence, freedom from convention, determination, power. It is her place. She knew it the moment she first traveled here, felt it in her bones. She married the high desert and all that it held -- made these cliffs, this mountain, these flowers, these stones, the bones of the desert her own. Painted with her brush, it blooms on the canvas.

The rapture of O'Keeffe is not all that Ghost Ranch is about, but O'Keeffe's hold on the place is strong. I had one perfect day there, visiting the lambs at the farm on the ranch, soaking up a healing massage, touring O'Keeffe's Abiquiu house, buying vintage postcards at Bode's General Store in the heat of the afternoon, bottle-feeding a newborn lamb whose mouth was the size and shape of my fingertip while another ewe delivered twins. At sunset, I drove along the Chama River to the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert where cows moseyed and grazed, rabbits scurried through the sage, and deer bounded away from the road. In the words of the ranch historian, "It was a perfect day."

They call Ghost Ranch "The Magic Place." My body can attest to that. I felt so strong and so full of energy that I had the urge to throw away all of my medicines -- a battery of thyroid pills, mineral supplements, vitamins. I nearly did, but afraid to stop them abruptly, I took them as prescribed. I ended up wide awake every night. When I told people about this later, I found out about the magnetic vortex, an energy-giving force that emanates from the earth in parts of the Southwest. Was that it? All I know is that I felt well there, really well. Spellbound by the place, I began to plot my return before I even got home. Ghost Ranch truly changed my life.

An ideal destination for a woman traveling on her own, life at Ghost Ranch is rustic and simple. Workshops include watercolor painting, poetry, calligraphy, pottery, music, photography, and seminars range from ta'i chi to astronomy to medicinal plants to the care of the earth. If educational programs do not fit your plans, you may be able to camp, or stay for R & R, as I did. But remember, Ghost Ranch is not a resort. It is a conference center run by the Presbyterian Church. Lodgings are basic and meals at the dining hall consist primarily of pre-packaged, frozen, and canned food; supper is served at 5:30. (Plan to escape to a real restaurant whenever you can.) To obtain information and/or a catalog, call 505.685.4333. Tell them Moxie sent you.

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