Sunday, August 01, 2010

Ghost Ranch's Piedra Lumbre Visitor Center Worth Stopping For

The Piedra Lumbre Visitor Center off U.S 84 near Abiquiu Lake provides travelers of this wonderfully remote, incredibly picturesque, stretch of blacktop, a unique opportunity to stop and learn more about the land they’re passing through.

“We’re isolated,” says Ghost Ranch’s Director of Museums, Cheryl Muceus. “But there’s plenty to see and do once you get here.”

Operated by the nearby Presbyterian Church’s Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center, the visitor center features two informative and interesting museums, a fabulous gift shop and jaw-dropping views of the backcountry that inspired renowned artist, Georgia O’Keeffe.

The facility was formerly operated by the Forest Service as a living museum featuring wildlife too injured to be returned to the wild. The operation was forced to close in July 1999 after animal rights activists complained about the conditions.

The Forest Service then hoped to reopen the facility as a visitor center to cater to outdoor recreational enthusiasts and others traveling northward to Chama and Colorado.

However those plans never materialized and it remained closed until 2005 when Ghost Ranch stepped in to reopen the facility under a lease with the Forest Service.

Ghost Ranch operates and maintains the facility and its exhibits and pays a nominal leasing fee to the Forest Service for its conditional use.

“But we would like to obtain the property either through an exchange or outright purchase someday,” Muceus said.

Ghost Ranch could then make facility improvements and program changes that would better suit its needs in educating travelers and directing them to its other operations at its nearby 21,000 acre education and retreat center.

This cabin found off the entrance road to Ghost Ranch was used in the filming of the 1991 movie "City Slickers". 
The Ghost Ranch features paleontology and anthropology museums, spiritual and other educational programs, housing and related services and all sorts of activities. For more information see its website at 

In the meantime, though, the Piedra Lumbre, or shining rock, visitor center provides travelers with a welcome stop on the long, lonely road to Chama and beyond.

Visitors will find a well-stocked, unique gift shop featuring among other things a great selection of postcards featuring local scenery and landmarks. There’s also what seems to be the entire collection of Nevada Barr and Tony Hillerman novels, as well as other books and items available for sale.

The store also features cold soft drinks, ice cream and some snacks too.

Entering the grounds, visitors will find a nicely done rendition of a traditional, northern New Mexico, adobe building, the Gateway Museum, featuring vigas, latillas and a comfortable, aspen-shaded courtyard to rest in.

Inside are displays and exhibits dedicated to local Indian cultures, local sheepherding and weaving and the Spanish land grants that once dominated the area.

In another building, the Pack House, visitors will find more information about the original founder of the living museum from whom the Forest Service had obtained it, Arthur Pack.

It was Pack who sold O’Keeffe a summer home on the ranch from which she drew much of her artistic inspiration. The artist also established a winter home in the village of Abiquiu and later moved into Santa Fe where she died at the age of 99.

Here in the Pack House one will also find a great selection of preserved insects and other regional wildlife including skulls, furs and displays. There’s an informational display about the beavers that were once prevalent throughout the area, another about the life of aspens, a wildflower exhibit and displays dedicated to the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad and the mining industry, too.

The visitor centers grounds are also the site of the smallest National Forest in the country, the Beaver National Forest surrounded by an oasis of aspens on this high desert property. 

But it may be the surrounding scenery around the visitor center that truly captures one’s attention, as soaring vistas and cloud-studded skies draws one’s eye to the horizon.

One can make a short climb up to an elevated, observation deck on the grounds to take in the surrounding view while inside there is a display of prints dedicated to O’Keeffe.

A binder on hand contains pictures of the surrounding countryside and O’Keeffe’s work that shows how the scenery of the valley inspired many of her works.

Visitors to the area will also find nearby other interesting stopping points such as Echo Amphitheatre, Abiquiu Lake, the Monastery of Christ in the Desert and the Perdenal, the flat topped mountain that overlooks the entire area. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Driving up to Chama on Friday night, it looked like there was a large film crew back by the Red Rocks before the turn off - lit up the mountains like a spaceship - it was something.

Great photos, thanks!

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