Travels in Geology: Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

My Sister & Bowie overlooking Ghost Ranch from Chimney Rock

Somebody recently commented on one of my posts: Thank god some bloggers can write! Why thank you! I am a professional. The Blonde Coyote is just for fun, but I do make my living as a freelance writer. I’m a regular contributor to EARTH magazine and my work has also appeared in places like High Country News, Smithsonian and Climbing.

My favorite beat at EARTH is the Travels in Geology column. In the past four years, I’ve covered Ecuador, the German Alps, Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds, West Virginia’s New River Gorge, the Florida Keys, Arkansas, Jupiter’s moon Io (the only place I didn’t actually visit), Oregon’s Crater Lake, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

My latest column, Unearthing the Ghosts of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, appears in the November issue of EARTH. Ghost Ranch is an incredible place, an hour north of Santa Fe. Whenever friends and family come to visit New Mexico, I take them to Ghost Ranch for a hike. I’m particularly proud of this story because my brother, sister, both my dogs and several friends all made it into the magazine this month!

Becky climbing the chimney up Kitchen Mesa

Here’s a taste:

Travels in Geology: Unearthing the Ghosts of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

For centuries, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico was known as “Rancho de los Brujos” or Ranch of the Witches. Both monikers suit this stunning place well, for all sorts of creatures have left their bones behind here in the 400-meter high layers of red, yellow and white Mesozoic rocks.

Julian, Becky & Kitchen Mesa

Once the haunt of horse thieves and cattle rustlers, home of Georgia O’Keefe and much longer ago, of dinosaurs and sea creatures, a visit to Ghost Ranch, an hour north of Santa Fe, is a treat for history, art, geology, paleontology and archaeology buffs alike.

Hiking A Mesozoic Layer Cake

Driving north from Santa Fe on highway 84 is like driving through a museum’s worth of Georgia O’Keefe paintings. O’Keefe spent the better part of 50 years living at Ghost Ranch and in nearby Abiquiu, immortalizing the surrounding landscapes in paintings often simply called “The Black Place” or “The White Place”.

Anthony, Abiquiu Lake & the Pedernal from Kitchen Mesa

Such straightforward titles suit the clearly defined layers of black, white, grey, red, yellow and pink rocks lining the Chama River Valley, which runs along the far eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau; the layers here are as cleanly defined as diagrams in a textbook.

Visiting Ghost Ranch, a privately owned education and retreat center that welcomes the public, is far better than any textbook, however, because you can actually hike through the Mesozoic layer cake and witness firsthand the rocks and fossils left behind from the Age of Dinosaurs.

Sarah & Bowie descending Chimney Rock

Here, the towering layers of Mesozoic rocks span a period of 130 million years and preserve artifacts and fossils from a constantly evolving landscape of river systems, vast deserts, saline lakes, broad mudflats and ocean shorelines.

Ghost Ranch’s exquisitely stratified Mesozoic layers can be seen from highway 84, but to get a better look, pull into Ghost Ranch, stop by the visitor center to sign the trail log and head out on one of three spectacular hikes: Chimney Rock, Kitchen Mesa or Box Canyon.

Drew on the hike to Box Canyon

My brother in Box Canyon

Check it out: EARTH magazine is available for purchase at Barnes & Nobles everywhere.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Science Writing, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Travels in Geology: Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

  1. Orel Engel says:

    I cant stop admiring the quality of the photos and the beauty of the landscapes.

  2. Thanks! Keep in mind I upload them on here at pretty low resolution so if they get stolen, people can’t do much with them. I definitely see a difference and it pains me, but I realize I’m probably the only one who sees it!

  3. TBM says:

    Love the photos!

  4. tom clark says:

    Dear Blonde Coyote (MCM)…your writing is a perfect fit for some of what I do up here in Minnesota as a part of my retirement, which is to produce a weekly show, “Mother Earth” for the noncommercial Radio Talking Book Network for the visually impaired. The network sends me many articles that I use on my shows, but I subscribed to EARTH magazine about a year ago and immediately honed in on your well-written and beautifully illustrated articles (too bad my listeners can’t see those, but I try to describe them as best i can). Your writing is a great blend for the “educated layperson” who wants to know more about the geology of an area, as well as for the armchair traveller, which most of my listeners are. I just finished reading the “Ghost Ranch” article and sent it off as a part of a recent program. My professional career included 39 years as a hydrogeologist in Illinois and Minnesota and my wife (a crafter) and I enjoy travelling the country checking out geology and quilt shops. Keep up the great work!

    • Hi Tom! What a lovely comment. I’m so happy your listeners are getting to “see” more of the world through your program. It sounds wonderful! Can I listen to it anywhere online from here in New Mexico? Thanks so much for reading and sharing and keep up the amazing work! 🙂

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  10. heidikins says:

    I am a huge O’Keefe fan and went to visit Ghost Ranch on my last trip to New Mexico, it is such an amazing, magical place!


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