Ghost Ranch (U.S. 84, 505/685-4333, www.ghostranch.org), a 21,000-acre retreat now owned by the Presbyterian Church, is famous for several things.
First, Georgia O’Keeffe owned a small parcel of the land and maintained a studio here (a drawing she did of a cow skull is now the ranch’s logo).
Then, in 1947, paleontologists combing the red hills discovered about a thousand skeletons of the dinosaur Coelophysis (“hollow form,” for its hollow, birdlike bones), the largest group discovered in the world.
More recently, the dramatic red cliffs have formed the backdrop of such essential westerns as City Slickers and Silverado.
The grounds are open by day to visitors to see the Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology and the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology (9 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., $2), which have small but interesting collections displaying the local finds, including remnants of the prehistoric Gallina culture that lived on the ridge above the valley, santos carved by sixth-generation New Mexican Max Roybal, and an eight-ton chunk of Coelophysis-filled siltstone in the process of being excavated. Both museums are also open 1–5 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays in the summer. Guided tours of the ranch grounds, with an emphasis on O’Keeffe’s legacy, run mid-March–November (Tues., Fri., and Sat., $25).
You can also hike on your own after registering at the reception desk. The best trek, which takes about 1.5 hours round-trip, is to Chimney Rock, a towering landmark with panoramic views of the entire area. Don’t be daunted—the steepest part of the trail is at the start—but do slather on the sunscreen, as there’s no shade on this route.
Box Canyon is an easier, shadier, all-level walk that’s about four miles round-trip.
Kitchen Mesa Trail, which starts at the same point, is much more difficult, requiring some climbing to get up the cliffs at the end (though you could hike the easy first two-thirds and then turn around).
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition