The Best Drive You’ve Never Heard Of: Santa Fe to Ghost Ranch
I remember the exact moment I fell in love for the first time. I was in the parking lot of my high school, in my mom’s white Ford Taurus station wagon. It was early winter, and the mid-afternoon sun was low and shining through the branches of bare trees. I could take you to the exact spot right now–the exact spot in which the car was parked when she handed me the keys and let me step on the gas, alone. I turned the wheel, face tilted into the open window, cold air in my hair. I felt powerful; I felt in control.
Since that day in late 1995, I’ve driven many roads. And I’ve loved a great many of them. Skyline Drive. The Cabot Trail. The Taconic Parkway, 81 South from the Mason Dixon line to Charlottesville–even Lakeshore Drive during rush hour. Most recently, I spent one of the best days of my life driving the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Carmel and back, solo. I didn’t think that anything could match that joy–and almost nothing could.
I didn’t particularly want to go to the Georgia O’Keefe museum. But on a recent trip to Santa Fe, I felt compelled. After all, with that many vagina-looking flower paintings right there, did I not have an obligation to view them? So I went. And I learned two things:
1. Georgia O’Keefe really, really did not like being associated with vaginas.
It is important to note that I’d spent that same morning at the Palace of the Governors, which houses the newly-built New Mexico History Museum. And that The New Mexico History Museum features sweeping, epic scenes of New Mexico’s natural beauty. I saw photo after photo of orange and yellow rock and thought: I need to be in that.
So the next day I got up early and drove north out of Santa Fe towards Ghost Ranch.
The drive from Santa Fe to Ghost Ranch is stupid beautiful. There’s really no other way to describe it. Have you seen the American desert? Have you seen the Rocky Mountains? No? Well, you can do both of those things at once on this drive. You can watch the shadows of clouds pass over red rocks, backed by snow-capped peaks so high that at first you will think they are clouds. Every bend in the road brings a new vista. Ever hear of the Route 84 Drive in Northern New Mexico? No? That’s ok. Because I hadn’t either. But now we both know. Check it out…
But wait! There’s more! Once you arrive at Ghost Ranch, you’ll actually get to, you know, be in that gorgeous scenery. I stupidly pulled over on the drive toward the ranch to take some photos, because I thought it was really beautiful…
…but that’s because I had not yet taken the three mile hike to Chimney Rock. I’m going to stop using words now and just continue to show you photos of the hike…
The phrase you are looking for is ‘shut up’.
Ghost Ranch is technically a retreat center–they offer spiritual programs and lodging for the participants of said programs. But they also have a museum, a restaurant, and a visitor’s center where you can pay $3 per person for the ability to spend the day on the grounds, exploring one or more of the three trails on the property. I did the Chimney Rock trail. I assumed it was the most popular because it was the shortest. I was wrong. It is the most popular because it is smack-me-in-the-face amazing. There are also trail rides and bus tours of the property; when I return in the future, I’m getting on a horse. Yes. Yes I am. Just as soon as I learn to ride.
You’d think that after such an amazing day–an epic drive north through the red hills and a three mile hike up to the top of a mesa–I’d be disappointed with the drive home. You, my friend, would be wrong. Because I discovered something on the drive back to Santa Fe–the drive is just as beautiful (yet different) in the other direction (see photo to the right, which I took at an random bend in the road). And with the sun at a different angle, the colors completely change. Oh–and you have a much better view of the Sangre de Christo Mountains on the way home.
The phrase you are looking for is ‘shut up’.
Even with a stop at Dandy Burger, a little drive-in hamburger stand in Espanola so tiny it does not even have a website–and which I highly recommend for a post-hike green chile cheeseburger–I made it back to Santa Fe before dusk, with just enough time to stroll around Canyon Road and take a million more photos in the golden light of the setting sun. My feet–in my unprepared-for-a-hike cowboy boots–were exhausted. But my heart was happy and my memory card was full.
Ghost Ranch is located in Abiquiu, New Mexico, about 60 miles north of Santa Fe off of Route 84. If sixty miles, seems far, please refer to the photos in the post above. And also know that the speed limit is, like, 75–and you’ll likely be the only person on the road for dozens of miles in any direction. Even if you do not love to drive as much as I love to drive, you will love this drive. I promise.