Wednesday, February 18, 2015

From Palo Duro Canyon to the Ghost Ranch

Christina and art teacher Steve Cost in Palo Duro Canyon 1987

In 1987 my life, as I knew, it fell apart. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, in the midst of my dark night of the soul, I took a drastic step that would change the course of my life. I went back to art school in Amarillo, TX. To date, it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I was 32 years old and I had two children. For reasons beyond my control, I had to leave my 8 year old son in Austin with his father and my 10 year old daughter and I moved to Amarillo. It was then, during my art classes in Palo Duro Canyon that I discovered first hand the reason Georgia O'Keefe painted small flowers on a very large scale. 

I spent hours and days in the vast wilderness of the Palo Duro Canyon, reflecting on life and my surroundings. At first, I saw no beauty at all. I was forced to zero in on the beauty of a tiny flower growing out of between two rocks. There was nothing else in the Panhandle that even came close to the beauty of the tiny flower in the canyon. I think it is the same reason so many great musicians come from this part of the country. There is nothing on the horizon in the panhandle so you must look inward to find the beauty.

Palo Duro Canyon
Photo by Christina Fajardo 1987

Georgia O'Keefe became a huge artistic influence. She saw the beauty in the rocks, plants and mesas of the quiet canyon that became the subject in her work. I sometimes felt her spirit lingering canyon. I used to spend hours in the darkroom on campus developing my black and white photos, imagining the days Georgia spent in the canyon. She had died just the year before, on March 6, 1986. Seventy years earlier she was the head of the art department at West Texas State in Canyon, Texas from the fall of 1916 until February 1918. The small town of Canyon is just south of Amarillo and just west of Palo Duro Canyon. 

Canyon with Crows - Georgia O'Keeffe - 1917
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe

Georgia was teaching in Canyon in 1917 when she visited Northern New Mexico and fell in love with it. Twelve years later, in 1934 she decided to make Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM her summer home. Abiquiu is about an hour and a half north of Santa Fe. She would spend her summers hiking, exploring and painting the Ghost Ranch and in the winter she went to New York to be with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. Although she wanted to buy the Ghost Ranch the owner wouldn't sell it to her because at the time it was a dude ranch. So she rented a secluded area on Ghost Ranch with a modest home. She finally convinced the owner to sell her the house and 7 acres of Ghost Ranch. Later on she bought a home on 3 acres in Abiquiu and spent three years remodeling the old adobe. After her husband Alfred died, Georgia made Abiquiu her permanent home. It seemed that Georgia had lived my dream. My goal was to one day remodel an old adobe house and live in New Mexico and make it my home. For one year when I was 17 I lived with my grandma in her old adobe home in Puerto de Luna, NM.  I used to fall asleep at night thinking about the vivid description of mother making the adobe bricks to build that home.

Ghost Ranch
The View from the Georgia O'Keefe
Ghost Ranch
Georgia O'Keefe
Ghost Ranch

The information below is from:

Now hold on to your hats for this next paragraph if you get lost in family tree lingo. The 21,000 acres that comprise Ghost Ranch is part of the 50,000 acre Piedra Lumbre (Shining Stone) Land Grant. Piedra Lumbre was granted to to my 5th Great Uncle, Captain Antonio Montoya in 1766 by King Charles III of Spain. Then it was owned by Domingo de Luna, a lieutenant of the militia of Tome who was married to my 5th Great Aunt Josefa Lucero de Godoy, daughter of Manuel Miguel Lucero de Godoy II and Maria Rosa Baca my 5th Great Aunt. It's final owner was Pedro Martin Serrano, maternal grandfather of my 2nd Great Grand Aunt Maria Micaela Valdez. She was born in Abiquiu April 14,1831. She was my mother's paternal Great-Grand Aunt. On the other side of my mother's family, my maternal Great Grandfather Jose Delores Padilla was also born in Abiquiu, February 16, 1837. I can't even imagine the feuds going on surrounding this land much less the land raids from the native nomadic indians. Then came the cattle rustlers. There's just too much history to mention in one blog post but it's a miracle of sorts that a Padilla and a Valdez got married and had my mother and 10 other children.

Piedra Lumbre Land Grant

Fast forward 100 years.... Arthur Pack, one of the country’s first environmentalists, bought the Ranch in 1936. The name "Ghost Ranch," or "Rancho de los Brujos," in Spanish was derived from the many tales of ghosts in the Ranch's history. I can't help but think that the ghosts that linger at the "Ghost Ranch" are my ancestors, all of whom were my mother's maternal and paternal family, the Padilla and Valdez families feuding over the 50,000 acres land grant.

In 1955, the year I was born, 
Arthur Pack sold Ghost Ranch to the Presbyterian Church. O’Keeffe wanted to buy it so naturally she was upset. After many years she and staff of the Presbyterian Church made peace. They helped her with her secretarial work and maintenance on her property. Georgia made many monetary donations to the ranch and today structures can be seen that were constructed with her aid.

During the last years of Georgia’s life she did not go to Abiquiu but resided in Santa Fe. She died at the age of 99 reclusive to the end. She was quoted as saying “I find people very difficult”.

Ghost Ranch
was the place of solace and inspiration for O’Keeffe who reluctantly shared it for years with the rest of us... just as I am sure my ancestors reluctantly shared it with the cattle rustlers. Today Ghost Ranch is a retreat and education center run by the Presbyterian church. They offer various classes in everything from writing, photography, silversmithing, and sacred journeys. I am sure that the souls of my ancestors are still on the Ghost Ranch, the land carries it's own energy, the energy of my ancestors. It is sacred ground to me.

Read about Georgia when she lived in Canyon.