Friday, January 15, 2010

Ghost Ranch - Chimney Rock

Last Sunday we walked to Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch.

Ghost Ranch has such a storied past, in part, because it became known at a time when people had a more magical interpretation of fossilized bones.

Encounters between people and fossils gave the ancient Greeks their Cyclops (probably from mastodon/mammoth skulls); and the Mongols and Chinese their dragons (protoceratops and the like). And the Puebloans and Spaniards near Ghost Ranch? Vivaron.

Later came artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe, who lived nearby. O'Keeffe was so taken with one particular mountain in the area -- the flat-topped Pedernal to the southwest -- that she once said of it, "God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it." This helps explain why some local residents bristle when they hear their land referred to as "O'Keeffe Country".

Just as O'Keeffe was bringing the beauty of this land to the attention of the world, paleontologists were uncovering its deep past. In a quarry at Ghost Ranch they found fossilized phytosaur skeletons -- the bones which had helped inspire the name of "Ranchos de los Brujos". At roughly the same time they uncovered other Triassic era creatures such as Coelophysus, an early carnivorous dinosaur which has become a sort of mascot for Ghost Ranch.

Ghost Ranch is a great place to explore natural history. When you tread through the mud near the parking lot, you're re-mixing Triassic era river mud. If you climb to the top of Kitchen Mesa (pun intended?) on the south side of the ranch, you'll find yourself standing on a layer of gypsum laid down by the Jurassic-era Todilto Sea.

Everywhere you go you're close to the ancient past, and you stand a good chance of discovering something new -- or, old. That's exactly what happened to a group of hikers in 2004, who discovered a previously unknown Triassic relative of T. Rex. It's making the news now, as its structure suggests that most dinosaurs evolved in, and fanned out from, what is now South America.

You'll also find yourself near the sets of a few Hollywood movies. Shortly after you turn onto the ranch's dirt access road, you'll notice what appears to be an old cabin on your right. It's really a prop, built as part of a set for "City Slickers". And just across the highway from Ghost Ranch, near the shores of Abiquiu Reservoir, is an old airstrip on which the opening scenes of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" were filmed.

But never mind all that. Ghost Ranch is a great place to take a walk. The scenery is just spectacular, and I hope our images can convey even a small sense of that.


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