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  • Writer's picturewwambrose

The Land in Cañones

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

After the rumble tumble of Durango's saloons we decided to head for the hills, back to New Mexico. We ended up at a unique retreat in the high desert about 1.5 hrs northwest of Santa Fe. Unbeknownst to us our AirBnB was on the outskirts of Abiquiu, the location of historic Ghost Ranch, a Hollywoodish dude ranch made famous by Georgia O'Keefe's paintings during her residency.

Our stay was located a 20-min drive up mostly dirt roads, past several cows in the road, through a tiny town called Cañones, to a small valley tucked into the mountainside. Now with a population of 118, Cañones was thought to have been established in 1766 when a wealthy military veteran was granted the land and established a seasonal ranch.

Driving into the compound -- advertised as "the Land", as in "getting back to the land" according to the host information -- we felt we were being drawn into a mysterious, almost magical realm. Picture a combination of California vineyard, Sicilian villa, and Jonestown Guyana.

We stayed in the Bali House, one of five buildings in the compound. Adobe walls, stark but tasteful decor, and few amenities (ie no TV, dishwasher or oven). It featured a doorframe and indoor swing imported from Indonesia among other items.

There were strict instructions about where to empty our compost, what soaps to use, where we could and could not walk on the property (yoga platform yes, barn no, fire pit by reservation), and how to handle ourselves if we came across a bear (slowly back away), a mountain lion (wrap something around your neck because they'll go for your throat), or one of the 22 known species of poisonous snakes in the area (pray).

It was wonderful! Most of the other houses were vacant so we felt we had the place to ourselves. Trails led off the property into the 1.5 million-acre Santa Fe National Forest. A meandering Polvedera Creek bordered one side of the compound, allowing for river walks, birding and swims for Charlie.

We took a hike up the mountain behind the compound along a rough trail that had horseshoe, deer and elk prints but no human footprints that we could discern. Besides the wonderful views the trail offered a sun-dried cow carcass, a large bird nest in the cliffs (could it be a condor?), and small forest of junipers high up in a dry riverbed.

The nearby Chama River offered its own rewards including fly fishing and nearly solitary walks along the canyon-walled banks. Once again many swimming and hunting opportunities for Charlie, and a notable list of birds, including a perched osprey, belted kingfisher, goldeneye duck, Say's phoebe, rock wren, canyon wren, cormorants, and families of common mergansers.

We took two trips out of the compound during the week stay -- a hike up to some petroglyphs, and a visit to Ghost Ranch to hike the popular Chimney Rock trail.

Petroglyph Rock Loop near Abiquiu, Carson National Forest

Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch

The rest of the week we remained in our shangri-la, waking to views of Pedernal peak, the inspiration for many of Georgia O'Keefe's paintings capturing the beauty of this land. We already miss being there, but our souls have been nourished with this piece of America.

Georgia O'Keeffe. My Front Yard, Summer, 1941

Amy Davis, My Beer, Spring 2022

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