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Presbyterians and the Piedra Lumbre of New Mexico

Thanks to the wealthy publisher and naturalist, Arthur Pack, the most stunning portion of the old Spanish land grant, Piedra Lumbre (or Shining Stones), was sold to the northern Presbyterian Church in 1955.  After the YMCA, Boy Scouts, and Catholic Church showed no interest in the property, Pack heard from a pastor and friend in Tucson, who convinced him that the Presbyterians would be responsible owners and stewards of his “Ghost Ranch” of almost 20,000 acres.  Presbyterians already had a strong history of missions in New Mexico with numerous hospitals, schools, and congregations so they could be trusted to protect and share the most brilliant Mesas and shining cliffs of the Piedra Lumbre.

the Shining Stones of Chimney Rock at the Ranch (view from west)

The most famous resident of Ghost Ranch, the artist Georgia O’keeffe, was none too pleased about the sale, as she imagined her secluded “far away place” being swarmed by by visiting church ladies, little children, and nosy men.   But thanks to the preacher-rancher Rev. Jim Hall, the Presbyterians at the Ranch protected O’Keefe’s privacy as they developed it into a premier retreat and conference center for Presbyterians and others across the nation.  Whether the Presbyterian Church (USA) can remain a faithful steward of these treasured lands without supporting it financially remains to be seen, but you can still attend workshops, writing seminars, art classes and take private retreats at the Ranch.  You can even take a “Georgia O’Keeffe” tour that visits sites she painted, pass by her long-time home, and hear Ranch stories about her.

O’Keeffe’s beloved home at Ghost Ranch, sold to her by Arthur Pack

Ghost Ranch has been the setting of dozens of movies and video projects.  The best known is City Slickers with Billy Crystal, whose character rustles cattle from a dude ranch in order to find “the one thing” that the rough cowboy Curly says will bring his life meaning.  The Cabin, church, and other props from that film are still at the Ranch.  The community celebrates the 30th anniversary of City Slickers this year!

    “City Slicker” film’s Cabin and Orphan Mesa at the Ranch

Behind the scenes of all of these films is the Ranch liaison with Hollywood, David Manzanares, who first came to the Ranch in the Jim Hall days.   I was fortunate to meet David this summer while hiking the plains below the cliffs, as he was showing a potential film crew around.

    David Manzanares, Ranch liaison with the film industry

I highly recommend the Ranch as a place of learning, retreat, and adoration of God’s good earth.  There is no place else like it, where the beauties of a Zion national park support a community of artists and spiritual pilgrims.  Make a visit, and get your Presbyterian friends and church to support their mission!

Dr. Larry Golemon
Transitional Director, Reformed Institute

For more information about the ranch, visit GHOST RANCH

For a remarkable history of the Ranch and its multiple legacies of  dinosaurs, Spaniards, native Americans, murdering rustlers, O’Keeffe’s colorful personality and work, and the secretive hosting of Los Alamos scientists as they developed the atomic bomb, read Leslie Poling-Kempes’ book:  Ghost Ranch


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