A Day In the Life, Sometime in June, 2017
Emily Harper, Paleontology Docent, Tour Guide, and Assistant Librarian
Standing atop a bluff at the foot to the Chimney Rock Trail, I have an easy, wide view of the so-called cliffs of shining stone. 360 degrees of geologic history, spanning from the 200 million year old muddy banks that Georgia O’Keeffe painted, where a treasure trove of dinosaurs have been unearthed – to the obsidian flecked volcanic field from which majestic Cerro Pedernal rises at a relatively young 8 million years old.
I can only do my best to condense the immense amount of history into a 20 minute tour, but to the group of eager high schoolers currently squinting in my direction, attempting to remember their earth science lessons as I apply them to the rocks we’re standing on and the vast, looming cliffs across the valley – the story is lofty but graspable.
Oh, can you see the tree over there? A cattle-rustling bandit was hung there after murdering his brother. Years later, a divorced concert pianist moved herself into the cursed “ghost house” to start a fresh life – and the humble beginnings of Ghost Ranch as we know it today.
I lead the group back down the steep slope, crossing the horse trail into the parking lot of the museum. We head around the building into the exhibit area where they can finally cool off in our traditional adobe oasis as I describe the lifestyles of ancient Phytosaurs and Dinosaurs in front of a diorama fit for the Smithsonian. When they’ve gotten their fill of paleontology, I send them over to the the Anthropology room to ponder at the civilizations here thousands of years before the ranch was even thought of.
I make my way up the dirt road, passing the bustling visitors center as a group of middle-aged art enthusiasts board a small bus for a landscape tour in O’keeffe country, to the odd 2-story cottage built by the Johnson & Johnson family as a summer getaway – which is now our 24 hour library.
I spend the afternoon shelving returned books, tidying, and arranging an inviting display of dinosaur books for our kids room. After all – they’re the biggest fans. I set out a display of poetry books by a local author – she’ll be here this week giving a workshop.
I’m a geologist, artist, and bookworm. I came to this place to work as a full time residential volunteer for the summer, and though I’ve had many travel experiences both domestic and abroad, the bubble of earth-driven life and rejuvenation that exists at the Ranch has been most impactive. To find a place that equally nurtures my musings in geology, visual art, reading, writing, and outdoor pursuits is a rare gem. This place is something of a story book and a canvas waiting to be plucked from the landscape.