A Day at Ghost Ranch

After experiencing street photography for the first time (and shop photography) as I shared here, my world was a little rocked. Was it easy to approach complete strangers, engage in some sort of conversation and ask to take (or make, as Carlan Tapp, one of the leaders of our workshop refers to it) their photo? Heck no! It was hard….really hard! But, I was surprised by the results and received positive feedback during the morning critique.

Then the next afternoon arrived. The location of our shoot for the day? Ghost Ranch. Of Georgia O’Keeffe fame (read about her relationship with the area here). We road in a short bus an hour and fifteen minutes from Santa Fe to GR. I lucked out and ended up sitting across the aisle from Ralph Hopkins, the other leader of our workshop. Landscape and wildlife photographer extraordinaire. The man who walked with me to lunch the day before and proclaimed, “You have a good eye, m’dear.”  I’m still blissed out by that.

ghost ranch, wishingmylifeaway.com

I was able to ask Ralph some technical questions on my mind, and he shared with me and a larger audience the geology of the area as we wound our way to GR. Carlan added some history of the area, including details about photos Ansel Adams shot in the area (whom Carlan once worked for). Yeah, they’re well-established photographers.  Very well-established.  And incredibly nice guys.  It was a honor to get to know both of them.

I don’t know what I expected of GR. Obviously I’ve not studied Georgia O’Keeffe enough. I wasn’t expecting red rocks and colors reminiscent of Sedona, an area that I fell in love with when we visited a few years ago.  But, that’s what I got.  Bestill my heart.

ghost ranch, wishingmylifeaway.com

After disembarking we were given final instructions, a hard-fast time that we needed to meet back up and set loose. We were invited (as always) to stick around if we wanted or needed technical assistance. We scattered in the wind.

We had two routes to choose from: the high trail, which climbed up a ridge line and opened to majestic views of the valley, Pedernal towering before you in the distance, or the low road. The low road wound through the buildings of GR, then left them behind in favor of a cottonwood studded stream and a box canyon begging to be explored. I chose the low road because I’m a sucker for fall color, and because I like finding details in nature in addition to sweeping landscapes. The low road seemed like it would be more amenable to those details.

ghost ranch, wishingmylifeaway.com


I found myself feeling scattered and out of sorts when I first started out. I felt no pressure with street photography because I had nothing to lose. It was a completely unknown, unexplored genre to me. So, if I flubbed…no big deal.  But, outside…that’s my self-proclaimed photographic thing, right?  And I was to take five outstanding photos into the classroom the next morning for critique.  No pressure.

ghost ranch, wishingmylifeaway.com


After moving past the buildings of GR I noticed a small stream that trickles through the valley. I found my way down to its edge, screwed on my neutral density filter (with mixed results) and started playing around.  Finding that water was exactly what I needed.  The coastal kid is always soothed by water.  After spending a fair amount of time at the stream I continued on up the road.  I found myself relaxing, my grip on my camera loosening as I settled into a rhythm.  Exploring…shooting…marveling at my surroundings…the sun warm on my head.

ghost ranch, wishingmylifeaway.com


I explored rock formations, clambered up and down embankments, climbed fallen cottonwoods.  I crouched and stretched and fought off burrs and spiky cactus (cacti?).  I was in my element.

ghost ranch, wishingmylifeaway.com
Pedernal to the right.

I will admit that I teared up a number of times while out at Ghost Ranch.  I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.  Beautiful surroundings (breathtakingly beautiful) and an opportunity to learn from world-class photographers…how could it get better than that? It did.  Or, rather, the light did.  I started back to the bus a little after 5.  The light began to soften.  Grow warmer.  On those red rocks.  With an almost-full moon in the sky.  Good grief.  Heavenly.

ghost ranch, wishingmylifeaway.com

As we rode back to town I again sat across from Ralph.  I looked at him and told him that the street photography thing was interesting and challenging and might worth exploring more, but that this (gesturing around me), was where my heart was (there may have been a slight welling of tears in my eyes, too…it was that kind of day).  The outdoors soothes my soul and fills me with joy.  From grand vistas to tiny details.  I may explore other photographic genres (and this trip showed me that doing just that is good for me), but I will always return to the purity of a trail, the beauty of the outdoors.  Ralph gets it.  He gave me a knowing smile.

ghost ranch, wishingmylifeaway.com

These are the five that I presented for critique:

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