As the summer heat sizzles and the ongoing drought forces the closure of many local recreation areas, finding a place to cool off in New Mexico can be a challenge.
Pecos National Historical Park, near Glorieta, may be just the place to hang out, especially on June 30, when the Forked Lightning Ranch House will have a rare open house, said Becky Latanich, the park’s chief of interpretation.
“Ordinarily, you can go as a tour, but that’s only letting nine people go at a time, and we only do it once or twice a week,” she said.
Reservations are required for the open house (call 505-757-7241), but people will be free to stroll through the house as long as they choose, Latanich said, provided that they arrive between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. If the reservations are filled, she encouraged people to reserve a spot on one of the ranger-led tours.
The ranch house is best-known as the home to Hollywood actress Greer Garson and her husband, oil magnate Buddy Fogelson.
The ranch parties were legendary, attended by such celebrities as Art Linkletter, Merle Oberon, Vincent Minnelli, David O. Selznick, Winthrop Rockefeller and Georgia O’Keeffe.
The ranch was built in the 1920s by entrepreneur Tex Austin, who went on to fame as the man who promoted the sport of rodeo outside the Southwest. The home was designed by noted architect John Gaw Meem, becoming one of his first works in the Pueblo Revival Style. It sits on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Pecos River and Glorieta Creek.
One of the main features of the house is an ornamental head of a longhorn steer created for the living room. When the head was deemed too big for the interior space, it was placed at the front of the building, where it remains.
The furnishings are period pieces from the Garson and Fogelson era, Latanich said, although much of it was sold at auction.
“It has historical furnishings, so each of the rooms contain the furniture that was there when Greer and Buddy lived there,” she said. “They’re nice pieces and what we have is original, but they may not be in the same place as when Greer and Buddy lived there.”
The park also is home to a visitors center housing a museum dedicated to the area’s history.
“We have exhibits that talk about all the things the park preserves; the Pecos Pueblo from the 1300s and 1400s, the Spanish missions in the upper Pecos River Valley,” Latanich said. “This area was the birthplace of Southwest archaeology and where (archaeologist) Alfred V. Kidder did his work.”
Although the primary focus of the museum is on the archaeology, the museum also delves into the area’s Civil War background. The Glorieta Pass battlefield also is within the park’s grounds.
Additionally, there’s mention of the Santa Fe Trail as it cut right through the area.
“The exhibits predate the park’s establishment as a National Historical Park, so it focuses on archaeology, history of the pueblo and cultures and Spanish missions and settlements,” Latanich said. “The visitors center and museum is getting renovated in the next three years. It provides a decent overview into everything the park preserves, but be prepared to see most of the focus on pottery. We have a tremendous collection of intact pottery.”
While the trail to the Glorieta battlefield has been closed, just about everything else within the park remains open, she said, including the Ancestral Sites trail to the Pecos Pueblo excavation.
In addition, the ranger-led Civil War van tour remains open.
“The main ruins are open, ancestral sites trail is open,” Latanich said. “We’re still doing all our ranger programs. For 99 percent of the people who come here, it will be business as usual.”