The time of year has arrived when spooky urban legend tends to be more readily accepted as reality. The nights are longer, the air is colder, and the popular ghost stories of the past take on a life of their own.
One of the most notorious haunted areas in the Land of Enchantment is the Holy Ghost Campground, which is located approximately 14 miles northeast of Santa Fe, just on the outskirts of the Pecos Wilderness. It only takes a quick perusal online to find that the site is the source of all sorts of eerie rumors, the most prevalent of which involves the story of a Catholic priest who was allegedly killed by Pueblo Indians defending their land in the 17th century. The ghost of the priest is rumored to haunt the campground to this very day.
According to Santa Fe National Forest public affairs officer Julie Anne Overton, the haunted aspect interests media far more than it does the general public.
“Only reporters (ask about that),” Overton said with a laugh. “I have heard the legend … but I have never spoken to a member of the public who has professed to have experienced that.”
Allan Pacheco, a Santa Fe native who is an author, paranormal investigator and ghost tour leader throughout the northern part of the state, claims that the Holy Ghost site and the surrounding area has been the source of some interesting activity over the years.
“As far as that area goes, there’s also all kinds of activity beyond belief of people that go missing,” Pacheco said. “Let’s say (we) estimate eight miles to the east, eight miles to the west, etc. As far as that Holy Ghost camp (there) are all kinds of stories with that. Activity good and bad.”
But wait, there’s more. Outside magazine profiled the Holy Ghost Campground as part of a feature on the 15 most haunted campgrounds in the United States in 2019, and a group of editors spent the night there after publication to investigate the claims. This was the account of that visit:
“The night passed peacefully, but the next morning, associate managing editor Aleta Burchyski got up early to fish the nearby Holy Ghost Creek. About ten minutes in, her hook got snagged on a root along the bank. As Burchyski worked to free the hook, she saw a dark figure of a man in her peripheral vision, approaching her. ‘He was walking weird, kind of loping,’ Burchyski says. Initially she thought it was her husband coming over to tell her how cold he was, walking strangely in an attempt to warm up. ‘But then I turned to say hi,’ she says, ‘and NOBODY WAS THERE.’ ”
Regardless of what is or isn’t true about the Holy Ghost site, Overton understands the appeal. Sometimes it’s just fun to be scared. If you’re out in the wilderness – even better.
“Think about the tradition of gathering around the campfire and telling ghost stories,” she said. “There’s just something about being out in the dark, away from civilization. It’s just fun to sit around a campfire and try to scare each other.
“You’re also out there and you hear kind of a weird noise in the night that you’re not used to hearing. That can get your imagination going.”
The possibility exists for plenty of “weird noises” to be heard while out in the northern New Mexican wilderness. However, the vast majority of those are likely wildlife – not ghostly entities.
“It could be lots of critters out there,” Overton said. “Bears, deer, small critters like rabbits, coyotes – all kinds of birds. You might hear some owls … Any of the animals that live on those mountain ranges could wander through that area.”
Pacheco, meanwhile, offers an alternative take on the legend of the Holy Ghost, which paints the area in a more positive light. According to this particular story, a priest on the run from a group of Native Americans during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 found shelter there.
“He hid up there and a fog came up there and it protected him,” Pacheco said. “The pursuers could not see him in the fog … He survived the massacre and thus, the Holy Ghost protected this padre. But that story or that area, it runs hot and cold with good and bad things that have happened out there.”
It doesn’t seem like visitors are too concerned with the supernatural. The Holy Ghost is one of the top spots for campers until it closes for the winter season.
“It’s always been one of our really popular campgrounds,” Overton said. “It’s in a really beautiful setting … You don’t have to go too far to really get out into the woods and enjoy what nature has to offer.”