Manistee man volunteers at famed Ghost Ranch in New Mexico

ABQUIU, New Mexico — There are certain places in this country that challenge the inner sanctums of the mind from an artistic, physical,curiosity, scientific, spiritual, educational and historical perspective.

During his 10-week stay as a volunteer at the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, Manistee resident Hank Cupp had the opportunity to hike more than 350 miles in the scenic area when he wasn’t working in the Museum of Paleontology or Anthropology. He is pictured at Plaza Blanco.

During his 10-week stay as a volunteer at the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, Manistee resident Hank Cupp had the opportunity to hike more than 350 miles in the scenic area when he wasn’t working in the Museum of Paleontology or Anthropology. He is pictured at Plaza Blanco.

However, it is rare to find such a place that presents the opportunity to do all of those things in one location. That is unless you are talking about the unique 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch that is located in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

With a history as deep as this country and dating back to the time the Spaniards were in the area and believed it was haunted, the Ghost Ranch has continually intrigued people with all it has to offer.

It is a place where people often go to not only learn about all of those scientific aspects, but more importantly to learn and gain a better understanding of themselves.

Ghost Ranch is a place where Hank Cupp, a retired 31-year (1967-1998) teaching veteran from the Manistee Area Public Schools, recently spent 10 weeks as a volunteer in what he describes as a moving, life changing experience. Cupp said like many he knew about the Ghost Ranch, but not all it had to offer until he visited it for the first time with his partner Carol Marshall.

“My partner Carol Marshall had gone there in 2015 and 2016 and last fall she was going out to teach a class in fabric art,” said Cupp. “She said ‘Why don’t you go along?’ and while she taught for a week, I just enjoyed the ranch scenery and hiked.”

Cupp said he fell in love with the Ghost Ranch during that week with all it had to offer.

Phytosaur Skeleton pic 2“It’s a very historical, scenic and educational place to be,” said Cupp.

The Ghost Ranch contains Museums of Palentology, Archaeology and Anthropology. Some of the greatest discovery of dinosaur fossils in the country were found there in the 1940s.

It is also the place where artist Georgia O’Keefe created some of her greatest artistic works with a backdrop that can only be described as majestic. Toss in the hikes and horseback adventures in a rocky mountainous terrain used in many Hollywood movies, and you have the perfect backdrop for a curious mind.

“There is a sign at the border of New Mexico that says ‘land of enchantment’ which is bit misleading because it’s really the land of entrapment,” said Cupp. “You go and spend some time there and you don’t want to come home. There is something mystical about New Mexico.”

Cupp said that although he doesn’t consider himself a spiritual person there is an aura felt by people who visit that area.

“I am talking about just being out there and feeling something,” said Cupp.

It was an alluring sensation that he said was drawing him back to spend more time at GEORGIA OKEEFFE PAINTING pic 4the Ghost Ranch.

“Before Carol and I left from that week I was talking to people and they said they have a volunteer program,” he said.

After investigating it, Cupp filled out an application on a whim to become a volunteer.

“We weren’t even home yet and I had an email from the human resources director who said ‘you have a master’s degree in museum management and we have a spot for you,’” he said.

Cupp made the decision to go and went out in March to be a volunteer in the Anthropology and Palentology museums they have on site. He stayed for 10 weeks until early June and enjoyed every day.

“That is a pretty standard length of time as they want you to stay long enough to know what you are doing and to be effective,” he said.

However, one goal he had prior to making the trip didn’t work out.

“I was hoping to do an animal research project to document and record all the species on the ranch which is a huge undertaking considering its size. That didn’t work out for me because so much of the ranch is restricted because they film movies is there and the area that Georgia O’Keefe made famous in her paintings is such a delicate area.”

However, Cupp was undeterred and still  managed to do some of the survey, but he didn’t get to finish it.

“If I go back next spring maybe they will let me go into the restricted areas,” he said. “They did invite me to come back.”

Cupp said he worked as a docent which means he did everything from mopping the floors, to working with the dinosaur skeletons.

“They have a professional director of the museum and the rest is done by volunteers,” he said.”They do a background check, check your driving record because they have a driving tour.”

Living quarters for volunteers varied from a dormitory style set-up to houses. He had the opportunity to live in a trailer in the campground and said it proved to be the perfect setting.

“It was wonderful,” he said. “It was like having your own place and the scenery out the back door was just stunning. I got a lot of walking in because it was a half mile to the dining hall where I got my meals and then I would go hiking after that. I hiked about 350 miles on the trails and all over while I was out there as I kept track with my pedometer.”

Cupp said the most interesting aspect of the trip was the people who came into the museum and hearing their unique stories of what drew them to the Ghost Ranch. He had movie stars and scientists from all over the world come because the main attraction was one of the largest finds of dinosaur bones discovered on the ranch in the 1940s.

“So paleontologists and anthropologists from all over the world come there when they are in the area as do people from all walks of life,” said Cupp. “One day I had five physicists in there who were attending a convention in Santa Fe, but drove there to see it. There was a never ending parade of intelligent people.”

Some had worked on their undergraduate degree at Ghost Ranch which is a mecca to college professors and their students, while others told him tales about how they found actual fossils that were on display at the ranch. He said all had their stories and all were fascinating to hear.

He even found a connection to Manistee when talking with people visiting the ranch.

“A young lady came in who was from Australia and she had attended Eastern Michigan University and roomed with a former student of mine from Manistee,” he said. “What a small world.”

However, it was only natural being a former teacher that some of his favorite visitors to the Ghost Ranch were the school children that came with their classes.

“We would take them out in search of fossils and show them where the digs took place,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “Then while they were out there we would place some bones along the trail that they would find on their way back and it was fun to see the excitement on their faces.”

Cupp said the Ghost Ranch is so well known and that is what draws many visitors to the location.

He said there still are active fossil quarries at the ranch even though many have been closed. Ghost Ranch officials estimate there are at least 50 more site that include fossils that haven’t even been discovered yet.

“It was the trip of a lifetime,” said Cupp. “Other than the birth of my kids, that was probably the happiest 10 weeks of my life.”

He said Marshall said she never saw him so happy.

“If I didn’t have some commitments back here this summer that I didn’t want to ignore I might have stayed out there,” said Cupp.

“It only took me 38 years after my master’s degree in museum management to get into a museum. Every day was just a cool day to be there.”

It’s a feeling that Cupp wants to experience again and it is why he plans to go back in the near future to spend more time as a volunteer at the Ghost Ranch.

“I can’t wait, as it’s a great place to be,” he added with a reflective smile.

 

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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