Flood damages retreat center tied to artist Georgia O'Keeffe

AP News
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Posted: Jul 10, 2015 4:47 PM

ABIQUIU, N.M. (AP) — A northern New Mexico retreat that the famed artist Georgia O'Keeffe regarded as "the best place in the world" suffered extensive damage this week when heavy rains swept through arroyos.

Hundreds of people were at the Ghost Ranch when the flood hit Tuesday evening, washing away pottery wheels, wooden weaving looms, a heavy cement mixer and a clay press. A handful of structures were destroyed, including the new Fiber Arts Studio.

Those structures likely will have to be built elsewhere on the property that is near Abiquiu, Ghost Ranch Executive Director Debra Hepler said.

"We won't rebuild in this area. It's not so safe, and I'm not sure the insurance company would insure it again if we built down here," she told the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1JTFJFy ). "We have had people who have lived here their whole lives say that they have never seen anything like this happen here. But we don't want to take that chance again."

Ghost Ranch is in the heart of O'Keeffe Country, up the Chama River Valley and past Espanola. The late artist owned a small parcel of land at Ghost Ranch, but she considered the colored cliffs her backyard and the valley and her front yard.

Ghost Ranch offers spiritual retreats, workshops and landscape tours. The picturesque cliffs draw locals for hiking, and visitors can stay overnight.

Staff at the retreat center yelled for guests to "get out" of buildings just seconds before the arroyos swelled and flood overran their banks.

The floodwaters swept a building where stained-glass work is done off its foundation and sent debris crashing into trees. A low ropes course was wiped out, as were a weaving studio and structures where students make arts and crafts. Some equipment sank 100 to 200 feet in the mud. The damage is estimated at $500,000.

No one was injured.

Connie Burkhart, an arts and music instructor, said the torrent reminded her of a deadly flood that hit her hometown of Lyons, Colorado, in 2013. "I about buckled to my knees with the thought of losing what's dear to you again," she told The Santa Fe New Mexican (http://bit.ly/1MkVpyW ).

The ranch remains open as managers and guests continued cleaning up Friday.