Visit Forked Lightning Ranch

This post on Forked Lightning Ranch was first published in February 2012. It was updated on 8/7/2016

Pecos National Historical Park holds an unexpected treasure. Forked Lightning Ranch, a 1920s former dude ranch and former home to 40s movie star Greer Garson, is part of the site. They give tours on Sundays by advanced reservation. The ranch has an interesting history and is worth touring. Here’ some of the story.

Touring Forked Lightning Ranch

The front porch at Forked Lightening Ranch at Pecos National Historical Park in Pecos New Mexico was once home to Hollywood star Greer Garson and her husband Buddy Fogelson.

Front porch, Forked Lightning Ranch, photo/Steve Collins

Tex Austin’s dude ranch

The ranch house at Forked Lightening Ranch at Pecos National Historical Park in Pecos New Mexico was once home to Hollywood star Greer Garson and her husband Buddy Fogelson.

Chimney with steer at Forked Lightning Ranch, photo Steve Collins

Rodeo Cowboy Tex Austin named his Pecos, NM spread Forked Lightning Ranch. The reason got lost somewhere in history. He acquired 5,500 acres of land on the old Pecos Pueblo Grant in 1925. He chose a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Pecos River and Glorietta Creek as his house site. Austin hired newly minted architect John Gaw Meem, often called “the Father of Pueblo Revival” to design the sprawling ranch house, set around what would become a Meem trademark, an enclosed courtyard.

The design has many other signature Meem features, but the steer head built onto the side of the house is believed to be an Austin touch. The former Texas cowboy and rodeo showman tried to operate a dude ranch in this house where every room had a door onto the interior courtyard. This enterprise was a failure. When The Great Depression hit, Austin lost the property.

Introducing Fauxdobe

While the house looks like a traditional adobe, it’s built from Pen Tile, a long-lasting building material manufactured at the time at the New Mexico State Penitentiary, then located on Pen Road in Santa Fe. Meem preferred the tile to high maintenance adobe.

Things to do in Santa Fe: Tour Forked Lightening Ranch

Pen tile made at the NM Penitentiary was used to build Forked (pronounced fork-ed) Lightning Ranch photo/Steve Collins

The Fogelson/Garson years

Greer Garson and cowboy ranch hands at,Forked Lightening Ranch at Pecos National Historical Park in Pecos New Mexico was once home to Hollywood star Greer Garson and her husband Buddy Fogelson.

Greer Garson (3rd from right) with Forked Lightning Ranch staff, courtesy National Park Service

Fast forward to 1941; Texas oil and cattle man, Elijah E. “Buddy” Fogelson bought the ranch and turned it into a working cattle ranch. Over the years, he expanded his holding to over 13,000 acres; raising Santa Gertrudus cattle, acquired from the famous King Ranch in Texas.

In 1949, Fogelson married Hollywood star, Greer Garson (Mrs. Miniver, Random Harvest) and they spent summers on the ranch. Garson refurbished the home and entertained many famous people here.

When Fogelson passed away in 1987, his adopted son inherited the additional acres acquired and Garson got the original 5,500 acre ranch. The land must be a Hollywood magnet. Part of the son’s portion was sold to Jane Fonda and Ted Turner. Actor Val Kilmer bought a second large piece of the land. The power couple called their spread Forked Lightning Ranch. Fonda still lives there. Kilmer’s portion was named Pecos River Ranch. He sold most of his holdings in 2011.

Garson and Fogelson were very generous to what is now the Pecos National Historic Park. They donated over 300 acres to the site (then Pecos National Monument) in 1960. The couple paid over half the costs to build the site’s Visitors’ Center (built on the land they donated) in the early 1980’s. They also donated 80 per cent of the cost of the museum, added later.  In 1991, Garson transferred her share of Forked Light­ning Ranch to the National Parks Service to preserve the land.

If you go to Forked Lightning Ranch

The trading post at Forked Lightening Ranch at Pecos National Historical Park in Pecos New Mexico in the 1920s

The Trading Post at Forked Lightning Ranch in the 1920’s, photo/courtesy National Park Service

Tours are on Sundays at 1:30pm weather and road conditions permitting. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by calling (505) 757-7200. Admission to the Park is $3. National Park pass holders are free. The tour is an additional $2 per person.

In addition to Forked Lightning Ranch, the tour stops by Kozlowski’s Trading Post, a way station for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. Kozlowski bought the original one-room building (dating to 1810) in 1858, added to it and opened for business. It was included in the acreage that Austin bought.

While at the Pecos National Historical Park, visit the Pecos Pueblo site. The loop walk, a mile and a quarter, takes about 45 minutes. From Memorial Day through Labor Day there are ranger-led tours at 10am daily. These are between 90 minutes to two hours long. The Pueblo Revival-style Visitors’ Center offers a short educational film about the site, a museum and a gift shop.

Santa Fe dining: Frankie's at the Casanova

Cowpoke mural at Frankie’s at the Casanova in Pecos, NM, Pecos, photo/Steve Collins

Lunch at Frankie’s

Before the tour, have brunch or lunch at Frankie’s at the Casanova. This historic spot run by Brian Sandoval was built between 1908 and 1911. It was originally, the Western Mercantile, a general store. Later it became Harrison’s Casa Nova. The hopping bar and lounge was on the historic, pre-1937 Rte 66. You’ll feel like you’ve returned to the past dining on traditional New Mexican in the retro dining room, with murals, circa 1948, on the plastered walls. Frankie’s green chile is so good they bottle it. Take home a jar.

If you want to tour the Pecos area, contact us and we can set up a great day adventure for you including a visit to a Civil War battlefield. There’s a lot for history and outdoor buffs  to see and do in the area. We are experts on things to do in Santa Fe. Let  us plan your next trip.



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18 Responses to “Visit Forked Lightning Ranch”

  1. Charles Higgins
    February 8, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    I thoroughly enjoyed these bits of history..thanks much..


  2. Charles Higgins
    February 8, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    very interesting…

    Charles Higgins recently posted..Las Vegas & Nevada cash in on Super BowlMy Profile

  3. Lori Ann Ortiz
    September 5, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    My father (Gilbert Ortiz) was the ranch manger of the FLR for Greer Garson and Jane Fond. He retired in May of this year, and passed away at the beginning of August. He managed the FLR for over 50yrs. He was a proud man and love the ranch, which became his final resting spot. I greatly enjoy seeing photos of the ranch….

    • Billie Frank
      September 5, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

      Thanks for sharing that, Lori. I’m sorry for your loss. I would have loved to have met and interviewed him. What great stories he must have had. Glad you enjoyed the photos!

  4. Lori Ann Ortiz
    October 11, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Here is a small review of his life on the ranch… If you are ever looking for phohts or any storeis, I’d be glad to tell you what was told to me by my father…

    • Billie Frank
      October 11, 2013 at 10:21 am #

      Thanks Lori. Would love to hear your dad’s stories. Email me at

    • Janet Wilson
      July 13, 2015 at 10:36 pm #

      I realize it has been almost 2 years since you posted this wonderful story about Mr. Ortiz, but I thought I would try to contact you. I have been doing research, along with two other associates, for a several years on Buddy Fogelson. There has never been a definitive biography written about this remarkable man. I came across your comments regarding his generosity to those in the Santa Fe/Pecos community, and your offer to share any thoughts about Mr. Otiz’s time working on the ranch. I would appreciate anything you would care to share……photos and any memories that would be memorable. There is so little written about this truly remarkable man. I am planning a trip to Dallas early next year and planning to meet with Mr. Roach, Buddy’s lawyer to share his thoughts. I’m hoping you are still at this site and would like to share any thoughts you may have. Soon here will be no one left to tell the story. Janet Wilson

      • Billie Frank
        July 13, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

        Sorry Janet, I can’t help you with this, Lori Ann Ortiz never contacted me directly and I don’t know how to reach her. Perhaps someone at the Pecos National Historical Site will know how to reach her. If she subscribed to be updated on comments, she might see this and respond- if you subscribe to comments on the post, you’ll get a notification if she responds. Good luck with your project!

  5. Ana Reinhardt
    September 20, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

    I remember Gilbert at the ranch. I was a private duty nurse for Buddy.

    My condolences about Gilbert. He was a mighty fine man.

  6. robert murray
    March 27, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

    wife and I visited pecos nhs and went to forked lightening ranch with two additional ladys, one appeared to be shirley mc lain (hollywood} Can this be verified?

    • Billie Frank
      March 27, 2017 at 1:53 pm #

      That’s a great question. The best way to have confirmed it was on the spot. You could have asked her or asked the guide at the end. She does live in the area and gets spotted around Santa Fe all the time. We have no way to verify this- we weren’t there, but it makes a great story to tell friends.

      • robert murray
        April 5, 2017 at 6:27 am #

        I agree we could have asked her but i decided to leave her privacy be.
        I hope the new owners will leave the pit houses in the field near the ranch as they are. So many places like this are robbed of their historical importance, Chaco canyon is being “attacked” by oil wells
        so it’s on the endangerd list. I have visited most of the old historic sites out in the west as well as here in georgia and sites between. I spent 5 months in the yellowstone and surrounding historic sites LBH and many other indian battlefields in their struggle to to live free.
        I wish i had the time and money and health to spend more time in our history. Y’all {georgia word} take care and enjoy life.

        • Billie Frank
          April 6, 2017 at 3:18 pm #

          I’d like to see sites preserved as well. I love visiting places with rich history. And you enjoy life and take care!

  7. mike smith
    June 8, 2017 at 7:15 pm #

    Forked “Lightening” or “Lightning” ????

    • Billie Frank
      June 9, 2017 at 1:05 pm #

      Thanks for finding that Mike! That post has been up for about five years and no one noticed that. Maybe no one could find the post with the misspelling.

  8. robert murray
    July 1, 2017 at 8:41 am #

    Having not much to do, I was surfing the internet and checked on forked lightning ranch and discovered that Jane Fonda is selling Forked Lighting ranch and the photos and tour of the property is not the forked lightening ranch that we visited some while ago. Know what gives? Robert

    • Billie Frank
      July 1, 2017 at 10:46 am #

      When Buddy Fogelspn passed away half the ranch went to Greer Garson and the other half to his son. The son’s half- about 5,000 was split in half. Ted Turner and Jane Fonda bought one half and Val Kilmer bought the other. Both have sold their properties. The Forked Lightening you visited was Garson’s half which was given to Pecos National Historical Park

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