This post on Forked Lightening Ranch was first published in February 2012. It was updated on 8/7/2016
Pecos National Historical Park holds an unexpected treasure. Forked Lightening 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 Lightening Ranch
Tex Austin’s dude ranch
Rodeo Cowboy Tex Austin named his Pecos, NM spread Forked Lightening 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.
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.
The Fogelson/Garson years
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 Lightening 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 Lightening Ranch
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 Lightening 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.
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.
We were guests of Frankie’s at the Casanova. Their generosity has not influenced this post in any way.