In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the
soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new. – D.H. Lawrence
It’s hard to know where to begin telling the story of Cliff River Springs. There are so many ways of looking at how we got here.
There’s the story of the Palovista Ranch, going back to 1960, when my grandparents Boudinot and Ruth Atterbury bought land in La Madera, in remote north central New Mexico, for their oldest daughter, Joan, to run cattle on. For many summers after that the cousins Jenneys and Atterburys drove west on Route 66 from New York and Connecticut to swim and ride and attempt to help our aunt with the ranch work.
There’s Hope’s story, one of those cousins, and how in my early thirties I left the Upper Midwest to move into my grandparents’ abandoned adobe house on the ranch because I had a vague idea of starting a family and I couldn’t imagine raising children anywhere else.
And there’s Sue Scott’s story, how ten years after she and I met in Mexico as Antioch College students she came from Massachusetts to visit me on the ranch and fell hard in love with the light, the cliffs and the ever-changing sky. That was in 1985 and from then on Sue returned every year, often with her family. Our kids mucked around down by the river together, hiked over the mesa and swam in the pond until, children grown and gone, Sue continued coming on her own, her love of this land a steady pulse.
Finally, there’s the story of what people can do when their deep connection to place forces them to innovate.
When my aunt Joan Lowery died and her herd sold, the ranch’s future was thrown into question. Buildings and fences fell into serious disrepair. Our family wondered how it could hang on to the ranch without burdening the grandkids who were just entering their twenties. Something had to be done, but what? The only asset the ranch seemed to have in abundance, the only currency available in which it could trade, was beauty.
One winter evening in 2009 I climbed up the western hills and, turning back to look down the valley, I saw a full moon break over the eastern horizon. It was so beautiful that I froze. As was so often true, I was alone watching this lunar miracle unfold. I thought oh, how people would love to see this. And really, that was the moment I understood that if we changed the way we’d always lived on the ranch, that is to say alone on the ranch, and began to invite others to experience the beauty we’d been blessed to know, maybe the ranch could use that beauty to transition to a future that would preserve it.
Sue and I, long-time friends then in our fifties and looking ahead to empty nests and careers winding down, made a pact. We would put our shoulders to the wheel, shine up the ranch, and invite people to come. We talked and planned for a couple of years, our families got on board, and we started to work.
We renovated the old ranch buildings around the plaza into sweet, bright living spaces where people can stay surrounded by the dark skies, healing waters and long views of this near wilderness we call home. We made a name for our effort out of the simple list of what’s here: cliffs, a river and springs. We had a hunch that breathing new life into the ranch would breathe new life into us and that proved true.
Cliff River Springs stands on the shoulders of many people whose deep giving to the ranch over years bought time for this endeavor. So many people have helped – my grandparents, my aunt Joan Lowery, my parents Katharine and Bill, my brother Boud and sister-in-law Louise, my cousin Lucinda Jenney, and our champion Will. It took five years, but with their support we did it. The heart of this amazing place is open, yours to explore.
Not long after we welcomed our first guests in 2014 Sue decided to return to her family and life in the east. The true fact of this adventure remains that it never could have happened without her.
In the end, of all of the stories we could tell perhaps there is just this one: Cliff River Springs is our love letter to this land and to New Mexico. I’m so very happy that you’re coming, that you’re here.
Cliff River Springs
La Madera, New Mexico