For many people, their introduction to the U.S. state of New Mexico isn’t reading about it or seeing photographs of its deserts, mountains and native American cultural traditions. It’s the work of the American painter, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986). If an artist ever put a place on the map, it was Ms. O’Keeffe. She came to New Mexico in 1929 from New York, looking for new inspiration for her work, and found it. With some interruptions, she spent the rest of her long and productive life there.
O’Keeffe lived primarily in two places close to one another. Most familiar is her hacienda in the hamlet of Abiquiu (A-bih-kyu), which is open for tours. Be certain to reserve a spot in advance. Prior to that, she had a house on a sprawling estate known as Ghost Ranch, 12 miles northwest of Abiquiu.
Here is Abiquiu in relation to Santa Fe, which is at the bottom of the map.
It takes about an hour to drive from Santa Fe to Abiquiu. It’s another 12.5 miles from Abiquiu to Ghost Ranch. A look at the drive from Abiquiu to Ghost Ranch gives you an indication of why New Mexico is called the “Land of Enchantment.
Today, the 21,000-acres Ghost Ranch is a conference and education center. The setting is spectacular.
There are a number of hiking routes through those rocky cliffs. Some require strenuous effort. Maps are available at the Ghost Ranch visitor center, and there’s parking there. We hiked the modestly strenuous Chimney Rock trail, 3 miles, which goes from 6,500 feet to 7,100 feet. Here’s The Counselor, ready to make the climb to Chimney Rock. You can see how it got its name.
In desert country during the day, one rarely sees wildlife other than birds. Sometimes, though, you do share the trail with a few other creatures who can cover the ground a lot faster than you.
One travels the western deserts to view the scenery, the big skies, experience the vast spaces. One part of the experience is ever-present and compelling: the light. Georgia O’Keeffe said, “It is not a country of light on things. It is a country of things in light.”
Even without the brilliant colors, the desert light creates magic.
At the top of the escarpment, you look across a couple hundred feet of empty air to the peak of Chimney Rock.
Looking south from that spot gives you a view of The Pedernal, a peak O’Keeffe painted again and again. She considered it “her” mountain.
There’s more to discover around Abiquiu. We’ll come back. First, one more look at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, the land that inspired the title of Under Western Skies.
Have you been to New Mexico? What did you see?
© Brad Nixon 2016