Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most famous New Mexican artists. Although she divided her time between New York and New Mexico, she fell in love with the latter and spent the last 40 years of her life in New Mexico. She owned a home in the town of Abiquiú and a cabin at Ghost Ranch. Inspired by the landscape, she painted many of her renowned paintings in this place.
When we were in Santa Fe one and a half years ago, we visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and we wanted to go see her home and studio in Abiquiú. We also wanted to see Ghost Ranch which is not far from the town. Since we had planned to be in New Mexico for a month this year, we decided to make our way to Abiquiú. In fact, we thought that we would only stay there for about four days but we liked it so much that we spent two weeks exploring the area.
Abiquiú is about an hour north of Santa Fe. It is a very, very small town with a few adobe houses, a Catholic Church, a general store, a post office, and a small library. Georgia O’Keeffe’s home, which is about 7,000 square feet, is one of the largest homes in the town.
When she first came to Abiquiú, she wanted to purchase an old, dilapidated adobe house that dated back to the 1730s but she could not since it was owned by the local Catholic Church and they refused to sell the property to her. She was drawn to this particular plot of land because of its view, the house’s courtyard, and the fact that the land included water rights and she wanted a large garden. More than 15 years later, in 1945, the Church finally relented and sold it to her. It took about 5 years to repair, to renovate, and to modernize the original structure. She added numerous rooms on to the house including her studio. This house became a National Historic Landmark in 1998 and it is currently owned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation. They offer daily tours of the house and the studio. You must make reservations in advance since the tours are limited to 12 people. All the tours leave from the Georgia O’Keeffe Welcome Center.
We toured Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio and also went to Ghost Ranch which is about 15 minutes north of town. Ghost Ranch is located in a beautiful canyon surrounded by red rock cliffs. When Georgia O’Keeffe first visited Ghost Ranch, it was a dude ranch that attracted many famous and wealthy people. Some of her friends invited her to spend the summer in New Mexico. She like it so much that she later purchased a cabin at the ranch. While there, she painted many of the geographical features of this unique landscape.
Today Ghost Ranch is a 21,000 acre retreat and education center. They offer many art classes throughout the year. There is also housing and a dining hall for the guests. Ghost Ranch is also a resupply location for those hiking the Continental Divide Trail. This trail is 3,100 miles long and goes from Mexico to Canada through the Rocky Mountains. We saw many hikers at Ghost Ranch as they were passing through. Ghost Ranch will pick up packages of supplies that have been sent them and bring them out to the hikers.
Some of the things that we enjoyed most at Ghost Ranch were the spectacular views and the trails. There are several trails that lead to some wonderful overlooks and into some box canyons. One day we hiked up to Chimney Rock. From the top of the mesa, we could see the entire valley below, Abiquiú Lake, and the mountains on the other side of the Chama River Valley.
Another afternoon, we hiked the Kitchen Mesa trail into a box canyon. We loved the massive red rock and limestone cliffs. After being out in nature, we certainly understood why Georgia O’Keeffe kept returning to Ghost Ranch to paint.
Our good friends told us not to miss seeing the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. To reach this Benedictine monastery, you must drive 13 miles along a narrow and unpaved road. We were told that it is the most remote monastery in North America. The drive to the monastery follows the Chama River through a wilderness area and there are some magnificent views of the Chama Canyon.
The monastery, that was founded in 1964, abuts a red rock cliff and overlooks the Chama River. As soon as we arrived, we were invited to go to the chapel where they held a prayer service. During this 15-minute worship time, the monks prayed and chanted scripture. There are about 100 monks in residence and many of them are from all over the world. It was a unique experience to visit this monastery. We found it to be a very peaceful place.
Another day we visited Echo Amphitheater. This is a natural amphitheater that has been carved out of the sandstone cliffs. There is a paved trail that leads you into the curved stone cliff where you can speak and hear your voice echoed back to you. There are also picnic areas and a small primitive campground there too.
During our stay in the Abiquiú area, we sampled food in several of the local eateries. One day we drove to the Purple Adobe Lavender Farm and Tea House. Established in 2004, this organic lavender farm is located along the Chama River. We had lunch there and they have a great gluten-free menu. The time that we spent there was very relaxing, the service was great, and we got to speak to the owners of the farm. They also have a gift shop and sell multiple varieties of lavender plants on site. They also have a festival each year in the month of July. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there.
The local general store is called Bode’s. It has been in business since 1893 and they carry a little bit of everything there. Inside the store, there is also a restaurant called Bode’s Kitchen. One day we purchased some tamales and we have to say that they were some of the best that we have eaten in New Mexico.
Behind Bode’s is the Frosty Cow and it serves up some delicious tasting ice cream and other treats. This roadside eatery was always busy every time we passed by there.
We camped at the Corps of Engineers campground at Abiquiú Lake. We really liked this location and the camp hosts and rangers were very friendly. Our campsite overlooked the lake and we saw some amazing sunsets during our stay. Out our back window we also could see the famous Pedernal mesa that Georgia O’Keeffe included in many of her landscapes. O’Keeffe famously said: “God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” She had a special bond with this mesa and, at her death at 98 years old, her ashes were spread on top of Pedernal.
One final note on Georgia O’Keeffe: Her painting, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, still holds the record for the highest price paid for a painting by a female artist. The winning bid of over 44 million dollars was made by none other than the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AR.
We had two great weeks exploring this part of New Mexico. David also had time to complete some RV upgrades and I got to do some painting. Abiquiú is definitely someplace that we hope to visit again.