The small hamlet of Abiquiu New Mexico would go virtually unnoticed if not for Georgia O’Keeffe. She literally put the place on the map. The iconic American modernist first visited Ghost Ranch, north of the village of Abiquiu New Mexico, in 1934. She spent at least part of the year at the ranch every year after that for the next five decades. She found a derelict house in the village and tried for years to buy the home from its owners, the Santa Fe Archdiocese. They finally agreed in 1945. The restoration, done under the supervision of her friend Maria Chabot, took about four years. O’Keeffe moved there permanently in 1949 and split her time between her Abiquiu village home and Ghost Ranch.
Today, many visitors to Santa Fe include the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio Tour and Ghost Ranch on their itineraries. Two important things to be aware of: her seasonally-open Abiquiu home can be toured by reservation only; her home on Ghost Ranch, Rancho de los Burros isn’t open to the public. The Northern New Mexico landscape that entranced O’Keeffe and lured her to the area is visible as you drive through what has been dubbed “Georgia O’Keeffe Country.” It’s worth the trip just for the starkly beautiful landscape, but there are a host of other attractions in the area that visitors can enjoy.
Take our driving tour of Abiquiu arranged when approaching from the south on US Highway 84.
The White Place
The first stop is Plaza Blanca (the White Place) inspired several well-known Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. It sits northeast of US 84 on land belonging to Dar al Islam, an Islamic education center. The center welcomes the public to visit the site. They ask that visitors be respectful and leave things as they found them. It’s a great place to hike and take photos. The terrain, once ocean-bottom, is very sandy.
To get there look for the sign for El Rito (State Road 554) on your right. After crossing the Rio Chama make an immediate left onto Rio Arriba County Road 0155. Continue for about 3 miles until you see the entrance to Dar al Islam on the right. Now you’ll be driving on a dirt road; when the road forks, go right. You’ll have to walk a short distance to Plaza Blanca.
These other-worldly limestone formations inspired O’Keeffe. It was a favorite spot of hers to draw and paint. The rock formations may look familiar; they were a location for the 2010 Hollywood bomb, Cowboys and Aliens as well as other films,. This summer the latest installment of the Wolverine film series, starring Hugh Jackman, was shooting here. From here you either have to back-track to County Road 554. Turn right when you reach US 84.
Santa Rosa de Lima Church
The ruins of Santa Rosa de Lima Church, built in the 1740s, is worth a visit. hey are on your right just after mile market 10. It’s at the site of the first Abiquiu settlement, abandoned after only a few years due to an attack by the Ute Indians. The church’s skeletal remains are interesting to explore and photograph.
Purple Adobe Lavender Farm
Just past the ruins of the church, look for the sign for the Purple Adobe Lavender Farm. It will be on your right. Besides growing fields of lavender, they make and sell body products and more from their annual crop at their charming shop. They also have a seasonal café.
Bode’s General Store
Hungry? Stop for lunch at Bode’s General Store and try one of their signature green chile cheeseburgers. The Travel Channel’s Burger Land featured them in an episode a few years back. Host George Motz and Santa Fe food writer, Rob DeWalt, who passed away earlier this year, sampled the acclaimed burgers for the camera. Besides the no-frills lunch counter and dining area, the busy neighborhood hub stocks groceries, hardware, housewares, souvenirs and gas.
Historic Abiquiu New Mexico Plaza
Across Highway 84 from Bode’s you’ll see the U.S. Post Office. Take the road that goes past it to the town plaza. If you like tribal art, stop at Bosshard Gallery in the historic complex that housed the town’s original general store, Grant’s Mercantile, which opened in 1890. Martin Bode worked there and later bought the store and changed the name.
Walk around the historic Abiquiu New Mexico plaza and get a feel for the tiny village which is mostly unchanged from when O’Keeffe lived a short walk away. Check out St. Thomas the Apostle Church and the sign for the now-defunct café. Visit Galería de Don Cacahuate to see the work of local carver Leopoldo Garcia who learned carving from his father, octogenarian Napoleon Garcia, a wonderful carver and raconteur. The elder Garcia, until recently, ran a shop at the south end of the plaza that welcomed visitors with a big sign reading “TOURIST INFORMATION.” He always had great stories to share including some about O’Keeffe for whom he worked on and off for decades. The shop is closed. He’s in hospice care after a series of strokes last year. If you want to “hear” his stories you can buy his book The Genizaro & the Artist at Bode’s.
Highway 84 north will lead you to the entrance to Ghost Ranch. As you ascend toward the ranch, the landscapes’ colors change from white to red. You’re on the Colorado Plateau, a vast area that includes northwestern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah and northern Arizona, including Grand Canyon. Looking at the stunning rock formations and the high desert colors you may understand why it captivated O’Keeffe and catalyzed her move to Abiquiu. She spent part of the year at the ranch starting in 1935. In 1940 O’Keeffe purchased Ranchos de los Burros, the former home of ranch owner Arthur Pack. She loved the view from her property of the Pedernal, a mountain to the west with a unique rock formation at its summit. She famously said, “It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” Her ashes were scattered atop the mountain.
Ghost Ranch, with the exception of Rancho de los Burros which belongs to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, is now a Presbyterian conference center. While the artist’s house is off limits, you can get a glimpse of it on Ghost Ranch’s O’Keeffe Landscape Tour (reservations strongly recommended). With some careful planning, O’Keeffe fans can schedule both the Home and Studio Tour and the O’Keeffe Landscape Tour on the same day. The ranch, location for many Hollywood films, offers a tour of movie sites as well as other tours. Ghost Ranch also offers great hiking opportunities.
The ranch is home to the Hayden Quarry know which has yielded rich paleontological finds including the 1947 discovery of Coelophysis (SEE-low-FY-sis), and Tawa Hallae (ta-wa-hay-lee) discovered in 2009, who roamed the area during the Triassic Age, about 220 million years ago. You can learn about them at the ranch’s Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology. You’ll find the information on tours and visiting the ranch, including fees, on their website.
Beyond Ghost Ranch
If you want to make a longer day of it, head up US 84 to Echo Amphitheater, a National Park Service site. The natural rock formation creates an echo. Yell “hello” and “hello, hello, hello” comes back to you. Makes me smile every time! There is an admission fee.
Knitters, weavers and weaving lovers will love Tierra Wools in Los Ojos about a 45 minites north of Ghost Ranch. The shop is housed in the historic T.D Burns’ Trading Post, built in 1895. Discover yarn hand-dyed dyed from locally raised sheep wool, as well as finished weavings created by local artisans. You may even catch some weavers working at their looms in the large back room or perhaps someone will be working in the dying area. On the way back, stop at Tierra Amarilla, the Rio Arriba County seat, and grab coffee or tea at Three Ravens Coffee House, where the locals hang out.
Returning to Santa Fe
If you don’t want to retrace your steps back on Highway 84, head across US 64, a bit south of Tierra Amarilla, to Tres Piedras. The seasonally-open road affords stunning scenery. It adds a bit onto your trip, but it’s worth it. When you hit US 285 you can either continue east on 64 to Taos or make a right on 285 and head back to Santa Fe.
Abiquiu has a lot to offer. You can do this as a day trip if you don’t take any of the tours. If you add in tours, you may want to spend the night. Ghost Ranch offers modest accommodations and there are bed and breakfasts and other accommodations available in the area.
Have you visited Abiquiu New Mexico?
Read more about Georgia O’Keeffe Country here.