An Enchanted Expedition
Trailing Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico
Posted on February 1, 2018
I’ve found over the years that the best way to plan a trip is to talk to locals. On our last sortie to the Land of Enchantment, my husband and I let Georgia O’Keeffe be our guide. The artist made the first of many trips to Northern New Mexico in the summer of 1929 and fell in love with the classic adobe architecture, stark landscape, and quality of the light. These things took her work in a new direction, and for the next two decades she spent part of most years living and working there. She made the state her permanent home in 1949. Since she passed away in 1986, I couldn’t exactly have a conversation with O’Keeffe, but her paintings spoke to me and told me what she liked best.
Abiquiu, the White Place & Ghost Ranch
O’Keeffe first saw “her” house in Abiquiu, 48 miles northwest of Santa Fe, in the 1930s. It was owned by the Catholic Church and they didn’t want to sell. She pursued; they relented in 1945, and she spent the next several years restoring it. Portions of the flat-roofed, single story adobe structure date from the 1730s. O’Keeffe added mid-century features such as large windows and skylights. She lived there until 1984, and the property was designated a National Historic
Landmark in 1998.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio is owned and managed by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, through which guided tours can be arranged. Walking through the rooms, I had the feeling that she’d just stepped out and might be back any minute. Her clothes are still in the closet, and her teapots are still on a shelf in the kitchen. The tour included places I expected to see, like the black patio door she painted over and over, and some things I didn’t expect, including a fallout shelter that was added in the ’60s. The artist loved her garden, which is being maintained by a team of student interns. okeeffemuseum.org
Gazing out the large picture window in her bedroom, I noticed a swath of light-colored rock in the far distance. “Oh that,” the guide said. “That’s her White Place. She loved those mountains and painted them many times.”
That night, we stayed nearby in a spacious casita at the rustic Abiquiu Inn and enjoyed the Southwest décor and cozy fireplace. The screened porch provided a view of pastureland leading to mountains in the distance.
The White Place that O’Keeffe saw from her bedroom was about four miles from the Abiquiu Inn over mostly unpaved road. At first sight, the massive sandstone formations left us almost speechless. Having stopped for “a ten-minute look,” we ended up hiking in the area for nearly two hours. One section of the cliffs, which appear almost white in the full afternoon sun, reminded me of the Forum in Rome. But spiritually, the place had the aura of Ayers Rock in Central Australia.
Back on Highway 84, we drove 16 miles north through magnificent red rock formations and desert landscapes to Ghost Ranch. O’Keeffe liked to spend summer and fall at her home here and was often preoccupied with painting flat-top Pedernal Mountain, which lies to the south. She referred to it as “my private mountain” and often said, “God told me if I painted it enough, he’d give it to me.”
Today, Ghost Ranch is a sprawling church-owned retreat center. Guided tours provide an opportunity to stand where the artist was when she painted Pedernal and other now-familiar landscape features. Trail rides and movie tours are also offered. City Slickers and The Magnificent Seven we both filmed here.
Where to Stay & Dine
Near the Abiquiu Inn, we enjoyed a light lunch in the shade of a cottonwood tree at the Purple Adobe Lavender Farm. We also picked up snacks at Bode’s General Store, where O’Keeffe would shop for groceries and fill the tank of her old car.
In Santa Fe, we liked our dinner at Pasqual’s, a charming café in the heart of downtown. And, as always, we stayed at wonderful Las Palomas, an authentic Santa Fe inn with a helpful staff and complimentary cooked-to-order breakfasts. The original artwork and sculptures throughout the property capture the Southwest spirit. I feel certain Ms. O’Keeffe would approve. laspalomas.com Elizabeth Hansen
Georgia O’Keeffe Portrait: image courtesy of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum collection All other Photography courtesy of Adams/Hansen Stock Photos