The best trips are sometimes those that are not planned. You leave home with the idea to visit a place, but come back with an experience that has transformed your life. That’s what happened to me in New Mexico within the landscapes of Georgia O’Keeffe.
I traveled there wanting to wander around the beautiful city of Santa Fe, but ended up relishing three incredible places that the artist captured in her paintings: Plaza Blanca, Ghost Ranch and the Chama River.
My encounter with this stunning scenery was possible thanks to the generosity of photographer Lee Manning, who offered to be my guide two days before my return.
I met him at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, where he works as a volunteer. There he gave me an interesting lesson about the museum’s art pieces, including a couple of paintings by O’Keeffe. To my great fortune, I would visit those places the very next day.
Plaza Blanca Reveals Its Great Beauty
Plaza Blanca (White Place) is located in the Chama River valley, about an hour north of Santa Fe. Its obelisk 60-feet high rocks are the result of millions of years of erosion.
The place is astonishing. The monumental white rocks made me feel in the middle of a sacred place that immediately encouraged me to reflect.
The silence is absolute. Manning and I were the only visitors. But far from intimidating, stillness and solitude create a pleasant sense of peace that arouses a sense of gratitude for nature.
Plaza Blanca became famous in 1940 with an O’Keeffe’s painting bearing the title “From the White Place”, an oil on canvas that shows the amazing limestone formations of this place.
When O’Keeffe found Plaza Blanca, near what would become her second home in the village of Abiquiu, it was natural to call it “The White Place” by the white color of the huge rocks.
Ghost Ranch, Spectacular Views
About 16 miles northwest of Plaza Blanca is Ghost Ranch, another place with beautiful scenery in which O’Keeffe had her first home. It covers an area of 21,000 acres.
The rock formations of Ghost Ranch also have millions of years of geological history. Unlike Plaza Blanca, its extraordinary natural beauty includes canyons of colorful layered rocks and cliffs, open desert, vast meadows and streams.
In 1940 O’Keeffe bought a house on eight acres at Ghost Ranch. The views are spectacular and can be seen in many of her paintings, like Cerro Pedernal, a plateau which can be seen in the distance, as well as stratified cliffs up to 700 feet tall. On the desert floor she discovered many bleached bones of wild life which also became part of her paintings.
Today Ghost Ranch facilities are a retreat and educational center that offer conferences and guided tours, including several tours to learn about the landscapes O’Keeffe reflected in her paintings.
O’Keeffe’s house at Ghost Ranch is not open to the public. But her house and studio in Abiquiu, purchased by the artist in 1945, can be visited from March to November by appointment only through the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.
The Meandering Blue Waters of the Chama River
One of O’Keeffe’s paintings which I saw on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art of is “Blue River” (Chama River), 1937.
The Chama River is a major tributary of the Rio Grande and it flows through the states of Colorado and New Mexico, including the village of Abiquiu. The river is about 135 miles long in total and originates in south-central Colorado, just above the New Mexico border.
Manning parked his car on the roadside so that we could watch the river from a similar angle to that used by O’Keefe in her paintings. The view was stunning. It was difficult to stop taking pictures and continue our journey.
O’Keeffe Reveals Many Great Secrets
O’Keeffe first came to northern New Mexico in 1929. And like me, she quickly became captivated by the light and forms of the high desert.
During this short but amazing trip I had an important revelation: I will continue traveling and writing about the amazing world we live in.
Manning, whom I have the privilege to count among the friends with whom I share my passion for travel, helped me see New Mexico with O’Keeffe’s eyes.
Now I have the perfect excuse to return to New Mexico and learn more about the beautiful city of Santa Fe. I’m dying to see it with my new eyes!