Three years ago this week, I was in New Mexico for a photography tour led by Geraint Smith, photographer and guide extraordinaire. The tour group consisted of ten photographer friends from a workshop held a couple years before at the Madeline Island School of the Arts. I’ve written a number of posts about this fun trip. I ask you to join me in another reminiscence of the rugged, largely unblemished territory of northern New Mexico.
The first few days of the tour, Geraint took us to sites and hidden places in Taos and the surrounding area. One morning after an early morning photo shoot followed by a hardy breakfast, we hit the road to Abiquiu some sixty-five miles away. The morning was one of those cool, crisp, nearly cloudless days prevalent in this part of New Mexico. We took the road less-traveled, passing through small towns on our journey. At one of the junctions of two roads, in what seemed the middle of nowhere, we saw this sign, the only one around for miles. Apparently, someone had a pig farm nearby with critters for sale. As we drove along, I never did see the pig farm.
We did make a stop to stretch our legs and take photos in the hamlet of El Rito. The only thing that showed any life at all was the restaurant in the second photo. The sign said it was open but there were neither cars or people around to patronize the place.
On the edge of town was its tallest structure, the Mars Polar Lander. As you can see, it was made of odds and ends recycled from an electronics graveyard. There were even a few of those old egg-shaped iMacs. We didn’t see anyone around, it would have been fun to talk with the designer/builder. Bet he was an interesting, quirky guy.
As we got closer to Abiquiu, we came across the ruins of the chapel, Santa Rosa de Lima. The area was settled by Spanish families who built this church. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places and on property owned by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. It’s interesting to note that visitors leave flowers and memorials for loved ones. It’s considered a sacred and holy place.
We stopped for lunch at Bode’s Mercantile and General Store in Abiquiu. A store, post office, state coach stop, and jail have been on this location since 1890. Bode’s has just about everything including a highly regarded kitchen featuring Southwestern home cooking. I don’t recall what I had to eat but it was very satisfying. After lunch, we took the opportunity to look around the store that sells just about everything necessary to live in the area: fuel, sporting goods, animal feed, groceries, and souvenirs for tourists.
Just up the road from Bode’s, Geraint took us to this place, Penitente Morada of Abiquiu. The Penitente Brothers (men) are a lay, secret, off-shoot of the Spanish American Catholic Church primarily in New Mexico. They meet in moradas such as the one pictured below. The history of the Penitente’s includes the rite of self-flagulation replicating the Passion of Christ before crucification. During our stop, a fellow came by and yelled at us about trespassing on private property. We were standing on the dirt road respecting the Do Not Trespass signs. Geraint told him we had the right to stand on the road, he yelled at us a while longer then drove off spinning his wheels and creating a cloud of dust.
The next stop on our tour was at the Ghost Ranch, a retreat center near Abiquiu. It is well known as the one-time home of modern artist, Georgia O’Keefe. She came to New Mexico from New York City where she was an established artist. She was married to famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz, twenty-four years her senior. When he died, O’Keefe settled permanently in New Mexico using the surrounding landscape as the subject-matter in her many paintings. When she died at age 98, she was cremated and her ashes spread around the Ghost Ranch. O’Keefe was born on a dairy farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin close to Madison. While proud of her roots, she had a rocky relationship with her home town after she became famous. The city named a park after her then invited her to attend a parade and donate a painting, Ms. O’Keefe declined. Did they know her paintings were worth millions? One sold for $44 million a few years ago. In a fit of disappointment at her rejection, the city removed her name from the park. The city later changed their mind and now honors the famous artist with a historical marker, exhibits, and events.
After leaving the Ghost Ranch, we stopped along the highway to photograph this majestic, colorful landscape. It’s on private property so we had to make photos from the road or ditch. It sort of reminds me of the scenery of Monument Valley a few hundred miles to the northwest.
These two photos are of the Rio Chama, a major tributary of the Rio Grande. We stopped at the overlook for photos, I was enthralled with the beauty and the rugged valley through which the river flowed.
It was late in the afternoon when we stopped at the Plaza Blanca, translated to English as “The White Place.” It’s privately owned by an Islam education center and mosque. They graciously allow visitors to view the landscape and hike the many trails. It is said the Georgia O’Keefe drove her Model A Ford to this area to paint the landscape. Like the Ghost Ranch, Plaza Blanca was the backdrop for many western movies and television shows. We spent the better part of an hour photographing the rough terrain, contrasting features, and interesting textures.
The last photo I made that day is below. As the sun was getting lower on the western horizon, a small tree began to cast a large shadow on the sandstone bluff. Three in our group lined up to take a photo of the contrasting shadow, I also took a selfie of the tall shadows of the other photographers, I’m the photographer on the left!
It was a very fun day. If you find yourself in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit. Hope you enjoyed the reminiscence as much as I did.
Until next week, happy virtual travels!