Abiquiu to Albuquerque: Art Meets the Great Outdoors

Church at Ghost Ranch

Woo hoo! This week I am exploring New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley between the Sangre De Cristos and the Jemez Mountains in the northern part of the state. The region’s largest cities are Taos in the north, Santa Fe in the middle, and Albuquerque in the south. But forget about them for now. This is about a few of the little guys.

The backyard of my hotel in Abiquiu.

After a night in (touristy, lovely, expensive) Santa Fe to wait out another snow storm, my first official stop was Abiquiu, in the northwest corner of the Valley. Although Abiquiu is tiny, it is big in the art world. Georgia O’Keeffe lived for the last 12 years of her life in Abiquiu and up the road at Ghost Ranch, a remote valley that is now a 21,000 acre retreat center. Georgia O’Keeffe has been called the “Mother of American Modernism.” She’s best known for paintings of large flowers, but many of her best paintings (IMO) are scenes at Ghost Ranch.

Purple hills at Ghost Ranch by Kim Malcolm

Purple Hills Ghost Ranch-2 / Purple Hills No II, 1934 by Georgia O'Keeffe - Paper and Canvas Print - Georgia O'Keeffe Museum - Custom Prints Store

Purple Hills at Ghost Ranch by Georgia O’Keeffe

The Abiquiu Inn is a wonderful place to stay. It’s friendly and quiet and nicely designed, with a restaurant that has vegetarian options and outdoor seating.

Because of the pandemic, the attractions that normally draw visitors to Abiquiu, including Ghost Ranch and a couple of small museums, are closed except horseback riding at Ghost Ranch. Twist my arm! The weather was freezing and the pace was slow, but we had a wonderful ride. The ranch is stunning, with varied geology and dinosaur fossils and sweeping views of the valley. Our wrangler was a gifted story-teller. I especially liked his anecdote about a special gift Andy Warhol gave to O’Keeffe. During a visit to her Ghost Ranch casita when O’Keeffe was traveling, Warhol signed his name on O’Keeffe’s refrigerator. When O’Keeffe returned home, her housekeeper apologized for how much time she’d spent cleaning the graffiti someone left on the refrigerator. Oops.

Abiquiu also has some great hikes. I made the short but inspiring trek up the hill to the Poshuouinge Ruins. The trailhead was “just past the Dollar Store on the other side of the trailer house.” There isn’t much left of the ruins, but there’s this incredible view from the top of the hill.

Next day heading south, I stopped in Espanola for a short visit. Espanola is a lot of fast food and car repair shops, and struggling families. I went there because Espanola has tried to build community with public art. Most of the murals I found depict the traditions of local tribes, the natural landscape, and farming. They are beautiful in the ways they speak to the community.

Espanola mural

Espanola mural

From Espanola, I continued south past Santa Fe on Highway 14, the backroad to Albuquerque called the “Turquoise Trail.” The road meanders through isolated valleys and foothills, perfect for my open road playlist (Three of my favorite driving-through-nature songs are “One Tree Hill” by U2, “Song to the Moon,” from Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” and Pat Methany’s “Letter from Home.” All hymn-like but in very different ways)  Along the road, some of the local residents have installed large sculptures in their yards. I stopped at one that was especially audacious and reminded me of a less refined version of Noah Purifoy’s yard near Joshua Tree. https://kimmie53.com/2021/02/09/joshua-tree-and-the-backroad-to-sin-city/#more-16423. The property seemed abandoned and the artist doesn’t give you many clues about who he is, but, I thought, maybe that’s part of the fun. I put $6 in the donation box.

Welcome deer at welcome fence at an outdoor gallery on Highway 14

Horses at outdoor gallery on Highway 14

The roadside art work was a warm up for the little town of Madrid (pronounced MAD’rid), also on the Turquoise Trail.  Abandoned for years after the closure of a local coal mine, it’s been appropriated by a group of artists and bohemians who have turned the whole town into one big and very funky gallery, with cafes and shops of antiques, crafts, and fine arts. The John Travolta film, “Wild Hogs,” featured scenes in Madrid, but spoiler alert it’s not a very good movie.

I arrived in Albuquerque last night for a five-day layover. I’m not sure why I decided to stay here that long, but it’s a good time to do laundry, re-organize the back of my car, and stock up at Trader Joe’s before the drive east through a long stretch of food desert.

God gives us each a song. – Ute Proverb


  1. Great writeup of this portion of your epic journey. The photos are spectacular as befitting the marvels you are seeing. Of particular note for me is your photo of Ghost Ranch’s purple hills viz a viz O’Keefe’s great painting. Wow! I also was fascinated by the murals in Espanola. But I wish you recounted more of the tales told by the Ghost Ranch horse wrangler. He sounds like a living treasure.

    This trip is growing into something really extraordinary Kim. It’s already provided adventures and required the sort of on the fly adjustments which only occur when one is “on the road” with no truly fixed schedule or agenda. It’s taken you to a myriad of wondrous places with astounding vistas and unique pieces highlighting different arts of different eras. I can’t wait to see what’s next in store for you. Jack K. would be proud.

      1. OTR just about destroyed me when I read it in high school. Some people find it funny. Some think it’s romantic. I thought post WW2 anomy dominated the book, its absurdities were ludicrous and it was very misogynist (even for 17 year old me). Overall it left me terribly depressed with a sense that life might not be worth living (and that only deepened when I moved on to Sartre and the existentialists). I’m forever thankful to Tolkein for saving me in ’62 from a life of utter despair.

        So yes— PLEASE read it and tell my your thoughts. lol

  2. Wow! Loved this post. I love, love Georgia O’Keefe and will definitely visit Ghost Ranch one day. Loved the wrangler’s story – I wonder if O’Keefe was mad. Love the murals and it’s always great to explore sleepy towns. That is so funny about Jack K. I, too, have never finished On the Road either and have tried several times. And, like Vic, I moved on to Sartre and other and was just delighted Tolkien and still have ally Tolkien books! Small world… Your trip sounds serendipitous (well some of it anyway) which totally fits you and they really are the best kind of road trips! Looking forward to your next post. 💜

    1. Hey Barb, I never moved on to Sartre! Except for this: ” In my journey to the end of night, I must rely not only on dialectical paths of reason. I must have a good solid automobile, one that eschews the futile trappings of worldly ennui and asks only for basic maintenance. My Dodge Dartre offers me this elemental solace, and as interior parts fall off I am struck by the realization of their pointlessness. I might not know if the window is up or down. It is of no consequence.” HAHA. Big hugs.

  3. Kim, I loved your descriptions and photos, especially the outdoor art. I was hoping you’d go through Truth Or Consequences, where I was born, or Elephant Butte, where I spent the first few years of my life, or even El Paso, where my family moved when I was 5. But they are not scenic or even interesting – except of course Beto O’Rourke. Onward!

    1. Hi Ellen, For awhile there, El Paso and TorC (and Marfa) were on my itinerary but then I dreaded the thought of that drive across Texas. So I’m going to take a northerly route through the Ozarks. Yes, gotta love Beto! xoxox

    1. I certainly have enjoyed the vistas. My only regret is not being able to visit the several museums explaining and showing O’Keeffe’s work. But I certainly got a sense of what inspired her at Ghost Ranch.

  4. Beautiful Kim. I’m seeing a wonderful coffee table book emerging – Public Art Across the US. Keep enlightening us!

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