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.
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.
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.
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.
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.