Georgia O’Keeffe, photo courtesy of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico

From Santa Fe to Abiquiu to Ghost Ranch

On Sunday, April 17, I headed out from Albuquerque toward Santa Fe. I met up with my friend Susan who I’ve known since Junior high at JFK airport and together we boarded the plane to Albuquerque. What an overwhelming feeling to be setting out on our New Mexico journey! As I followed the trail to Georgia O’Keeffe’s special places, I would be able to experience her world through my own eyes and senses. It’s different than looking at her artwork which is always an interpretation, an abstraction.

Robin and Susan traveling in style along NM 14, The Turquoise Trail. We spotted this vintage car in downtown Madrid,
an old mining town that has become a fun and funky arts village.

The Back Story

For some time now, I have longed to visit the New Mexico landscape that inspired so many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. And I have also wanted to honor my real mother Shay who also loves Northern New Mexico. Whenever they could, my mom and her second husband John Butasek would travel by car to New Mexico. There they discovered a heart-felt connection to place. So, after our 2020 family trip was canceled due to the pandemic, I knew it was only a matter of time before I fulfilled this travel dream.

Outside of Madrid, New Mexico. We spot another alien!

Following her footsteps: the Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe with a stop in Madrid

We began our travels, with me at the wheel and my friend Susan navigating. I felt the thrill of being an explorer in unknown terrain. While driving our snazzy rental, a red Kia sedan, I tried to imagine O’Keefe in her Model A Ford driving down bumpy unpaved roads in the back country. From Albuquerque, we headed east on a short leg of the old Route 66 to the Turquoise Trail. As we turned onto Highway 14 heading north, the desert terrain opened up before our eyes. Traversing through juniper scrublands with mountains in the far distance, I sensed the vastness of the New Mexico landscape. To me, this land was as different from Maine as possible, save going into outer space. *note the alien we spotted on the outskirts of Madrid!

New Mexico state map highlighting Rt. 14

A side trip: Bandolier National Monument

After spending two days exploring Santa Fe and a day luxuriating in the warm spa waters at the Ojo spa, Susan and I drove to Bandolier National Monument. There we took the loop trail and climbed ladders to peer peeking into the ancient cliff dwellings. Upon leaving Bandolier, we headed farther northwest to Abiquiu, the small village (pueblo) near the Rio Grande River where Georgia O’Keeffe spent the latter portion of her life.

Susan at Bandolier Nat’l Monument, photo credit: Robin Brooks
Robin at Bandolier by the ancient cliff dwellings, photo credit: Susan Niederman

Arriving! Plaza Blanca and O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu

If you are as much of a fan of Georgia O’Keefe’s life story and her artwork as I am, a visit to her home in Abiquiu is a special opportunity. I booked our tour of her home and studio months ahead of time. This turned out to be a good thing because they only take six people at a time and the tours fill up fast. Our visit to her home lasted about an hour and Barbara was a wonderful guide. One day I’ll visit the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. And this is only one of many reasons to return. The pueblos were not open to the public due to Covid, and many other places we wanted to see had limited hours or were closed.

Robin at Plaza Blanca, “The White Place.” photo credit; Susan Niederman

On the house/studio tour, we learned about the history of her home and how O’Keeffe had it lovingly restored and expanded over the course of three years. Interestingly, It took O’Keeffe ten years to wrest the property from the Catholic Church. Ultimately, her persistence and annual financial donations persuaded the church to sell her the property. At the time, the house was in ruins. I found it interesting to learn that Georgia O’Keeffe didn’t move to Abiquiu permanently until she was 63. Prior to that time, O’Keeffe summered at Ghost Ranch, a dude ranch up the road. Today we found Ghost Ranch to be a spacious and beautiful retreat center with two museums and many hiking trails.

photo credit: Susan Niederman

Inspiration from the New Mexican Landscape

Georgia O’Keeffe had many favorite places to paint, including from the windows of her Abiquiu home studio, in the landscape at Ghost Ranch, at the White Place, and in many other spots where she camped. If you’d like to learn more or schedule a tour yourself, please visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum website:

View of the winding Abiquiu Road from the O’Keeffe home. photo credit: Robin Brooks Check out this link to see how she abstracted this view of the roa

A visit to Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu

There is so much to say about her home and its furnishings–how meticulous she was in every detail and how simple yet inviting her spaces were. Much like O’Keeffe’s art, there was no detail left unconsidered in her environment. Everything was intentionally placed and served a purpose, functional or aesthetic. While it was a bit of a disappointment not to see her paints or easel in the studio, everything was left as it was when she died at the age of 99 in 19

The original doors to Georgia O’Keefe’s adobe home in Abiquiu, New Mexico: photo credit: Robin Brooks

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu kitchen window with geraniums, photo credit: Robin Brooks
Her living room where she loved listening to classical music: Photo taken from the atrium through a large plate glass window. Photo credit: Robin Brooks
The back garden in O’Keefe’s Abiquiu home with juniper bushes pruned like bonsai, photo credit: Robin Brooks

O’Keeffe’s studio window in the Abiquiu house, photo credit: Robin Brooks
A view of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home with the black door on the left from the courtyard. Photo credit: Robin Brooks
Georgia’s spring garden, photo credit: Robin Brooks

New Mexico Journey–Trees!

As you probably know, I love looking at trees. Not only are they complex branching structures offering movement and textural contrast, trees provide a sense of scale in the vast New Mexico landscape. As it was early spring in the high desert, many of the trees had not yet leafed out. Dramatically, the sky changed from pure blue in the morning to a gray cloudy and dust-filled space above as the wind raged and howled with gusts that sent tumbleweeds flying into the roadway. That afternoon, the winds knocked out power in the region and forced the Ghost Ranch staff to close many of their trails for the safety of visitors. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the historical museum at Ghost Ranch and took some wonderful photos by the roadside on our way out.

Tree at The White Place, calm morning with clouds moving in. photo credit: Robin Brooks
Tree at Ghost Ranch during the afternoon of the wind storm. photo credit: Robin Brooks
Tree in O’Keefe’s walled garden, Abquiu, photo credit: Robin Brooks

Returning home from my New Mexico journey and next steps

How this journey will influence me remains to be seen. But, for now, I am filled up with the sights, the sounds, the experiences, and the amazing people I met on our travels. While I am still jet-lagged as I write this post, I must say it was a wonderful adventure. And I couldn’t have had a better travel buddy than my friend Susan.

Here’s to old friends and new adventures! ~Robin

Susan and Robin at Bode’s General Store in Abiquiu, New Mexico having coffee on our last morning of the trip.

*Please note: All photos taken at the Georgia O’Keefe Abiquiu home are for my personal use only.