Day Trips

Tours of Georgia O'Keeffe's home and studio in Abiquiu, N.M., allow guests unique insight into her art and life

Artist's view
Artist's view (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

Georgia O'Keeffe owned two houses during her life, and they were 16 miles apart. Her home and studio in Abiquiu, N.M., allowed her to paint and live among the colorful cliffs of Ghost Ranch year-round. Tours to both sites give visitors unique insight into O'Keeffe's art and life.

Born in Wisconsin and working out of Manhattan, O'Keeffe was already an established painter when she discovered the Piedra Lumbre basin of northern New Mexico while staying in Taos in 1929. The spectacular shapes and colors of the desert and mountains were the dominant inspiration and subject of her art for the last 50 years of her career.

Highway 84, north out of Santa Fe, follows the Chama River for 65 miles before it begins the climb through the cliffs to the high desert plateau. From the road, the cliffs of Ghost Ranch are beautiful layers of red, yellow, gray, and lavender. Up close, the rock walls glow in the afternoon sun. A cousin of the Painted Desert and Monument Valley, Piedra Lumbre has mesmerized many a visitor.

The first residents in the canyons of Rancho de las Brujas were two brothers who tried rustling and robbery as an occupation. By 1929 the name had changed, and it had become a popular dude ranch frequented by wealthy families. The ranch's heyday, 1935 to 1955, came when it was owned by Arthur Pack, the conservationist son of a lumber magnate. The ranch was a vacation home for those with the means to find the oxen skull marking the dirt road to the headquarters.

O'Keeffe made Ghost Ranch famous by capturing in her paintings the spirit of the harsh landscape. In 1940 she purchased the director's house and 7 acres of the 22,000-acre spread. Outside her windows were the Cliffs of Shining Stone and the flat-topped peak of Cerro Pedernal in the distance, which appeared in 28 of her paintings.

Now owned by the Presbyterian Church, the ranch is operated as an education center with lodging and programs open to the public. In 2004 they started an hour-and-a-half tour of some of the sites O'Keeffe painted on the ranch. Comparing her paintings to the actual rock wall provides a look into the artist's vision and a better understanding of O'Keeffe's body of work.

O'Keeffe moved to New Mexico full time after her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, died in 1949. Because her home at Ghost Ranch didn't have suitable soil for a garden, she purchased and renovated an old adobe hacienda on a bluff in Abiquiu overlooking the highway and the Chama River.

Owned by the O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, the Abiquiu home is open to visitors to tour on a limited basis. When she died at 98 in 1986, O'Keeffe had left almost her entire estate, including the two houses, to a young assistant. A contested will froze the Abiquiu house just as she left it.

It almost seems intrusive to walk past the "Beware of Dogs" sign on her gate and look through the large windows into the famous painter's living room. To see how she lived in grand simplicity gives a view into who she was as a person. On the windowsills are her collections of rocks and bones, just as she placed them. Outside the windows are the colorful mountains she looked at a million times.

Reservations for the separate tours of O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu home are required. Ghost Ranch still welcomes overnight guests in the rustic but comfortable accommodations. You don't have to stay in one of the casitas or the bunkhouse to enjoy the hiking trails and museums or to eat in the dining hall. The bus tours to O'Keeffe's back yard (her ranch house isn't open to the public) are on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 1:30pm, mid-March through mid-November, for $25 per person. For information, call 505/685-4333 or go to www.ghostranch.org.

Tours of the Abiquiu home begin at the Abiquiu Inn. No cameras or bags are allowed on the hourlong tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from mid-March through November. For information, call 505/685-4539. Tickets are $30 per person.

854th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Georgia O'Keeffe, Ghost Ranch, Alfred Stieglitz, Arthur Pack

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