Splendid Isolation

Jul 12, 2005
Outside Magazine

The rich colors and textures of the canyons and mesas near the village of Abiquiu are nothing short of perfect. This is Georgia O'Keeffe country—the painter first visited in 1917, and more than two decades later she moved here permanently. One look at Abiquiu's 70-year-old adobe church—its bell tower and wooden cross towering against a brilliant blue sky—and it's easy to see why she left New York for these more contemplative environs. I'm tempted to stay here, too.

O'Keeffe had a summer house at Ghost Ranch, 14 miles north of Abiquiu, a 21,000-acre property that is now a Presbyterian retreat center and the gateway to spectacular hiking. I've chosen a five-miler that starts in a cottonwood-filled valley but quickly gains altitude. I hike alongside the trail's hulking namesake: Kitchen Mesa, a 600-foot-high sandstone mass. I negotiate a tricky chimney to the flat mesa top and am rewarded with 360-degree views of Abiquiu Reservoir and the Jemez Mountains.

Later, I ease my pickup down the deeply rutted 13-mile road from Highway 84 in Abiquiu to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, where Benedictine monks keep beehives. The monastery opens its 16-room guesthouse to visitors, who can stay for silent retreat weekends. When I arrive, a smiling Father Bernard gets up from his rocking chair and encourages me to visit their church. I sit in the sacred space, listening to my breath go from shallow to deep. I wonder if O'Keeffe ever spent time at this peaceful place. Somehow I think she could have.

BONUS: Step inside O'Keeffe's winter home, a 5,000-square-foot adobe in Abiquiu ($25, reservations required; 505-685-4539).

DETAILS: Ghost Ranch (505-685-4333, www.ghostranch.org) provides hiking info. Rooms at Christ in the Desert (www.christdesert.org) run $70–$125 per person, with meals.