Abiquiú: More than just O’Keeffe country

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By Jennifer Garcia

Nestled in the hills about 22 miles north of Española sits a village rich in history. It’s a “blink and you might miss it” kind of place, but the scenery surrounding the village is astounding, especially during autumn.
With its red clay, stone formations  and stunning foliage along the Chama River, Abiquiú offers plenty of photo opportunities for visitors.
These days, the area is known as Georgia O’Keeffe country because the New York artist made her home in Abiquiú, but it is steeped in history tied to the Abiquiú Genízaro Land Grant.
In the 1730s, the Spanish began to settle the area known today as Abiquiú. By the 1740s, the community of Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiú had been established on the low lands next to the Chama River. Raids by Comanche and Ute Indians in 1747 caused the abandonment of Abiquiú, according to newmexicohistory.org. The website further states that Gov. Codallos assembled over 500 soldiers and militia pueblo Indians to march against the Utes and Comanches, which resulted in the killing of 12 inhabitants, livestock running off and crops and acequias being destroyed. Prisoners were recaptured and 1,000  head of horses as well as livestock were brought back, along with 206 prisoners.
In 1754, Genízaro founded a pueblo on the present mesa-top, half a mile from Santa Rosa de Lima. He called the pueblo Tomas de Abiquiú. Fray Juan José Toledo, a minister from 1756-1771, built a convento and put up the walls for a church. Later, in 1773, Fray Sebastian Angel Fernandez finished the church. Unfortunately, the church of Santo Tomas de Abiquiú burned down in 1867.
After more struggles in an effort to settle the area, the Abiquiú Land Grant was submitted to the Court of Private Land Claims in 1892 and was confirmed in 1894. In 1935, a new church replaced the old one and was also dedicated to Santo Tomas. By 1953, the population of Abiquiú was 621. In 2000, the population was 1,272.
These days, tourists and native New Mexicans visit Abiquiú because of its unique offerings.
A Georgia O’Keeffe and Ghost Landscape Tour will guide visitors through the area she lived in, loved, explored and painted.
The Ghost Ranch Conference Center offers anthropology and paleontology museums. It was once known as the Ghost Ranch Living Museum, which was a popular field trip destination for area elementary students. The museum featured living animals, but has since been converted to the conference center.
Another popular spot for area locals and tourists alike is the Echo Canyon Amphitheater, just up the road from the Ghost Ranch Conference Center. Echo Canyon is located in the Carson National Forest and is a natural stone amphitheater, formed over many thousands of years. Visitors can enjoy a picnic at the foot of the cliffs, where tables are provided. Children and adults seem to enjoy standing in the canyon and screaming, whistling and making noise, just to hear their echo come back to them.
There is a lake nearby that has become a popular recreation area in the summer for fishing, boating and water sports.
Those interested in the diverse landscape should visit Plaza Blanca. The area was featured in a series of O’Keeffe’s paintings titled, “The White Place.” Here visitors will find various sandstone formations, which appear to be white; a stark contrast to the red clay that is found around Abiquiú.
In addition, Abiquiú is also home to Christ in the Desert Monastery, a Benedictine Abbey. Visitors are welcome at the Monastery, which embraces people of all faiths.
There are two convenience stores in Abiquiú that offer supplies for those heading to the lake, or out for a picnic or hike: Trujillo’s Store and Bode’s General Store. There are also a couple of bed and breakfasts for those who would like to make more than just a day trip out of their Abiquiú experience.