A Five Day Painting Adventure to Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
Photo of the Rio Chama Overlook near Abiquiu
The shift in the landscape between Abiquiu and Santa Fe is dramatic and unexpected for the short distance of only about 50 miles between them. The Abiquiu vistas of wide, colorful mesas and buttes striated in red, yellow and white were formed throughout a complicated series of volcanoes, deposition of sediment, deformation and uplifts millions of years ago. Like rings in a tree, each layer tells the story of its time in history.
Opportunities for outdoor painters are plentiful - 360 degree panoramas, iconic rock formations, intimate river views framed by giant cottonwoods and the turquoise water of Abiquiu Lake. New Mexico is well known for its wind and piercing sun. Umbrellas are needed to shade canvas and palette, but can be unstable in the strong winds. The elevation in the Abiquiu area is about 6,000’. Here are some of our favorite, easy to access painting locations in the area.
1. Ghost Ranch: The Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center offers the inspirational views that Georgia O’Keeffe painted, including the mountain she considered her own - Cerro Pedernal. The Center http://www.ghostranch.org provides lodging and meal plans, but even if you are not staying there, the public is welcome to use the hiking trails, visit the anthropology and paleontology museums, view the dinosaur bones and buy a lunch ticket. Artists are asked to check in at the Welcome Center and to pay a $10 fee for painting on the property. For a fee, the Center offers a guided tour in-season to view the landscapes that Georgia O’Keeffe painted. O’Keefe’s summer house and studio on the property are not open to the public and are owned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and Study Center in Santa Fe.
One of the most expansive views for painting is from the entry driveway. There is easy access and a pullover for parking.
Photograph of the Ghost Ranch Panoramic Landscape
Photo of Chimney Rock Students Painting the Ghost Ranch Vista
Many other interesting painting locations can be found on the hiking trails at the ranch. Hikers are required to check in at the main office before setting out and checking back in upon return. Trail maps are available.
The most popular hikes are to Chimney Rock, Box Canyon and Kitchen Mesa. Because the formations are primarily composed of soft and disintegrating sandstone or gypsum, hikers are warned not attempt to climb any rock formation or stray from clearly marked trails. Sun protection and plenty of water are required.
Here is a description of those hikes from Ghost Ranch literature: Chimney Rock: The trailhead for this most popular hike is located at the arroyo behind the Museums and past the Corral Block complex. Cross the arroyo and follow the trail up the ridge. From the top there is an excellent view of the Piedra Lumbre basin. This hike of 1 1/2 -- 2 hours has wonderful views as the trail climbs from 6,500 to 7,100 feet. (Round trip -- 3 miles) Box Canyon: Follow the road to Long House (by car if you wish). Continue past the Kitchen Mesa trail, the hogans and the upper irrigation pond. Follow trail signs up the canyon. At a small pool, cross the arroyo where the trail continues on the right bank and takes you over large rocks to the box of the canyon. For a shorter hike, turn back at the small pool. This hike follows a gently uphill grade from 6,400 to 6,900 feet. (Round trip -- 4 miles)
Kitchen Mesa: (Entrada cliffs above the Dining Hall) The marked trail begins just past the chain across the road at Long House (see Box Canyon guide). The trail goes behind Kitchen Mesa before it ascends to the top. This more difficult hike includes a 15-foot chimney through a cleft in the cliff. The 3-4 hour trip climbs from 6,500 to 7,100 feet. (Round trip -- 5 miles)
2. Echo Amphitheater: Echo Amphitheater is a challenging subject to paint. The unusual concave rock formation has a dazzling panoply of colors, ever-changing as shadows cross the rocks. There is a short hiking trail to enter the “amphitheater”, where one can truly call out and hear the returning echo. As artists, we found that setting up from a distance gave us the more paintable view. The National Forest Service manages the facility, which includes picnic tables and camping sites. A $2.00 day-use fee is asked.
Photos of Echo Amphitheater
Echo Amphitheater Study by John Hulsey
Photo of the View from Echo
Photo of Rock Formations at Echo Amphitheater
3. Abiquiu Lake: There are multiple excellent painting opportunities around the reservoir and opportunities to paint the reflections of the surrounding mountains and mesas. The 4,000 acre reservoir was constructed in 1963. Picnic tables, pull-offs and public restrooms are available all around the lake.
Cerro Pedernal Peak is prominent in the view looking across the lake to the southwest. The flat-topped sentinel rises to over 9,800 feet and was a primary inspiration for Georgia O’Keeffe. Working from a high view on the northeast side of the lake, we had opportunities to paint every direction, including the imposing Pedernal.
Photograph of Cerro Pedernal Photo Overlooking Lake Abiquiu
Oil Studies by Ann Trusty
A serpentine road takes you below the dam to a more sheltered view along the outflow from the lake. Groves of cottonwoods flank the banks adding contrasting bright green notes to the warm rock colors. A sign warns visitors to beware of sirens which indicate the imminent release of water into the Chama outflow!
Photos of the Rio Chama Below the Abiquiu Lake Dam
4. Forest Service Road 151: Traveling north on I-84, a few miles past the entrance to Ghost Ranch, turn west (left) onto Forest Service Road 151. The road eventually follows the Chama River and becomes winding, steep and narrow at some points. The clay surface of the road can be slippery after rain. We found a tremendous panoramic view to paint shortly after turning down the road where there was ample room for parking and setting up.
Photos of the Magnificent View from Forest Service Road 151
Near Ghost Ranch Oil John Hulsey
Photos of Rafters near Big Eddy, Rio Chama, N.M.
About six miles or so from the entrance on FS Road 151 is a take-out point for rafters called "Big Eddy". There is also a campground nearby.
Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, built in 1964, is a total of thirteen miles from the entrance of FS 151. It is helpful to have a high clearance vehicle to go that far. The Monastery welcomes artists to paint on their property.
5. The Rio Chama: The Chama River is about 130 miles long beginning in Colorado and flowing into the Rio Grande in New Mexico. There are multiple locations for painting along the river.The stunning, panoramic Rio Chama Overlook is only a few miles west of Abiquiu, on the south side of highway 84, and has room for only two cars, at most. Do not try to cross from the north-bound lane to park. Traffic comes around the curve very suddenly, so exercise extreme caution when parking there. We recommend that you drive to the top of the canyon before attempting to turn around and park there from the south-bound lane. Evening light is sublime, as you can see in our photo at the top of this article.
Photos of Tamarisks along the Rio Chama Photo of Sunrise, Abiquiu
Photos of Sunrise Moments at the Abiquiu Inn
Photos of Workshop Class Painting under the old Cottonwoods at the Abiquiu Inn
There are some very nice accommodations in the area. We enjoyed staying at the Abiquiu Inn, along with most of our workshop students. They have a large property, with a park in the center dominated by some lovely, shady old Cottonwood trees. The Inn also has a very good restaurant and a large gift shop full of crafts and art by local artisans.
We are drawn to the Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch area because of its spectacular landscapes and seemingly unlimited subjects to paint. Taking workshop students there is an added bonus. We enjoyed a great group on this workshop and, as always, we think that we learned as much from them as they from us.
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We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals. You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below. About AnnAbout John Hulsey Trusty Studios We are also regular contributors to the Plein Air blog at Artist Daily.