When I told a friend (a native of New Mexico) about my plans to drive up from Santa Fe to Chama, New Mexico, she began telling me about a place she described as the most beautiful spot in the state. That’s a lot to ask for, in a state like New Mexico. She couldn’t remember exactly where she had seen this place, but she was certain it was on the road to Chama. She described this place, and days later, I set off on a mission to find it. That place was on US Hwy. 84, near Abiquiu.
US 84 is a nice drive, but not awe-inspiring beautiful, until you get away from the sprawl of Santa Fe, then pass through Espanola. Once that’s all in your rear-view, the road draws closer to the mountains, and eventually, straight into the middle of them. I snapped a picture of these hills about an hour north of Camel Rock, just before entering the town of Abiquiu.
The center of Abiquiu is just off US 84. Drive slowly along the town’s dirt streets to see St. Thomas Church, an old adobe beauty.
Here’s another picture of the church’s adobe walls.
One important site that I missed as I was driving around Abiquiu is the former home of Georgia O’Keeffe. The artist moved here from New York in 1949, and lived here until 1984, just two years before her death (at age 98). O’Keeffe is likely New Mexico’s most famous artist, and much of her work came from the inspiration she gathered from the landscape around Abiquiu. If you want to take a tour of her home, you can contact the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. They now own O’Keeffe’s home, and provide tours only by reservation.
Back on US 84, north of Abiquiu, the scenery continues to become more dramatic. Ahead, the road climbs the edge of a hill, and that “most beautiful spot” that my friend told me to look for, awaits.
But before I climbed the hill, I stopped at this strange blue adobe structure at the side of the road. It was no bigger than a 10 foot cube, not counting the dome on the top. Judging from the makeshift cross in front, I can only imagine that it’s some kind of chapel. It was behind a fence, so I didn’t go any closer.
After investigating the strange, tiny chapel (or whatever it was), I started climbing the hill that loomed ahead. As I drove up the hill, I looked out, and saw this:
Yes, this must have been the place my friend had told me about. She said there was a river running between the mountains…
… through a valley filled with farmland. This place is called Red Wash Canyon, and there was no question in my mind that it’s the spot my friend had described.
Taking pictures of it wasn’t easy, though. I had to park at the side of the road (there’s enough space for one car to pull off, next to the southbound lane), then walk up the hill, in between passing traffic and the guardrail. (Notice the old cable-and-post guardrail behind the modern one. That’s a good upgrade!)
While the view from the road here was great, I found that this cut through the hillside merely marked the beginning of extraordinary scenery that continued all the way to Chama, and beyond.
No wonder Georgia O’Keeffe was so inspired by this region! Every color you could imagine awaited in the miles ahead.
The Abiquiu Reservoir lies just to the west of US 84. From here, the water runs through a dam and down into Red Wash Canyon.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.