When I got to New Mexico, that was mine. As soon as I saw it, that was my country. Georgia O’Keeffe
There is a sacredness of eternal space and time in the landscapes of New Mexico. Its broad blue sky, vast terrain, rugged mountains of reddish tints mixed with layers of grey and white are awe-inspiring. No wonder Georgia O’Keeffe was so enamored of this seductive landscape! We spent two magnificent days walking in her steps at Ghost Ranch. The massive open spaces around it provided unlimited subjects for her paintings. Walking as she did, admiring the landscape awash in color, we observed the scenery she so deftly interpreted on her canvases.
She was not a realist, nor did she want to be. Rather her paintings are personal interpretations of the images before her. She wanted to paint as no one had before. In that sense, her style is typically American.
We also visited O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu, an old Spanish adobe a few miles southwest of Ghost Ranch. There we got a glimpse into the simplicity and order of her life. Atop a hill that offered expansive views of the natural surroundings, the old home with its seven thousand square feet took three years to renovate. Like Georgia O’Keeffe, we too were seduced by the beauty of the limitless panorama. Although,our visit was short, we got a good feeling of why this place was so special to her. We’d like to come back and stay a week, basking in the tranquility and grander of Ghost Ranch and its environs.
Once our visit to Abiquiu was done, we headed to Mesa Verde in Arizona. About a mile and a half north of Ghost Ranch, the passenger rear tire of our minivan blew to shreds. Melanie was driving and safely steered the vehicle to the shoulder. We immediately called AAA. We learned that we did not have a spare when a tow truck stopped to help us before AAA arrived. Imagine our surprise and dismay! Here we are on a two lane highway, far away from any town, stuck on a desert road with no spare tire. We called AAA again and informed them that we did not have a spare as earlier reported. When the truck arrived, he was willing to tow us to a garage in a town forty-seven miles away, except he could only take two passengers with him. By then it was pouring rain. We finally persuaded him to take Melanie and MariThé back to Ghost Ranch and then return for Christian and me. We bought a tire, returned to Ghost Ranch to pick up MariThé and Melanie and began anew our journey to Mesa Verde.
About an hour before reaching Mesa Verde, we ran into a tremendous hail storm that made visibility difficult and driving through the accumulation of two inches of hail on the ground treacherous. We almost stopped but decided not to because we wanted to reach Mesa Verde before the restaurant closed at 9:30 pm. But that was not the end of our driving difficulties. When we reached Mesa Verde, there was a heavy fog as we climbed in altitude along the remote and tortuous hairpin turns in the dark. We were so happy to arrive safely, we treated ourselves to cocktails before dinner and a good bottle of wine to accompany our meal. We were giddy at dinner, laughing about our day’s misfortunes.
The next day we visited the pre-historic Indian cliff dwelling sites on the Mesa Verde. At the Balcony House, we had to first descend a staircase along the cliff and then after a few yards climb a thirty-foot ladder to reach the dwelling. With my fear of heights, descending the staircase was difficult enough, but I was hesitant to climb the ladder. I also learned that this would be the first of three ladders to climb. So with Melanie’s encouragement, I faced my fears and climbed the ladder. It was an agonizingly slow climb. Thankfully, Melanie climbed beside me, reminding me to keep my eyes forward and not to look down. When I made it to the top ledge, I was overwhelmed with pride. It’s something I thought I could never do. Several people in our group, including the Park Ranger, applauded my success in facing my fear. So this side note is for my friend, Randy Isaacson, who knows my fear of heights — I did it ! If I hadn’t, I would have missed getting a glimpse of how these pre-historic people lived.
Once we left Mesa Verde, we headed to Gallup, New Mexico. Throughout the day there were episodes of pounding rain which made driving difficult. What struck me most as we traversed the large territory that the United States Government ceded to the Indians as the Navajo reservation was the starkness of the parched landscape. The dominant color of the dry land was a dusky red. Along the remote highway we saw strings of trailer settlements and shanty towns. I kept wondering how do these Native People survive in such a desolate place? How are they employed and by whom? From what source does their water and electricity come? What, if any, modern day amenities are available to them? One of the most enduring images I have of our traverse across the Navajo reservation is of the trains of the Santa Fe railroad speeding rapidly across the barren desert, its cars filled with the commercial and industrial advances of the modern world in stark contrast to the poverty of the communities it was passing through. What was most remarkable about this barren, flat, dusky landscape were the massive rock formations that appear to erupt suddenly. They stood majestically tall and broad, isolated and alone every few miles, bearing names like Shiprock and Window Rock depending upon their formations.
As we sped across the reservation, my thoughts were centered on the injustices perpetrated on the Native People since the first European settlers. My mind raced through the events of the forced migration of the Native People and the Trail of Tears. And even today the sacred land of the Dakotas will be besmirched by an oil pipeline. When we stopped for gas, a copy of the Navajo Times caught my attention. In it was an article written by a young Navajo college student about her Navajo identity and her journey to full acceptance of self that deeply moved me. Her story is one that resonates with many minorities living in America.
Once we reached Gallup, New Mexico, we took a one day jaunt to discover Canyon de Chelly with its magnificent scenery. The majestic formations of the rocks swathed in a reddish color, blazed from every direction and held us captive in awe and admiration. We saw the canyon from above at several points in the road.
We would have loved to have taken a jeep tour within the bowels of the canyon. Perhaps, the next time. Imagine the powerful and turbulent forces of nature that shaped these rocks into their current tranquil state. Even the most hardened disbeliever can be moved into a meditative state.
We continued our journey along the Petrified Forest, a reminder of nature’s destructive force millennia ago. What remains now are clusters of petrified wood spread across a vast landscape. The archeologist, John Muir, is one of the pioneering researchers to help preserve this area. The landscape, empty of color, still had a mesmerizing effect, particularly at the thought of what had been.
From the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, we were to visit friends from South Bend who now live in Wickenburg, Arizona before heading to visit Paul, my son, and daughter-in-law, Katie in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, a few days before our scheduled visit we received a phone call from Mary indicating that her oldest son had just passed away suddenly with a heart attack. Our prayers are with the Filberts during this sad period in their lives. At Mary’s suggestion we called other friends from South Bend, John and Martha Borkowski who allowed us to stay in their timeshare in Sedona. So here we are in this beautiful settting, an oasis in the mountains encased by the desert clime of Arizona. Our first night here was a simple meal of salad, wine and cheese. The next day, Christian and MariThé went off to explore the natural surroundings while Melanie and I profited from a tranquil afternoon and morning on the patio that extends into a shaded garden with fragrant aromas of the flowering bushes . Adding to the charm was a fresh, gentle breeze. After two weeks of traveling by car, this was a welcome respite. The evening before we departed we had a delicious meal at Judi’s, a restaurant recommended by the Borkowskis.
From Sedona, we traveled to the Grand Cayon, the mother of all the great National Parks. For our friends from France, the Grand Canyon, was the pièce de résistance, and the primary reason for their southwest tour. Their reactions will be detailed in the next blog, Enchanted Landscapes II.