Repeat visitors to the Santa Fe area often seek out new and unexplored adventures. We had a chance recently to do just that, heading up the Chama River valley toward Abiquiu. It is about an hour north of Santa Fe, and well worth a day trip.
This charming little town, at first glance, seems like a wide spot on the highway. We have all seen those – a quick glance at 50 miles an hour and continuing on to the “real” destination. But stopping in Abiquiu is really worth the time. There are a number of hidden gems that don’t take a lot of excavating to unearth.
First a little background, in order to put this town in perspective. Abiquiu was founded over 250 years ago by escaping Native American slaves. The Ute, Navajo, and Jicarilla Apache tribes would send war bands down the Chama River valley, which intersects with the Rio Grande river valley near Santa Fe. These war bands would roam up and down the Rio Grande, raiding and taking captives from the pueblos in the area. Those captives would become slaves of the war bands. Occasionally, slaves would escape or be released, and they wound up in Abiquiu as a safe haven.
The town itself is located on the western slope of the Chama River valley, a very picturesque location and a very fertile river valley for crops. The former slaves built a thriving community, yet stayed fairly quiet to avoid the attention of the still marauding war bands.
As you enter town, you will notice the Georgia O’Keefe welcome center on the east side of the highway. It has a lovely exhibit of her work and a very nice gift shop. They will also give you directions up the road to Georgia O’Keefe’s home, where she lived from 1949 to 1986. The home is open for guided tours except on Mondays, and if you like her work, this gives you a wonderful insight into her life. She lived there until she passed away at the age of 98.
The Bosshard Gallery is also hard to miss – turn left into the town of Abiquiu and you will see it on the right side of the road. John owned a Taos gallery from 1984 until about 14 years ago, when he found the Abiquiu site and decided to restore the old church ruin. Today, it is a bright, airy, eclectic collection of Far Eastern art and antiquities on one half of the gallery, with a Native American focus on the other half. John and his assistant, Jill Coursin, delight in telling visitors about the Abiquiu history, so a visit to the Bosshard Gallery becomes more than what one normally gets from a gallery. And they will very carefully point out authentic originals versus reproductions, and educate you on how to spot the differences. If John is agreeable, you might even get to see the old manual freight elevator that was originally used to load freight down to the basement or up to the attic. Yes, I did manage to acquire a lovely century old, excellent condition Navajo blanket for my Gallery, giving me a tangible piece of John’s collection.
Next door to the Bosshard Gallery is the old abbey itself, and it is still being used for services. You can go in and see what this old church looks like, and get a feel for what it must have been for the Native Americans who came to Abiquiu for shelter.
Continuing up the road, there is another small and still operating abbey, run by a group of penitents monks – those who ritually whip themselves to become closer to God. This is across the street from the historic cemetery of Abiquiu, and visitors are requested to please respect the privacy of the residents.
Just north of town, we find the Monastery of Christ, a well-established Benedictine order. As with other Benedictines, this abbey engages in the production and sale of beer through their Abbey Brewing Company. This practice is a 1300 year tradition of monks brewing beer, what they affectionately call “liquid bread.” The first release of beer by this Abbey was in 2005 and is available around New Mexico in different styles.
Just south of Abiquiu is the Purple Adobe Lavender Farm. It was started 2004 and the first lavender products were harvested the following year. The best time for fragrance is July and August – it is hard to miss from the road at that time of the year. They offer farm tours, have a lovely Tea House for a wonderful meal, and also have everything possible about lavender products available at their gift shop or online. We recommend the lavender skin lotion and lavender essential oils – they are amazing.
If you still haven’t had enough of the Chama River valley, consider heading up north to the Ghost Ranch, about an hour north of Abiquiu. Now an Education and Research Center run by the Presbyterian Church, the 21,000 acre ranch has sweeping vistas that Georgia O’Keefe loved to paint. Before moving down to Abiquiu, Georgia had a cabin at Ghost Ranch and it is still there to visit. They have a lovely welcome center and cabins available for overnight rentals. The dinosaur museums are small but nicely done. If you have time on your schedule, consider spending a day up at the Ghost Ranch – make time to sit on the porch and watch all the hummingbirds swoop all around you.
On your way back to Santa Fe, you can return the same way you came, or you can cut across to Taos and then down to Santa Fe from there. That is a slightly longer route, but you see a lot more of the back roads of New Mexico that way. Either way, enjoy the journey, as this is a spectacular portion of the New Mexico Land of Enchantment.