a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Walking with the ghosts

Artist Georgia O’Keeffe often joked that God told her she could own the flat-topped mesa at the Jemez Mountains called Pedernal if she painted it enough times.

“It’s my private mountain,” O’Keeffe has been quoted as saying about the place in Northern New Mexico that she would call home for 50 years.

O’Keeffe became known as one of the most renowned artists of America’s Modernism Movement for the scenes the mountains inspired her to paint. Following her death at age 98 in 1986, her ashes were scattered in the wind from the Pedernal.

O’Keefe also put the nearby Native American reservation of Abiquiu on the map by making her winter home there in a centuries-old adobe building that draws 6,000 tourists a year to see how she lived. She was a minimalist who didn't like clutter and preferred white couches accented with one black and red pillow.

Some visitors continue north along Route 84 for another 13 miles to Ghost Ranch to follow the same trails that O’Keeffe climbed while looking for flowers and rock outcroppings to paint. She lived there during the summer in another adobe house that is off limits to the public.

The 21,000-acre National Landmark ranch is owned by the Presbyterian Church, which charges no entrance fees to hike its grounds. The most popular trail rises 7,100 feet above the Piedra Lumbre basin to the artist’s beloved mesa.

One ledge offers a dizzying, yet incredible view of Chimney Rock, shown in the top photograph. The people who make the 1 1/2-mile climb tend to whisper among themselves, respectful of the reverence these cliffs seem to possess. Maybe some don’t want to awaken the ghosts of the many men who were once hung there under the laws of the Wild West.

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