Posted on August 28, 2012

Will and I set off to see the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine abbey nestled in the starkly picturesque canyon-lands that Georgia O’Keeffe called home. Our route took us past Ojo Caliente and a few small towns. As we dropped into the valley that held the ochre and umber landscape, I imagined that I could see glimpses of the qualities that O’Keeffe tried to reflect in her paintings.

As we drove past Abiquiú Reservoir, the road descended and revealed fresh horizon of sage, pine, nubby fields and razor-like shards of rock. A complex of old telephone poles and power lines also snuck into the scene, like a muddy afterthought. Blocking the view of the lake was a huddle of power line conditioners and the grey blade of a giant cell tower.

We had to pull off on the side of the road a few times for photo opportunities. The red rocks, blue sky, and blindingly white clouds promised a few reasonable photos.

The road brought us past Ghost Ranch. A decade ago, I spent a few days with my sister and we walked these hills with our necks exposed to the summer sun. We were looking for fossils that were freshly uncovered by the rains. My eyes scanned the floor looking for subtle patterns and grooves on the rocks.

Ghost Ranch is part of Piedra Lumbre (Spanish, “Shining Rock”), a 1766 land grant to Pedro Martin Serrano from Charles III of Spain. Arthur Newton Pack bought Ghost Ranch in 1936 and donated it to the Presbyterian Church in 1955. – Wikipedia, via Ghostranch.org

The abbey is located at the end of Forest Road 151. It is a slow and winding single lane dirt road. Of course it simply allows a little more time to take in the views.

We saw a few rafters and lone kayakers riding the relaxed flow of the river. In some places the river splits into a cleaner dark flow of water next to a silty clouded flow.

The towering rock faces, in the photo above, greet us at the parking lot for the monastery.

George Nakashima, a famous Japanese-American woodworker and architect drew up the original plans for this building. The structure is a contrasting mix of heavy earthen construction (rock, adobe, stucco) and an airy latticework of glass, finely cut wood, and rough hewn vigas.

Will lights a candle.

Meditating grasshoppers

The river flows past the monastery from a source far beyond the canyon walls. Apparently the brothers warn against hiking further up the canyon with stories of adventurers that have lost their lives.

Heading back, but not until we grab a bite to eat.