The “White Place” or Plaza Blanca in the Rio Chama hills near the village of Abiquiu, was made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe.
Recently Bill Curry mentioned to me that he’d gone out to Plaza Blanca for the first time, and as he was expressing his delight at discovering this extraordinary natural wonder right in our midst, I recalled my first introduction to the “White Place.”
In the beginning when I first came here, I spent months retracing O’Keeffe’s footsteps, wandering along paths she’d walked, trails she had hiked, and hills she had climbed.
After discovering her work while living in New York, I found myself especially spellbound by the paintings of the “White Place.”
During the 1940s, O’Keeffe made a series of paintings of what she called the “Black Place”, a hundred or so miles west of her Ghost Ranch house. Seeing things others missed, O’Keeffe said that the Black Place reminded her of “a mile of elephants with gray hills and white sand at their feet.”
She also made paintings of the “White Place”; a white rock formation located near her Abiquiú home. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe notes that: One site tells of vast swamps bordering a tropical shoreline, and a sea that bisected North America into two large islands; the other depicts a rift that formed in the earth’s crust and led to the eruption of a massive supervolcano north of Taos. The rocks of the Black Place and White Place tell the story of New Mexico landscapes vastly different from those of today.
Her 1940 canvas, From The White Place, has captivated many a viewer, myself included, with its stark, modern depiction of this marvel of Nature.
Plaza Blanca or “The White Place”, is so named for the sandstone cliffs appearing almost chalk-white in the midday sun. The reflection of the sun on the magical and dramatic formations creates a mirage and it becomes a castle or fortress from a fairy tale, as if enchanted, frozen or crystalised by a Sorcerer’s wand, with turrets and spires – some rising to 500 feet and more- reaching for the blazing orb above; immortalized by the artist on these canvases that remain.
In stark contrast to the surrounding terrain, the “White Place” was carved, whittled and smoothed by the elements – wind and water – over millenia. Often described as spiritual, otherworldly, and contemplative, it is easy to see why O’Keeffe was so drawn to walking and painting there.
Plaza Blanca (the “White Place”), is situated on privately owned land, by the nearby Dar al Islam Mosque, who do allow visitors at no charge.
Driving from Taos, as you crest the slope of a hill just a few miles outside of Abiquiu, you see in the not too far distance, the Cerro Pedernal. The looming, flat-topped mountain appears in many of O’Keeffe’s paintings, and inspired her famous quote, “It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.”
No doubt she felt the same way about the “White Place.”
For more about Georgia O’Keeffe and the places she loved, please visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe if you are passing through. The collection is superb and the space itself, an homage to O’Keeffe’s Modern Mastery. Their site is linked below.
For more about Plaza Blanca and how to get there, I have included their (Dar al Islam ), site also.
All photographs by Billy Curry
O’Keeffe walking and From The White Place, Stock Files