Plaza Blanca Knocked Our Socks Off: New Mexico, Part Two

 

Sandy and Neil in Frijoles Canyon
Rio Grande Gorge

For the last few days I’ve been thinking about what I should include in the second installment about my recent adventures in sun-drenched New Mexico. Climbing up ladders attached to the sides of cliffs in Frijoles Canyon (part of Bandelier National Monument) — to reach niches within which indigenous peoples lived centuries ago — seemed a natural, as did viewing the deep and dangerous Rio Grande Gorge just outside of Taos village. But you know what? No more will I now say about those experiences, as excellent as they were, because wafts of inspiration caressed my face a little while ago. And, as I’ve learned over the last few years, one shouldn’t argue with inspiration. This story, therefore, shall be about Plaza Blanca.

Plaza Blanca

May 29, the last full day of my wife Sandy’s and my visit to New Mexico, found the two of us inside a Honda Accord being driven by my brother Richard. We were on our way from Santa Fe, where Richie lives with his wife Sara, to Abiquiu, an area famously known as the one-time home of the late, great painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Richie had printed out some information about the sights in the Abiquiu region and, 10 minutes into the journey, asked me to take a look. Scanning the pages I noticed a paragraph about Plaza Blanca (The White Place), described as unusually beautiful. “Hey, let’s go there,” I said. Nobody objected.

Luckily I found a website that provides precise driving directions to Plaza Blanca, because it’s not the easiest locale in the world to find. The final leg of the motorized segment of the journey was upon a dirt road. Expecting numerous ruts and holes, we were relieved to see almost none. Richie parked the car in Plaza Blanca’s small parking section. Then the three of us got out and looked around. From first glance we knew that we were in a special place.

We spent an hour hiking through Plaza Blanca, a masterful collection of rock formations not far from forested mountains. The sun was high in the sky, clouds were few, and the views, to employ a cliché, were awe-inspiring. I’ve gone limp now and then over the years from the beauty of what was in front of my eyes, but that hadn’t happened in a good long while. And, now that I think about it, I hadn’t been as stunned by a natural landscape or seascape since 1982. That was the year of my trek through the high Himalayas in Nepal, the one truly astonishing adventure of my life.

And I wasn’t the only one to gaze in wonder at Plaza Blanca’s cliffs and columns, or at its other wildly surreal sculptures. Sandy and Richie were as spellbound as me. We were in a stark fairyland where strange, beguiling shapes reigned supreme. The formations sat stoically, yet pleased with themselves. They knew that they are remarkable creations. I caught Richie staring unbelievingly at one vista, imperceptibly shaking his head and not quite knowing what to say except for the obvious: “This is incredible” were his words.


As for Sandy, she agreed when I suggested that Plaza Blanca likely was the most beautiful and fantastic landscape she’d ever set foot in. A compact expanse of desert, Plaza Blanca is where one might go to let the problems circulating within one’s head fade away for a bit of time. It’s where you likely will be able to engage undisturbedly with the powers of nature, since Plaza Blanca is off the beaten track compared to many other spectacular sites. Only two other souls crossed our paths as we made our way around. That was two too many, but it was far better than the hundreds you’d encounter at the Grand Canyon or at Yosemite.

A geologist I’m not, but from what I’ve been able to piece together, Plaza Blanca is the result of volcanic activity that took place roughly 20,000,000 million years ago, and of the subsequent effects of heavy erosion. Its cliffs and other structures are composed of varieties of sandstone and of other types of rocks. The place was drier than the driest bone the day that my trio was there. But I’ve read that flash floods sometimes develop during heavy rains, racing mightily between the giant pieces and with the potential to sweep incautious visitors away.

Georgie O’Keeffe, From The White Place. Image copyright: The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation/Artists Rights Society, New York.

Georgia O’Keeffe was smitten with Plaza Blanca (as she was with much of New Mexico). She wandered around and painted in The White Place many times. Her desert homestead was about 15 miles away. I wouldn’t mind owning one of her renderings, From The White Place, pictured above, which she painted in 1940. It would look smashing on a wall beside my living room sofa. I doubt if the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., where the painting is housed, plans to put it up for auction anytime soon. If they do, however, I’m ready to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $20,000,000 or more that will be required to make it mine.

Sandy and Richie in Plaza Blanca

As I mentioned in my previous essay, staying very hydrated in New Mexico is the thing to do. The Sun there can be brutal. I’d been downing water conscientiously before arriving at Plaza Blanca and continued to do so during my hike on site, but there was no point in taking any unnecessary risks. My companions must have felt the same way. Without discussion we took our last looks at Plaza Blanca, immersing ourselves in its glory. And then we made our way out from between the art works and headed back to the car.

(Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this piece. As always, sharing buttons are below.)

(If you click on any photo, a larger image will open in a separate window.)

(All photos are by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin, with three exceptions: Richard Scheinin took the photo of Sandy and me. I took the photo of Rio Grande Gorge and the one of Sandy and Richie.)

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70 thoughts on “Plaza Blanca Knocked Our Socks Off: New Mexico, Part Two

  1. Anabel Marsh June 13, 2018 / 3:41 am

    What a fabulous place. I’m used to seeing pictures of red rocks – so much white is equally wonderful.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Alyson June 13, 2018 / 6:29 am

    “Georgia O’Keeffe was smitten with Plaza Blanca” – And so it seems were the three of you. Amazing pictures of a stunning landscape.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 13, 2018 / 11:50 am

      Yes, Plaza Blanca had the three of us under a spell.
      Thanks for stopping by, Alyson. Be seeing you —

      Like

  3. joyce hamilton June 13, 2018 / 7:39 am

    Great article. I loved Bandilear National Part hiking and climbing ladders but never got to Plaza Blanca . …looks like l missed a fantastic place.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. tylerus June 13, 2018 / 8:18 am

    Absolutely stunning! Thank you for the wonderful “tour”. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lexklein June 13, 2018 / 8:55 am

    Will definitely add Plaza Blanca to my list! Excellent post – thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. tanjabrittonwriter June 13, 2018 / 9:37 am

    It is basically impossible to find a place in New Mexico that is not inspiring, unless it’s man-made. I hope inspiration will lead you up those ladders at Bandelier or across the Rio Grande Bridge at some point. 🙂
    Thank you, Neil, for bringing back memories.
    Best,
    Tanja

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 13, 2018 / 11:57 am

      I was glad to be able to poke around in places I’d never been to before. It would take at least a month of exploration to do New Mexico justice.
      Have a great rest of the day, Tanja.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ingrid June 13, 2018 / 12:33 pm

    New Mexico is filled with hidden gems and never ceases to impress me. I haven’t visited this area yet, but have hiked at Bandelier and the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks and been awed. Thanks for the tour – it’s added to my list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 13, 2018 / 2:26 pm

      Hi Ingrid. Thanks for stopping by. My wife and I only scratched the surface of what New Mexico offers. I’m sure that you’re much more familiar with the state than I am. On your next visit, though, put Plaza Blanca on your list.

      Neil S.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. cincinnatibabyhead June 13, 2018 / 1:17 pm

    I’ve always had a hankering to go there. You are fanning the flames. I’m reading a McMurtry book and hanging out in New Mexico trying to keep my scalp. That pic of you and Sany going in that cave is a little spooky. I’m glad you came back out of there. Great piece Neil. Love that country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 13, 2018 / 2:21 pm

      She was terrific. We went to the O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, and seeing her paintings there made me an even bigger fan of hers than I already was.

      Like

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 13, 2018 / 6:44 pm

      It’s a pretty amazing chunk of desert territory. I’m happy to be a member of the “I Love Plaza Blanca” fan club.
      See you, Ann.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 13, 2018 / 10:00 pm

      Hey Jerry. I’m always glad to hear from you. And I’m glad you liked this story.
      Have a great rest of the week.
      All the best,
      Neil

      Like

  9. Apple Hill Cottage June 13, 2018 / 9:31 pm

    I lived in NM for a year in Albuquerque, and I’ve always thought that if I’d landed in Santa Fe instead, I’d still be living there. But somehow I missed this gorgeous place. Guess I’ll just have to go back…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 13, 2018 / 10:02 pm

      Hi, and many thanks for stopping by.
      Yes, if you head back to NM, don’t miss Plaza Blanca. It’s something else.
      See you —

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Cindy June 13, 2018 / 11:13 pm

    Gene and I prefer lush greenery to desert, but that landscape is starkly stunning. Cape Cod, Amsterdam, Santa Fe–we enjoy your biodiverse vacation stories!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 14, 2018 / 7:31 am

      Hi Cindy. You bring up an interesting point about preferring greenery to desert. Me, I guess I prefer desert, because of its otherworldliness. But I’ll have to give that some more thought. Anyway, thanks a lot for stopping by. As always, I appreciate that. See you —

      Like

  11. andrewcferguson June 14, 2018 / 1:47 am

    I knew precisely nothing about New Mexico before reading your blogs on it, Neil, so thanks. Plaza Blanca looks like a special place – no wonder Georgia O’Keeffe was moved to paint it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 14, 2018 / 7:33 am

      If I get back to NM, I’d like to take a tour of the home where she lived. It’s in (or near) the desert, not all too far from Plaza Blanca.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Isabelle June 14, 2018 / 3:33 am

    Yes, his words “This is incredible” says it all. I enjoyed the journey very much. Hope I would be able to set my feet on it one day, and of course, the Himalayas. Thank you for showing me/us the beauty of nature and the history behind it, Neil. All the best, Isabelle

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 14, 2018 / 7:41 am

      Our planet is amazing. So many beautiful, interesting natural areas. It’s all pretty hard to believe.
      Bye for now —
      Neil

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Laurie Graves June 15, 2018 / 9:24 am

    What a post! Many, many thanks for taking us to this beautiful, magical place. Absolutely incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Laurie Graves June 15, 2018 / 10:18 am

        I can see why. What an astonishing place. All your senses must have been filled so that you were in the present, in the now.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. swabby429 June 15, 2018 / 12:52 pm

    I’ve been in New Mexico a few times but somehow missed Plaza Blanca. NM is certainly worthy of it’s slogan “The Land of Enchantment”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 15, 2018 / 2:49 pm

      Hi. You’re right. There’s a section that has white sands. I’d like to see that, and many other areas too.

      Like

  15. alhenry June 17, 2018 / 3:36 pm

    A landscape to do your head in–it must have been surrealistic painting out there. A Dali-esque terrain in its own right. And I’m glad to hear you did not visit during the rainy season. It’s possible to get too carried away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 17, 2018 / 5:16 pm

      I wonder if there’s any footage of O’Keeffe painting there, or elsewhere in the desert. I’d like to see what her method was, if she set up an umbrella to ward off the Sun, etc.
      Have a real good upcoming week, Amy. Bye for now.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. viewfromoverthehill June 17, 2018 / 4:32 pm

    Easy to understand Georgia O’Keefe being enchanted by what she saw. I, too, felt the magic of the place and I’m no artist. Enjoyed this thoroughly. Thanks. Muriel

    Liked by 1 person

  17. oftheicebox June 17, 2018 / 11:51 pm

    ‘Unusually beautiful’ is so much better than ‘surprisingly not disapppointing’. I’m willing to pledge $1 to your kickstarter campaign if someone else will match it.😁

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Steve Higgins June 18, 2018 / 12:58 pm

    Liz and I spent some time earlier this year escaping the cold of winter in England at a place called Playa Blanca in Lanzarote. I quickly scanned through your pictures thinking Playa Blanca is looking a little barren and deserted these days. Of well, perhaps Liz is right when she says I spend too much time in bars and restaurants and not enough time exploring. Then I thought I might try reading while wearing my reading glasses.
    Nice place, nice post, good pictures but . . Not enough bars and restaurants for me . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 18, 2018 / 2:04 pm

      Steve, I was glad to be out in a desert for a change. But I know what you mean about bars and restaurants. Over the last 25 years or so, the USA has gotten a lot better than it used to be when it comes to food and drink. I bet that the same is true for where you live.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Steve Higgins June 18, 2018 / 5:24 pm

        St Annes is full of lovely little restaurants with all types of cuisine, Italian, Chinese, Moroccan, Indian, Turkish, you name it. Strangely, not many English restaurants! All the best, Steve

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 18, 2018 / 1:59 pm

      Hi, AOC. I hadn’t been in a desert in decades. A very different environment from those I’m used to!

      Like

  19. Aunt Beulah June 18, 2018 / 4:14 pm

    I spend some time perusing your previous post about Santa Fe and this one. I enjoyed them so much because I love New Mexico. My sister lived in Angel Fire, a ski resort near Taos for several years, so I visited and explored New Mexico with her. Then, last winter, my husband and I officially became snowbirds by buying a small home in Las Cruces to get out of Northwest Colorado’s winters for a few months each year. I’ve always been fond of desert landscapes and am looking forward to exploring more of the state each winter; after reading your blog, Plaza Blanca will be one of the first. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 18, 2018 / 5:53 pm

      Hi Janet. I just took a look at a NM map to see where Las Cruces is. You’re practically in Mexico.

      I know what you mean about desert landscapes. There’s something hypnotic about them. Last month was my first exposure to enormous deserts in many, many years.

      Take care. Be seeing you —

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 18, 2018 / 7:39 pm

      Hi Kathy. I’ll let my wife know about what you said — she took most of the Plaza Blanca pix in this story.
      Thanks for dropping by. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. America On Coffee June 18, 2018 / 7:41 pm

    I would have been afraid to journey without a guide. Really amazing are your photos. So historical they are and magnificently constucted. As for me, I get hungry on expeditions. Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. robert87004 June 20, 2018 / 7:00 pm

    Plaza Blanca is a new one for me, I’m adding it to my list. I noticed Ingrid’s comment concerning Tent Rocks, an amazing place. It does involve more walking so the time to go is early morning before the sun is high.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger June 20, 2018 / 10:45 pm

      Evening, PJ.
      It was a very memorable trip for us. It made a big impression on my wife and me. Hope to get back to New Mexico one of these days.

      Liked by 1 person

      • pjlazos June 21, 2018 / 7:15 am

        We loved the cliff dwellings outside of Santa Fe and we also attended a mass in the oldest chapel in the country founded by missionaries. It was so cool. I want to go back there as well.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger August 1, 2018 / 7:38 pm

      Plaza Blanca is really something. If you go on a sunny day, wear a hat and bring along water. And don’t forget the sunscreen!
      Have a great rest of the week, Linda.

      Like

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