Located in a narrow valley on the Rio Chama, Abiquiú is a small, rural town. The village is an overlooked jewel on Highway 84 between Española and Chama. The swath of farmland in the valley provides a stark contrast to the rugged red hills and mesas surrounding the community. The beauty and resources of the region have attracted a multicultural mix of farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, artists, and craftspeople over the few centuries. Lush green fields line the river. Acequias (irrigation canals) feed the crops, many dug centuries ago by the ancestors of current residents.
The Spanish established the original settlement, a mesa top pueblo, in 1754. They built the Santo Tomas Franciscan mission to convert the first Genízaro residents of the village.
Present-day Abiquiú is a small village clustered around the historic church of Santo Tomas, with approximately 150 full-time residents.
Abiquiú in Pop Culture
The natural beauty of the area has been highlighted in several movies, including Red Dawn (1984), Silverado (1985), Lonesome Dove (1989), City Slickers (1991), The Last Outlaw (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994), The Wild Wild West (1999), All the Pretty Horses (2000), The Missing (2003), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), No Country For Old Men (2007), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), Cowboys & Aliens (2011), and The Lone Ranger (2013). Additionally, “Abiquiu” is the title of a Breaking Bad episode, with a flashback scene where Jesse Pinkman and Jane Margolis attend a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition in Abiquiú. The TV series Earth 2 also relied on Abiquiú’s charming ambiance.
History of Abiquiú
The region around Abiquiú has a tumultuous past, with geologic upheaval, dinosaur migrations, and centuries of cultural conflicts between humans. Over the last 250-years, scarce resources and competing economic interests have shaped the land and the people who live here as the fertile flood plain became a hotly contested piece of real estate, torn between Spain, Mexico, the United States, and numerous indigenous tribes trying to survive.
Abiquiú remained a remote, frontier outpost into the 19th century. In fact, it was the last settlement on the east end of the Old Spanish Trail, a 1,200-mile trade route established in 1829 between Santa Fe and Los Angeles.
Prehistoric people left projectile points used for hunting as evidence of their presence 12,000 years ago. By the 11th and 12th century, migrants from Mesa Verde settled in the area. According to Tewa and Hopi oral history, residents of the early pueblos migrated south, establishing the Tewa Pueblos of Oh’Kay Owingeh, San Ildefonso, and Santa Clara. However, during this migration some people chose to migrate further west, ultimately becoming neighbors with the Hopi in eastern Arizona.
The Tewa established numerous pueblos along the way, digging irrigation canals to nourish fields of beans, corn and squash. The remnants of their pueblos lie buried around Abiquiú, including P’efu and Poshingue Pueblos. Archaeologists believe P’efu was established in the 13th century, with Poshiuouinge settled in the 14th century. The Ute, Navajo, Jicarilla Apache, and Comanche nomads arrived in the 1400s, drawn to the fertile river valleys in search of game. Most of the Tewa pueblos in the area were abandoned by the 16th century.
Spanish conquistadors, led by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, arrived in 1540. His expedition spent a couple of years searching for Cities of Gold and the Fountain of Youth before returning to Mexico. However, the Juan de Oñate expedition returned in 1598, with soldiers, settlers, priests, and territorial ambitions.
Arrival of the Spanish
Juan de Oñate established the first outpost in New Mexico in 1598, San Juan de los Caballeros. Located near present-day Espanola, in a village provided by Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, the colony was more of a base camp while Oñate and his men explored the area. In 1610, they established Santa Fe as the capital of the newly conquered province.
Oñate had two main objectives: colonization and converting the locals to Catholicism. There were 12 priests in his entourage, dispatched as missionaries to the pueblos. By the 1730s, the Spanish were aggressively scouting the valleys along the Rio Chama for suitable sites for settlement. However, the Ute, Navajo, and Comanche raiding parties repeatedly evicted all interlopers.
Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiú
Abiquiú’s unique cultural history traces back to one of many attempts to convert the Hopi and Tewa to Catholicism back in the 18th century. Using promises of land, a trio of Franciscan priests convinced three hundred and fifty Hopi-Tewa to relocate to Jemez and Isleta Pueblos in 1742. Father Francisco Delgado resettled twenty-four on a mesa next to the Rio Chama, establishing the Plaza del Moquis.
The settlement was part of a strategy by the Governor of New Mexico, Tomás Velez Cachupin, to create a buffer zone between Spanish territory and the surrounding Apache, Comanche, Navajo, and Ute raiding parties. Twenty Spanish families established a secondary settlement in 1744, Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiú. They built it on the ruins of a prehistoric Tewa Pueblo, P’efu, which translates to “wild choke cherry place.” The Spaniards pronounced it as Abiquiú.
Located 40 to 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe, they named their small hamlet Santa Rosa de Lima de Abiquiú, promptly building a small church on a bluff overlooking the river. A series of Comanche raids in 1747 devastated the community, with settlers forced to abandon their farms after the Comanche captured 23 women and children. When settlers returned to the area, they restored the church. Though it is in ruins now, it was active until the 1930s.
Located 2 miles south of present-day Abiquiú, the ruins of the church are all that remains, standing vigil over the buried mounds of the original settlement.
Pueblo of Santo Tomás de Abiquiú
Governor Cachupin was determined to establish a Spanish colony in the valley for strategic reasons. He ordered the settlers to return in 1750, promising land if they could fend off attackers. They built a 370-square foot defensive plaza on a hill a couple of miles north of the prior town-site. The Santo Tomás mission, built to convert the initial Hopi and Tewa settlers, became the crown jewel of the plaza. The placement reflects the pivotal role the church played in the village, providing both spiritual solace to the community and a measure of safety during raids.
Abiquiú Land Grant
Governor Cachupín kept his word, bestowing the Abiquiú Land Grant jointly on the Spanish and Genízaro families around Abiquiú in 1754. With that, Abiquiú became the third Genízaro settlement in New Mexico. The first two were Belen and Trampas. However, holding on to that land was a challenge throughout the 1800s, with Mexico and the U.S. vying for territory.
Despite numerous attempts to break up the Abiquiú Land Grant, the descendants of the original families have persevered, culminating in a favorable ruling by the US Court of Private Land Claims in 1909 that validated the 16,000-acre claim. Additionally, Ghost Ranch, owned by the Presbyterian church, funded a legal battle in the 1960s to force the U.S. Government to return some National Forest land near Abiquiú to local Hispanic families.
Abiquiú Witch Hunt
Power struggles between the Spanish officials in Santa Fe and the Franciscan priests was common, with Abiquiú at the nexus of an 18th century witch-hunt.
Providing land, and any form of rights, to indigenous settlers created conflict between the Catholic church and Territorial administrators. When Governor Cachupin allowed the Pueblos to resume their spiritual ceremonies and traditions, the priests retaliated, led by the priest from Abiquiú, Father Juan José Toledo. Father Toledo claimed Governor Cachupin was bewitched by the Genízaros. After deliberating the charges with his fellow clergy, they referred the matter to the Inquisition in Mexico City. That led to a ten-year battle between the Governor and local clergy, with the indigenous population bearing the brunt of the damage. Ultimately, the plan backfired on the priests. The Inquisition cleared Governor Cachupin and charged Father Toledo with heresy. They removed him from his post and excommunicated him from the church. His transgression? Supposedly he said fornication was no sin.. More likely, he unsuccessfully tried to undermine the Governor.
Oddly, this incident led to the rise of the Penitente Brotherhood in Abiquiú, because Father Toledo left an abandoned convento behind. There was no resident priest for 15 years. Though other priests sporadically took up residence for a year or two, there were often long periods with no official representative of the Catholic church available to administer last rites, baptisms, weddings, mass, confessions, etc. The Brotherhood stepped forward to perform these duties on behalf of their communities.
The Penitente Brotherhood
The Penitente Brotherhood (Hermanos) is an association of Catholic men who provide a wide variety of services and spiritual support. They have been an integral part of rural northern New Mexico’s spiritual life for centuries. The prominence of the brotherhood evolved to address the lack of laypeople during the Spanish Colonial era. Franciscan priests were focused on converting the numerous tribes in the region. As a result, there weren’t enough priests to tend to the needs of the many Spanish settlements in the remote mountains north of Santa Fe. Thus, devout Catholics were left to tend to their own spiritual needs, often in remote, isolated areas.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s Artistic Legacy
Georgia O’Keeffe is one of Abiquiu’s most famous residents. Though the stunning landscapes have inspired artists for more than a century, O’Keeffe’s home and studio have become one of the biggest tourism draws in Abiquiú.
The other well-known destination is Ghost Ranch, the dude ranch that enticed Georgia to visit in 1931. Located 12-miles west of Abiquiú, Ghost Ranch is majestic and mysterious. Tall, narrow, multi-color stone spires rise hundreds of feet above the ground, standing stark against a backdrop of deep red and orange striped mesas. The scenery captured Georgia’s imagination. She became a regular at Ghost Ranch, eventually purchasing 12-acres and a small cabin adjacent to the property. The cabin provided her with a magnificent view of her beloved mesa, Pedernal, but it wasn’t suitable for year-round occupancy.
Georgia purchased a larger home in the village of Abiquiú, drawn to the spacious, well-irrigated garden and the comfort it offered in winter. The 5,000-square-foot compound was in ruins in 1945 when she purchased the home. The oldest rooms of the house are original, built around 1750. Georgia supervised the restoration, adding rows of rooms organized around a common open space, or plazuela. She lived in the home from 1949 until 1984.
Georgia O’Keeffe passed away in Santa Fe in 1986. The O’Keeffe Home and Studio was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998. Both houses are owned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The Abiquiú Home and Studio is open for public tours.
Abiquiú is about 60 miles north of Santa Fe on US highway 84, about halfway between Espanola and Chama. The nearest major airport is in Albuquerque, 60 miles south of Santa Fe.
Bus Service: The North Central Regional Transit District “Blue Buses” provides free bus service into and out of Abiquiú on Tuesday and Thursday, with routes connecting Abiquiú, Santa Fe, Taos and Los Alamos. The stop in Abiquiú is at Bodes General Store.
Culture & History Resources
The Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area, located north of Espanola, helps sustain the communities, languages, cultures, traditions, heritage, and environment of northern New Mexico, with an emphasis on Rio Arriba.
Abiquiu, NM 87510
☎ (505) 685-4378
Café Abiquiú offers casual dining in a charming atmosphere adorned with the work of local artists. You’ll find seasonal and specialty drinks, local beers, wines and traditional Northern New Mexico favorites. They serve house-made fare, delightful desserts and a variety of seasonal and holiday specials.
El Rito, NM 87530
Hours: Wed-Sun, 1 PM-7 PM
☎ (575) 581-9509
Diner at Bodes General Store
21196 U.S. 84
Abiquiu, NM 87510
☎ (505) 685-4422
Lodging options are limited; however, Abiquiu Inn provides private, comfortable, well-appointed casitas with charming kiva fireplaces and Ghost Ranch offers affordable, comfortable, rustic lodging. Additionally, there are a few vacation rentals in the area and a couple of B & B’s. If you have a tent or RV, there is camping available at Riana campground overlooking Abiquiu Lake and Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite mesa, Pedernal.
Charming place to spend a quiet, peaceful night or two. It’s more like having your own studio apartment rather than a sterile hotel room. Nice cafe onsite, next to the administrative offices for the Georgia O’Keeffe tours. Great views.
- Pet Friendly Barranca Plaza Casita
- Martinez Casita – Adobe on the Plaza
- Las Parras de Abiquiu Guesthouse and Vineyard
☎ (505) 685-4200
A true country experience in northern New Mexico with all the comforts and luxuries of an old-world inn. The 55-acre compound is surrounded by white cliffs and dramatic mesas. Majestic, old cottonwood trees along the Chama River provide refuge for birds, wildlife, and seekers of quiet solitude. There are two large, comfortable bedrooms, each with beautiful vistas of the Abiquiú landscape. Each includes king-size bed with down comforter, a private full bath with Mexican tile, wood-burning fireplace, hand-carved furniture, private entrance & brick portal, thick terry towels & robes, and extra luxuries.
Ten Things to See & Do Around Abiquiu