In the shadow of Pedernal


Lake Abiquiu, at the foot of Pedernal, the mountain on which Georgia O'Keeffe's ashes were scattered.



Pinon trees have blue berries and beautiful bark but offer scant shade.


The artist Georgia O’Keeffe often said, “If I paint Pedernal often enough, God will give it to me.” When she died, her ashes were scattered on this flat-topped mountain, a green sentinel that guards the area of New Mexico where she lived and worked.

O’Keeffe took possession of this green presence, as well as of the blue sky, the red rock and the sun-bleached bones of cattle, and yet left them all for others to enjoy, both in nature and transformed in her paintings.

The colors in O’Keeffe’s paintings, which can be viewed in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe ( and in collections around the world, are often more dramatic than, and often strikingly different from, what a visitor sees. In 1944, the artist described how her interest in the bones she had collected had changed her perceptions, especially her sense of color. “[When] I started painting the pelvis bones I was most interested in the holes in the bones—what I saw through them—particularly the blue from holding them up in the sun against the sky…”

In her painting Pelvis IV, which she created that year, O’Keeffe portrayed the blue of the sky with the moon that is visible most of the day in New Mexico, all seen through the holes in the bones.

After visiting Santa Fe it seemed a privilege to start a camping trip with my husband in the shadow of Pedernal, amid the landscapes that so inspired O’Keeffe. We stopped at Abiquiu Lake, a 5,200-acre reservoir managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which also built the campground we stayed in. As it was late September, we had our choice of sites, and the campground hosts directed us to one that had a perfect lake view.

The camp table had a gabled roof shade over it, necessary in an area of pinon trees, which have picturesque bark configurations but are too small to provide shade. The two-pole tent went up easily enough, and the rest was easy.

But apart from the roof shade, there was no escape from the sun. I had a killer headache that would not leave me (altitude sickness, I discovered later), and in the morning we decided to move on, in search of the ideal campsite.
Text and photo copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photo may be used without written permission of the author.


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