Photographing Plaza Blanca in Abiquiu

Plaza Blanca is an area of Abiquiu largely hidden from the casual traveler, but is well worth the visit. Artist Georgia O’Keefe painted here and for the photographer, it is pure gold.

There are no signs directing you to the area; you have to find it on your own. Briefly, drive US 84 to County Road 155, which is just west of Bode’s General Store and the village of Abiquiu. Take 155 about 2.3 miles (mostly paved but smooth where it’s not) to the entrance of Dar al Islam on your left. Turn into Dar al Islam and drive about 3/4 mile to the small parking area on your right when the road splits. The dirt access road is relatively smooth; no problem getting to the area in dry weather. (Note: this is private property to which Dar al Islam generously allows public access. You should check with them before doing any commercial photography.)

Park and walk a couple hundred yards down the road to the arroyo that bisects the canyon. (A gate bars vehicles, which are not necessary.) Plaza Blanca unfolds before you. On either side you’ll see towering rock formations and as the day goes on the light will shift, illuminating different portions and creating an endless array of shadows and highlights. As an aside, I don’t know if this area is prone to flash flooding, but I saw debris that indicated that the arroyo can run when it rains, so be advised.

The main canyon runs southeast-to-northwest. I shot in December (and had the place to myself); therefore the sun was low in the southern sky. This meant that the northeastern walls of the canyon were lit first by the rising sun, which is the best time to shoot there. As the morning wore on, I walked the length of the canyon shooting left and right, in front of and behind me. In the afternoon, the southwestern formations were in shadow which gives them a dark, gothic look, contrasted with the bright blue New Mexican sky. The Photographer’s Ephemeris will help you plan your shoot. However, there is no bad time to shoot there–you just have to keep your eyes open.

I recommend shooting in both morning and afternoon and staying on the move. It’s an easy walk and you can climb some hills and rocks for a different perspective. A wide or ultra-wide lens will allow you to get really close to the rock formations and capture the texture and size of the rocks. I saw small animal tracks in the snow, so you may see some wildlife, though I did not. In the warmer months rattlesnakes may be a concern; after all, this is the high desert of New Mexico.

Finally, make sure you stop at Bode’s for lunch or snacks. It’s truly the only game in town, but it’s a great place to relax and refuel and the homemade food is outstanding. (Try the tamales, frito pie, green chili cheeseburger and posole.)

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