I recall so clearly my very first visit to the high desert over twenty years ago.
I thought it was the most desolate, brownest, most stark and barren land I had ever seen. I couldn’t understand why or how people would choose to live here. Yet, I continued to come back to this barren land, again and again. On a cool September evening while walking up Canyon Road in Santa Fe, the light was pouring down on a sweet flowering trumpet vine that was cascading over and along an old adobe wall. In that moment, I heard a voice that told me one day this would be my home. It wasn’t long after that I began my passion for painting the southwest landscape while living back in Virginia. But it would be another ten years before that prophetic voice came to pass.
They call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment.
I never understood why until after I had moved here, and began my explorations across and around this mysterious state. The first thing that is so unique is the incredible diversity in the landscape. No matter which direction you go, from any place here, within fifty miles the landscape changes drastically. From Santa Fe to the east, you will find forested wilderness and high mountain meadows; to the west, the verdant valleys along the Rio Grande river; to the south, wide open mesas stretched between mountain ranges and wildlife bosques; and to the north, the deep river canyons, wide open grasslands and big mountains. Yet, incredibly, even more canyons, lush valleys, forests and meadows could be found within fifty miles from each of these places. I was starting to understand the meaning of this enchantment.
Then there is the magic of the vast open spaces and the big sky.
You can truly see forever here. You can watch storms roll in a hundred miles away. There is something that happens to the way your brain functions here with all this far reaching space. Your perceptions are altered, expanded, intensified and accelerated. Your world is bigger somehow as you take everything in within that huge scope and vision of space. It’s so completely different from living back east where your vision is usually limited to just the fields and hills within the immediate area. Here in the high desert of the Southwest, your vision is endless.
Then there is the light.
So many artists are drawn here by the quality of this extraordinary light. There is just no place like this. The infinite open spaces of both land and sky at altitude create an exceptional experience. The light is very bright, and the sun is strong up here at 7000 feet. There is that magical time of the day when that strong sun is getting lower in the sky, and starts to beam a softer radiance that casts a spell over everything. The gift of an electric sunset is assured when the evening sky is dotted with clouds. And the night sky? I thought I had seen stars until I came here. You don’t just gaze at the stars here. You are pulled beyond them into the cosmos where there are a zillion more stars. There is a clarity and crispness at altitude that is unlike life at sea level. My sources for inspiration to create land of enchantment landscapes is also an endless vision.
In spite of modern conveniences, it is still really the wild west when it comes to being out in nature here.
The land here is raw, rugged, untamed and like the ocean, commands respect. You don’t dare take off into the mountains or deserts here for a long trek, even in the height of summer, without serious gear. A thunderstorm can roll in unexpectedly, and drop the temperature by 15-20 degrees in a matter of minutes. And the dry arroyos, creek beds and canyons can become flash floods just as fast.
All land seems to have its people who live and work the land intimately.
The high desert here is rich with the diversity of its people. The Native American Indians recognize the sacred qualities of this land, and have honorably maintained this with their traditions of ceremony, dance and prayer. Their traditions are woven into these lands like a beautiful blanket. The sacred reverence of these lands produces an energy that you will inevitably come to feel and know. No matter whether you are a transplanted gringo, a local Hispanic or Native American, this enchanted land will call you as it has so many southwest artists . Many, who were never artists, become artists here. It is an artist haven, rich with culture, expansive views, magnificent landscapes and magical light. You will find this enchanting spell hard to resist, so don’t. Become enchanted with this land.