It wasn’t easy to get to Taos. A seven hour delay on a 90 minute flight, an emergency motel stay in Albuquerque at 2 am and three hours of car tire drama the following morning tested our patience and desire for such a pilgrimage. I was led to Taos by two women who inspire me greatly: my friend Heather Culp, fellow photographer and cofounder of Malibu’s Mercado Sagrado, had fallen in love with the Northern New Mexico town and moved there several years back; and Georgia O’Keeffe, the artist famed for her flower paintings and rolling desert landscapes. A bold and progressive woman, O’Keeffe’s spirit resonated when I further explored her life. I became more familiar with her work at an exhibition in London’s Tate Modern last year and vowed that it would be the next place I’d visit when I moved to the US.
The first thing to hit me on arrival to New Mexico was the scent in the air, a sweet and comforting mix of cedar, pine and sage. I felt I couldn’t breathe it in deeply enough and left with a stack of incense cones to recreate it back in Los Angeles. And then there’s the vast landscape and vivid colour palette that has been enticing artists and adventurers for over a century. Taos is an oasis of pale green sagebrush set against a 360 degree view of blue mountains, with terracotta adobe houses and earthships dotted across the land with a river running through it. And it’s scenery that changes rapidly as you travel through it. Just a thirty minute drive to Ski Valley and you’re knee deep in snow and surrounded by pine trees and wooden chalets. A drive West to Abiquiú where O’Keeffe set up her home and studio takes you through red mountains and rock formations reminiscent of Arizona: colours that continue to change and intensify as the sun drops.
Twilight is my favourite time of day and Taos is a particularly special place to take it in. The air becomes still and quiet, the mountains electric blue, the glow of ambient light from the earthships set into the ground. There is something both magical and alien about the desert at this time, and it was this celebration of changing light that drew me to O’Keeffe’s landscapes in the first place.
Taos is made up of a proud and warm-hearted community of individuals. The Pueblo is one of the longest established indigenous populations in the country, and its residents long fought the Spanish to keep it so – though they did impart their Catholic beliefs and left traces of their heritage in the area. The people we encountered spoke with passion and there was heart, soul and creativity in everything we saw, touched and tasted. I broke my own rule of no red meat to try an Ale House burger in town (which immediately secured a place in my top five burgers of all time) and put down a huge serving of fresh trout and homemade cornbread at the Love Apple, a restaurant housed in an old adobe church. I got my hair done at Venice/Taos-based Rachel Bell’s salon Shank purely because the interior was so fucking cool, but we didn’t make the Dennis Hopper Day celebrations as we were too busy trying to locate, then enjoy, a hot pool next to the Rio Grande. The place magically attracts adventurers and celebrates wild spirits. Many have been born there and never left, many have left and chosen to return. For the visitor passing through it’s a cosy, charming place that stays with you long after you leave and leaves you longing for so much more.