The commercial center of Española (pop. 9,688) no longer has the railroad that led to its establishment in the 1880s, but it may have New Mexico's greatest concentration of low riders. These are late-model customized cars, so called because their suspension leaves them sitting quite close to the ground.
Sights of interest in Española include the Bond House Museum (tel. 505/747-8535), a Victorian-era adobe home that exhibits local history and art, and the Santa Cruz Church, built in 1733 and renovated in 1979, which houses many fine examples of Spanish colonial religious art. The Convento, built to resemble a colonial cathedral, on the Española Plaza (at the junction of NM 30 and US 84), houses a variety of shops, including a trading post and an antiques gallery, as well as a display room for the Historical Society. Major events include the July Fiesta de Oñate, commemorating the valley's founding in 1596; the October Tri-Cultural Art Festival on the Northern New Mexico Community College campus; the weeklong Summer Solstice celebration staged in June by the nearby Ram Dass Puri ashram of the Sikhs (tel. 888/346-2420); and Peace Prayer Day, an outdoor festival in mid-June -- featuring art, music, food, guest speakers, and more -- in the Jemez Mountains (tel. 877/707-3223; www.peaceprayerday.org).
Complete information on Española and the vicinity can be obtained from the Española Valley Chamber of Commerce, #1 Calle de Las Espanolas, NM 87532 (tel. 505/753-2831; www.espanolanmchamber.com).
If you admire the work of Georgia O'Keeffe, try to plan a short trip to Abiquiu, a tiny town at a bend of the Rio Chama, 14 miles south of Ghost Ranch and 22 miles north of Española on US 84. When you see the surrounding terrain, it will be clear that this was the inspiration for many of her startling landscapes. O'Keeffe's adobe home (where she lived and painted) is open for public tours. However, a reservation must be made in advance; the fee for adults is $30 (some discounts apply) for a 1-hour tour. A number of tours are given each week -- on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday (mid-Mar to late Nov only) -- and a limited number of people are accepted per tour. Visitors are not permitted to take pictures. Fortunately, O'Keeffe's home remains as it was when she lived there (until 1986). Call several months in advance for reservations (tel. 505/685-4539).
If you're in the area and need gas for your car or a snack for yourself (or goodies for a picnic), stop in at Bode's (on US 84 in Abiquiu; tel. 505/685-4422). The general store for the area, this place has shovels and irrigation boots, and better yet, cold drinks, gourmet sandwiches, and other deli items -- even a hearty green chile stew.
Lowriders & Car Art
While cruising Española's main drag, don't drop your jaw if you see the front of a car rise up off the ground and then sink down again, or if you witness another that appears to be scraping its underbelly on the pavement. These novelties are part of a car culture that thrives in northern New Mexico. Traditionally, the owners use late-model cars, which they soup up with such novelties as elaborate chrome, metal chain steering wheels, even portraits of Our Lady of Guadalupe painted on the hood. If you're interested in seeing the "Custom Car and Truck Show" put on by local car clubs (and often cosponsored by local casinos), call the Española Valley Chamber of Commerce for information (tel. 505/753-2831; www.espanolanmchamber.com).