Created by presidential proclamation in March 2013, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico features 10,000-foot mountains, high deserts, and a breathtaking gorge that — in some places — reaches a depth of 800 feet. Sound like plein air perfection? For Peggy Immel, it sure is.
As a Signature member of the Plein Air Painters of New Mexico and the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters, Peggy Immel has undoubtedly been exposed to some of the best painting locations America has to offer. Her favorite place to paint, however, lies about 15 miles south of her home in Taos, New Mexico: the recently recognized Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
With an average elevation of 7000 feet, this high desert region is packed with just about any subject an outdoor painter could desire. Towering above the desert are extinct volcanoes, some of their snow-capped peaks reaching 10,000 feet. Just as exciting as the views that go up are also the ones that venture down into the Rio Grande gorge — in some places reaching depths of 800 feet.
“There are any number of wonderful places to paint along the rim of the gorge and within its walls on the banks of the river,” Immel says, “and because there is such a large elevation spread, one can paint all year long in comfort. In the winter the gorge floor is pleasant and the colors are spectacular, with red willows lining the banks of the river. In the heat of summer, the river offers the opportunity for a swim if it’s hot, while the temperatures along the rim and higher elevations remain moderate.”
Despite the seemingly endless opportunities, Immel does have a few go-to spots. She says, “The Orilla Verde Recreation Area at the southern end of the monument is my personal go-to painting place. I can always find wonderful things to paint there. A visitor center for the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and Pilar, New Mexico (a quaint, picturesque village), lie at the entrance to this area. New Mexico Highway 570 runs along the east side of the river to the Taos Junction Bridge, where it crosses to the west side, turns to dirt, and continues up the gorge wall to Carson, New Mexico. There are innumerable painting sports on this road along the river between Pilar and the Junction Bridge. My favorite place? The Arroyo Hondo Campground.”