El Llano Estacado: Exploration and Imagination on the High Plains of Texas and New Mexico, 1536–1860


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El Llano Estacado, a major new work of Western History, reveals the historical heart of one of the world’s unique regions: the enormous mesaland of the Southern High Plains in Texas and New Mexico. From the Canadian River in the north to the Edwards Plateau in the south, from the Pecos River in the west to the fantastic canyonlands of the Red, Pease, Brazos, and Colorado Rivers in the east, the 50,000 square miles of “the Llano” are chronicled over three centuries with an eye to the history and compelling mystery of this special land. Armchair detectives will especially relish the comprehensive discussion of the lost—now possibly rediscovered—Coronado expedition route across the plains.

This story of the legendary Llano Estacado from 1536 to 1860 informs our understanding of discovery and geography in the Southwest. El Llano Estacado is more than a good read; it is also a native son’s meditation on the role of imagination and myth in how we perceive this unique environment. From the dawn of historic contact with the Southern High Plains, a remarkable series of Spanish, French, Mexican, and Anglo-American explorers and adventurers attempted to make sense of its curious environment.

Part I of this saga, “Lo Llano,” is a detective story on the Lost Coronado Trail. The key to this ancient Southwest mystery—where did the Spanish go in Texas in 1541?—is understanding what they saw and how they remembered it in their writings. Part II, “The Llano Frontier,” studies the three centuries of Spanish exploration and imagination following Coronado. Part III of the study, “The Illimitable Prairie,” analyzes the romantic discovery of the Llano in the Anglo imagination. In the final Part IV, “The Great Zahara,” the author rides the trail of the classic Anglo explorers of the Llano: James W. Abert, Randolph Marcy, John Pope, and others. The visual representations of the Llano are also revealed through numerous illustrations of rare maps and lithographs.

El Llano Estacado is a grand history and geography told in an imaginative, interdisciplinary style befitting a high land. The mysteries and mirages of this great Southwestern landscape are the stuff of adventurers’ quests and now readers’ dreams.


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