Nineteenth Century explorers dubbed it part of the Great American Desert, a “sea of grass,” uninhabitable, flat, unworthy of love. The 32,000 acre Llano Estacado, that high tableland covering eastern New Mexico and northwest Texas nevertheless has been home to ancient Folsom and Clovis man, and more recently the Antelope Creek people who traded with the Anasazi. One of the oldest industries in North America, the Alibates Flint Quarry provided richly grained dolomite for points, scrapers, and other Stone Age tools until the l870s when the Comanche last mined it. The land also holds the richest source of Mesozoic fossils, one ten-footer resembling a cross between horned lizard and crocodile.
This was once a sea all right; and the llano still sits, along with six states, over one of the world’s largest aquifers, the Ogallala.
And one of the quickest declining.
Windmills made possible its settling. Now farms, ranches, wind turbines, microwave towers, and sand and gravel pits constitute a commerce of the prairies.
My farm is a tiny parenthesis within this whole so walking to discover its story may seem no major matter. But then the local can have global implications. In a series of summers, I walked the thirty meandering miles from my family farm near Vega, Texas to the “breaks” and the Canadian River.
I walked to see what was in my so-called own backyard, to test the idea that we are part of the landscape, not outside it. My impetus was the connection of my father’s generation with that of the earliest settlers, the pastores who built sophisticated acequias to relay water from spring sites to plazas and adobe houses. My dad knew one of the first settlers, Ysabel Gurule, who was in his 80s when my dad first knew him at age 16.
What other stories would the land tell us, I wondered, if we could only listen? I found the act of walking to be writing and writing to be listening, inside and out. Walking the Llano is a testimony to rediscovering kinship—and that’s the lasting beauty of all our places.