Southwestern United States
Northwest escarpment of the Llano Estacado
Shaded relief image of the Llano Estacado. The escarpments marking the eastern edge of the Llano are visible, running roughly in a north–south line through the middle of the Panhandle. The western edge is on the New Mexico side of the border, with the Texas–New Mexico border running considerably closer to the western edge of the Llano than to the eastern.
|State||New Mexico and Texas|
|• Total||97,000 km2 (37,000 sq mi)|
|• Density||13/km2 (33/sq mi)|
Llano Estacado (Spanish: [ˈʝano estaˈkaðo] ), often translated as Staked Plains, is a region in the Southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. One of the largest mesas or tablelands on the North American continent, the elevation rises from 3,000 feet (900 m) in the southeast to over 5,000 feet (1,500 m) in the northwest, sloping almost uniformly at about 10 feet per mile (1.9 m/km).
The Llano Estacado lies at the southern end of the Western High Plains ecoregion of the Great Plains of North America; it is part of what was once called the Great American Desert. The Canadian River forms the Llano's northern boundary, separating it from the rest of the High Plains. To the east, the Caprock Escarpment, a precipitous cliff about 300 feet (100 m) high, lies between the Llano and the red Permian plains of Texas; while to the west, the Mescalero Escarpment demarcates the eastern edge of the Pecos River valley. The Llano has no natural southern boundary, instead blending into the Edwards Plateau near Big Spring, Texas. This geographic area stretches about 250 miles (400 km) north to south, and 150 miles (240 km) east to west, a total area of some 37,500 square miles (97,000 km2), larger than Indiana and 12 other states. It covers all or part of 33 Texas counties and four New Mexico counties. Some years, a National Weather Service dust storm warning is issued in parts of Texas due to a dust storm originating from the area or from the adjacent lower part of the Southwestern Tablelands ecological region. The landscape is dotted by numerous small playa lakes, depressions that seasonally fill with water and provide habitat for waterfowl.
The Llano Estacado has a "cold semiarid" climate (Köppen BSk), characterized by long, hot summers and cold winters. Rainfall is relatively low; the entire region receives fewer than 23 in (580 mm) of rainfall annually, and the western part receives as little as 14 in (360 mm). High summer temperatures (average July temperature above 90 °F or 32 °C) mean most of the small amount of precipitation is lost to evaporation, making dryland farming difficult.
The Texas State Historical Society states it covers all or part of 33 Texas counties, six fewer than as depicted by a US Geological Survey map, and four New Mexico counties.
As depicted by a US Geological Survey map, the Llano Estacado includes all or part of these Texas counties:
It also includes all or part of the following New Mexico counties:
Several interstate highways serve the Llano Estacado. Interstate 40 crosses the northern portion from east of Amarillo to Tucumcari, New Mexico. Interstate 27 runs north-south between Amarillo and Lubbock, while Interstate 20 passes through the southern portion of the Llano Estacado west of Midland and Odessa.
Spanish conquistador Francisco Coronado, the first European to traverse this "sea of grass" in 1541, described it as follows:
I reached some plains so vast, that I did not find their limit anywhere I went, although I traveled over them for more than 300 leagues ... with no more land marks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea ... there was not a stone, nor bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by.
In the early 18th century, the Comanches expanded their territory into the Llano Estacado, displacing the Apaches who had previously lived there. The region became part of the Comancheria, a Comanche stronghold until the final defeat of the tribe in the late 19th century. 122The Comanche war trail extended from Llano Estacado to the Rio Grande into Chihuahua, "the trail ran southwesterly through Big Spring to the Horsehead Crossing of the Pecos River, then forked southward to the Comanche Springs where it divided, one part of the trail crossing the great river near Boquillas and the other at Presidio." :
Rachel Plummer, while a captive of the Comanche in 1836, mentioned the "table lands between Austin and Santa Fe".
Robert Neighbors and Rip Ford, guided by Buffalo Hump, blazed the "upper route" trail from San Antonio to El Paso in 1849 for emigrants during the California Gold Rush, "... travelling across an elevated plateau almost covered by rock ..." 114 and 121:
After his 1852 expedition to explore the headwaters of the Red and Colorado Rivers, General Randolph Marcy wrote: "[not] a tree, shrub, or any other herbage to intercept the vision ... the almost total absence of water causes all animals to shun it: even the Indians do not venture to cross it except at two or three places."In his report for the United States Army:
When we were upon the high table-land, a view presented itself as boundless as the ocean. Not a tree, shrub, or any other object, either animate or inanimate, relieved the dreary monotony of the prospect; it was a vast-illimitable expanse of desert prairie . ... the great Sahara of North America. it is a region almost as vast and trackless as the ocean—a land where no man, either savage or civilized permanently abides ... a treeless, desolate waste of uninhabitable solitude, which always has been, and must continue uninhabited forever.
During the 1854 Marcy-Neighbors expedition, Dr. George Getz Shumard noted, "Beyond the mountain appeared a line of high bluffs (the Llano Estacado) which in the distance looked like clouds floating upon the horizon." 145:
Herman Lehmann was captured by the Apache in 1870 and described the Llano Estacado as "the country was open, but not exactly a desert".
Robert G. Carter described it in 1871 while pursuing Quanah Parker with Ranald S. Mackenzie, "... all were over and out of the canyon upon what appeared to be a vast, almost illimitable expanse of prairie. As far as the eye could reach, not a bush or tree, a twig or stone, not an object of any kind or a living thing, was in sight. It stretched out before us-one uninterrupted plain, only to be compared to the ocean in its vastness."
In August 1872, Mackenzie was the first to successfully lead troops across the Staked Plains preparatory to the Battle of the North Fork of the Red River.
Billy Dixon described the area while hunting buffalo in June 1874: "All of us hunters acquainted with the habits of the buffalo knew that the herds would soon be coming north from the Staked Plains region where they had spent the winter ... moved by that strange impulse that ... caused them to change their home and blacken the Plains with their countless, moving forms."
Zane Grey, in his novel The Thundering Herd (1925), offered the following explanation for the name Llano Estacado: "Thet name Llano Estacado means Staked Plain," said the Texan. "It comes from the early days when the Spanish Trail from Sante Fe to San Antone was marked by 'palos,' or stakes. There was only two trails across in them days an' I reckon no more now. Only the Indians know this plain well an' they only run in heah to hide awhile. Water an' grass are plentiful in some parts, an' then there's stretches of seventy miles dry an' bare as a bone."
In the latter part of the 19th century, the Llano was a refuge for the bands of Kiowas and Comanches who did not wish to be confined to reservations in Indian Territory, in present-day Oklahoma. One of their last battles against the US Army was fought on 28 September 1874 in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.
Charles Goodnight described what it takes to be a scout: "... the trained ear should be able to tell the sound, whether it was made by man or beast or bird ... as a human voice echoes more than all others ... of course, on the Staked Plains we have not this advantage as there is nothing to create an echo."
Today, most of the area's population is localized in the principal cities of Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland and Odessa, Texas. The vast majority of the area is rural, covered by large ranches and irrigated farms. Several small- to medium-sized towns do exist, however, including Andrews, Hereford, Plainview, Levelland, and Lamesa, Texas, and Clovis, Portales, and Hobbs, New Mexico.
The Llano Estacado is slightly larger in area than the state of Indiana. The southern extension of the High Plains, the region is some 250 miles north to south and 200 miles east to west. The roads are straight and meet mostly at right angles. Cotton is an essential crop with irrigation, but faces declining prices at times on the world market. The Llano Estacado is sometimes humorously described as "85 percent sky and 15 percent grassland."
Notable lawmakers include George H. Mahon, Kent Hance, and Robert L. Duncan. The area has a large number of churches per capita. Lubbock, known for a wide variety of denominations, also holds the distinction of being the most populous city on the High Plains from the Dakotas through Texas. Prohibition did not end on the Texas Plains in 1933 with repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, but continued for years at the county level. Even in 2010, some forty Texas counties, most in the Llano Estacado, remain officially "dry" to the sale of alcoholic beverages.
"The 'Staked Plains' tale is deeply entrenched in Texas mythology, but the real interpretation of Llano Estacado is sensible geologic: it means 'stockaded' or 'palisaded' plains - which is precisely how the edge of the plains appear when viewed from below the caprock." 355:
The Ogallala formation is a wedge of sediments built up eastward of the Rocky Mountains as they were uplifted in the Miocene, with the consequent alluvial fans referred to as the "Gangplank". 356 The Ogallala Aquifer is the main freshwater source for the region and consists of braided stream deposits filling in valleys during humid climatic conditions, followed by a sub-humid to arid climate and thick eolian (wind-blown) sand and silt. :356 Caliche layers cap the Ogallala, which reflect today's arid conditions. :356 Pleistocene rainfall over the flat terrain caused water to pond at the surface, resulting in a High Plains characteristic, innumerable round ponds called playa lakes. :357 Spearing goes on to say,:
When the weather is dry, they are dusty, round, gray, usually unvegetated flats, as observed from the highway. But after a High Plains thunderstorm, water quickly fills the ponds, only later soaking into the underlying porous sandstones just below the surface to add to the groundwater in the Ogallala aquifer. Early pioneers depended dearly on water from these surface ponds for themselves and their livestock, considering how few streams are on the High Plains. But rains didn't always come, and the ponds dried up frequently. The 20th century has witnessed a concerted effort to tap the more reliable Ogallala water sands. Predictably, the consequent high dependency on groundwater has removed more water than is naturally replaced, raising concern for Panhandle citizens and planners as to future water supplies. 357:
The Pecos and Canadian rivers have eroded the Llano Estacado region down to the Triassic and Permian redbeds resulting is a distinctive color contrast besides separating it from source rocks in the Rocky Mountains.
The economy of the Llano Estacado is predominantly agricultural, with farming of various crops prevalent, as is cattle ranching. Oil and gas production is also prevalent on the Llano Estacado.
Overuse of the aquifer in the past has persuaded some farmers to return to dryland crops, leading to less rainwater reaching the playas.
"Cotton, grain sorghum, corn, wheat, peanuts, sunflowers, grapes, vegetables, and cattle produced in the region literally go around the world. Their economic impact on our area is in the billions of dollars ... and the availability of water is a key factor influencing the region's agribusiness economy."
One of the largest economic drivers on the Llano Estacado is in energy production, with the region experiencing significant activity for producing oil and natural gas associated with the Permian Basin. Additionally, wind farms have proliferated on the Llano Estacado due to the region's windy climate making it a favorable location for the production of wind energy.
Muleshoe is a city in Bailey County, Texas, United States. The town of Muleshoe was founded in 1913 when the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway built an 88-mile (142 km) line from Farwell, Texas, to Lubbock through northern Bailey County. In 1926, Muleshoe was incorporated. The population was 5,158 at the 2010 census. The county seat of Bailey County, it is home to the National Mule Memorial.
Farwell is a city in and the county seat of Parmer County, Texas, United States. The population was 1363 at the 2010 census. The city is located on the Texas-New Mexico border with the city of Texico, New Mexico across the border.
Palo Duro Canyon is a canyon system of the Caprock Escarpment located in the Texas Panhandle near the cities of Amarillo and Canyon. As the second-largest canyon in the United States, it is roughly 120 mi (190 km) long and has an average width of 6 mi (9.7 km), but reaches a width of 20 mi (32 km) at places. Its depth is around 820 ft (250 m), but in some locations, it increases to 1,000 ft (300 m). Palo Duro Canyon has been named "The Grand Canyon of Texas" both for its size and for its dramatic geological features, including the multicolored layers of rock and steep mesa walls similar to those in the Grand Canyon.
The Texas Panhandle is a region of the U.S. state of Texas consisting of the northernmost 26 counties in the state. The panhandle is a rectangular area bordered by New Mexico to the West and Oklahoma to the North and East. The Handbook of Texas defines the southern border of Swisher County as the southern boundary of the Texas Panhandle region.
Grulla National Wildlife Refuge is located primarily in eastern New Mexico in Roosevelt County, southwest of the intersection of State Highway 88 and the Texas - New Mexico border about 25 miles southeast of Portales, New Mexico and southeast of the tiny community of Arch. A very small part of the refuge extends eastward into western Bailey County, Texas.
West Texas is a loosely defined part of the U.S. state of Texas, generally encompassing the arid and semiarid lands west of a line drawn between the cities of Wichita Falls, Abilene, and Del Rio.
The South Plains is region in northwest Texas, consisting of 24 counties. The main crop is cotton.
The Mescalero Ridge forms the western edge of the great Llano Estacado, a vast plateau or tableland in the southwestern United States in New Mexico and Texas. It is the western equivalent of the Caprock Escarpment, which defines the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado.
The High Plains are a subregion of the Great Plains mostly in the Western United States, but also partly in the Midwest states of Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota, generally encompassing the western part of the Great Plains before the region reaches the Rocky Mountains. The High Plains are located in eastern Montana, southeastern Wyoming, southwestern South Dakota, western Nebraska, eastern Colorado, western Kansas, eastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma, and to just south of the Texas Panhandle. The southern region of the Western High Plains ecology region contains the geological formation known as Llano Estacado which can be seen from a short distance or on satellite maps. From east to west, the High Plains rise in elevation from around 1,800 feet (550 m) to over 7,000 feet (2,100 m).
The Caprock Escarpment is a term used in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico to describe the geographical transition point between the level high plains of the Llano Estacado and the surrounding rolling terrain. In Texas, the escarpment stretches around 200 mi (320 km) south-southwest from the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle near the Oklahoma border. The escarpment is especially notable, from north to south, in Briscoe, Floyd, Motley, Crosby, Dickens, Garza, and Borden Counties. In New Mexico, a prominent escarpment exists along the northernmost extension of the Llano Estacado, especially to the south of San Jon and Tucumcari, both in Quay County, New Mexico. Along the western edge of the Llano Estacado, the portion of the escarpment that stretches from Caprock to Maljamar, New Mexico is called the Mescalero Ridge.
Eastern New Mexico is a physiographic subregion within the U.S. state of New Mexico. The region is sometimes called the "High Plains," or "Eastern Plains ," and was historically referred to as part of the "Great American Desert". The region is largely coterminous with the portion of the Llano Estacado in New Mexico. Portions of Eastern New Mexico's elevation extends to over 4,000 ft (1,200 m). The region is characterized by flat, largely-featureless terrain with the exception of the Pecos River valley and the abrupt breaks along the Mescalero Ridge and northern caprock escarpments of the Llano Estacado. The region typically lacks the high relief of central and northern New Mexico, such as that in the Sangre de Cristo and Sandia mountain ranges. The climate is semi-arid with hot summers and is characterized by significant wind and dust storms in the springtime.
The geography of Texas is diverse and large. Occupying about 7% of the total water and land area of the U.S., it is the second largest state after Alaska, and is the southernmost part of the Great Plains, which end in the south against the folded Sierra Madre Oriental of Mexico. Texas is in the South Central United States of America, and is considered to form part of the U.S. South and also part of the U.S. Southwest.
Rath City was a frontier town which existed for fewer than five years and is now a ghost town. The town was located on the Double Mountain Fork Brazos River, 14 miles northwest of Hamlin in southern Stonewall County, Texas, United States.
Southland is an unincorporated community in Garza County, Texas, United States. It lies along the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado on U.S. Route 84, twenty miles northwest of Post.
Horsehead Crossing is a ford on the Pecos River in Crane County, south of Odessa, Texas. Historically, it was a major landmark on the trail west as one of a few fordable sections of the Pecos in West Texas, and as the first reliable source of water for about 75 miles on the route from the east.
The White River is an intermittent stream in the South Plains of Texas and a tributary of the Brazos River of the United States. It rises 8 miles (13 km) west of Floydada in southwestern Floyd County at the confluence of Callahan and Runningwater Draws. From there, it runs southeast for 62 miles (100 km) to its mouth on the Salt Fork of the Brazos River in northwestern Kent County. Besides these two headwaters, which rise near Hale Center and in Curry County, New Mexico, respectively, other tributaries include Pete, Crawfish, and Davidson Creeks. The White River drains an area of 1,690 sq mi (4,377 km2).
Yellow House Draw is an ephemeral watercourse about 236 km (147 mi) long, heading about 20 km (12 mi) southwest of Melrose, New Mexico, and tending generally east-southeastward across the Llano Estacado to the city of Lubbock, where it joins Blackwater Draw to form Yellow House Canyon at the head of the North Fork Double Mountain Fork Brazos River. It stretches across Roosevelt, Curry, Bailey, Cochran, Hockley, and Lubbock Counties of eastern New Mexico and West Texas, and drains an area of 9,790 km2 (3,780 sq mi).
The Comanche Trail, sometimes called the Comanche War Trail or the Comanche Trace, was a travel route in Texas established by the nomadic Comanche nation. The route ran from the Comanche summer hunting grounds to the Rio Grande, where the Spanish had established a line of missions and presidios during the eighteenth century in what was then called New Spain, which the Comanche would raid. Although called a "trail," the Comanche Trail was actually a network of parallel and branching trails, always following sources of good water. By 1857 parts of the trail had been named and appeared on maps.
Becton is an unincorporated community in northeast Lubbock County, about 18 mi (29 km) northeast of Lubbock, Texas. This small rural community lies on the high plains of the Llano Estacado in West Texas.
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