The modern Llano, fashioned from the raw earth and history of its past, and shaped as much by politics and economics as by rain and wind, is the meditation point for the photographers and writers brought before us here. Their translations alert us to the complexity, the idiosyncrasy, the passion, the forlorn hopes, the sublimity of the place, and sound across these pages one of the clarion calls of the twenty-first century. --Barry Lopez, from the introduction
Stand at the rim of Palo Duro Canyon or look down from any vista along the caprock, and let your imagination take over. Beneath an endless canopy of blue, you find yourself at the edge of an enormous island of rippling grassland that stretches from the New Mexico borderlands down through the Texas Panhandle.
The Llano Estacado, Coronado's legendary "staked plains," comprises all or part of thirty-three counties in Texas and four in New Mexico. It covers approximately 32,000 square miles of arid prairie used primarily today for ranching and farming. It lies atop the vast Ogalalla Aquifer--its primary source of water--and partially covers the oil-bearing Permian Basin. Its population, outside of four mid-sized cities, is sparse.
The Llano has always required and appealed to discerning eyes. The artists and writers gathered here are hardly the first to have felt the pull of this place or the urgency to capture its essence. Yet the idiosyncrasies and ideals, the successes and failures, the strangeness and beauty and power of the land and its people beckon fresh discovery. Look at the Llano with eyes open to possibility, and you will encounter the unexpected, a keener understanding of the ways in which landscape and life are always inescapably intertwined, thrumming, as Barry Lopez suggests, the eternal questions: Where are we? And where do we go from here?
William Tydeman is an archivist at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library at Texas Tech University, where he oversees the Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World. He is Co-editor of the UNM Press publication, Reading Into Photography: Selected Essays, 1959-1980.
A former archivist at the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University, Stephen Bogener is currently professor of history at West Texas A&M University in Canyon.
Award-winning author Barry Lopez is the Visiting Distinguished Scholar at Texas Tech University. He lives in Oregon.