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).
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)|
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.
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.
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. The 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.":122
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
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."
William "Billy" Dixon, described the area while buffalo hunting 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."
In author Zane Grey's 1925 novel, The Thundering Herd, Grey offers 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 in describing 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.
Blanco Canyon is a canyon located in the U.S. state of Texas. Eroded by the White River into the Caprock Escarpment on the east side of the Llano Estacado, the canyon runs for 34 miles (55 km) in a southeasterly direction, gradually widening from its beginning in southwestern Floyd County to 10 miles (16 km) across at its mouth in southeastern Crosby County. It also gradually deepens from 50 feet (15 m) at its beginning to 300 to 500 feet (91 to 150 m) at its mouth. One side canyon, 5-mile long Crawfish Canyon, was cut by Crawfish Creek as it feeds into the White River from the west.Blanco Canyon is one of several canyons that have been cut by rivers into the east face of the Llano Estacado, including Yellow House Canyon, Tule Canyon, and Palo Duro Canyon.Caprock Escarpment
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.Colorado River (Texas)
The Colorado River is an 862-mile (1,387 km) long river in the U.S. state of Texas. It is the 18th longest river in the United States and the longest river with both its source and its mouth within Texas.Its drainage basin and some of its usually dry tributaries extend into New Mexico. It flows generally southeast from Dawson County through Ballinger, Marble Falls, Austin, Bastrop, Smithville, La Grange, Columbus, Wharton, and Bay City before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at Matagorda Bay.Eastern New Mexico
Eastern New Mexico is a physiographic subregion within the U.S. state of New Mexico. The region is sometimes called the "High Plains," "Eastern Plains (of New Mexico)," or even "Little Texas". The region is largely coterminous with the portion of the Llano Estacado in New Mexico. Eastern New Mexico mostly lies upon the high plains, which extends to elevations over 4,000 ft (1,200 m). The region is mostly characterized by flat 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.
Like much of the Llano Estacado region, Eastern New Mexico is largely agricultural and resembles West Texas in geography, culture, economy, and demographics. The region includes portions of the counties of Curry, De Baca, Guadalupe, Lea, Quay, and Roosevelt. It is served by Eastern New Mexico University, a state university located in Portales.Golden Spread Council
The Golden Spread Council serves youth in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. Its service area includes all or part of 23 counties in Texas and three counties in Oklahoma. Through 2010, the council served approximately 5,300 youth members and 1,700 adult leaders.Levelland, Texas
Levelland is a city in Hockley County, Texas, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 13,542, up from 12,866 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Hockley County. It is located on the Llano Estacado, 30 miles (48 km) west of Lubbock. Major industries include cotton farming and petroleum production. It is the home of South Plains College.
Levelland is the principal city of the Levelland micropolitan statistical area, which includes all of Hockley County and part of the larger Lubbock–Levelland combined statistical area.Llano Estacado Winery
Llano Estacado Winery is a winery located in Lubbock, Texas. It is one of the oldest wineries in Texas.Mescalero Ridge
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.Monahans Sandhills State Park
The Monahans Sandhills State Park is a 3,840-acre (1,550 ha) state park located in the southern Llano Estacado in Ward County and Winkler County, Texas. The closest major town is Monahans, Texas, and the closest limited-access highway ingress is Exit 86 on Interstate 20.Mount Blanco
Mount Blanco is a small white hill — an erosional remnant — located on the eastern border of the Llano Estacado within Blanco Canyon in Crosby County, Texas. It is the type locality of the Blanco Formation and Blancan Fauna, which occurs throughout North America.Mushaway Peak
Mushaway Peak is a small but conspicuous butte located 4 mi (6.4 km) southeast of Gail in central Borden County, Texas. It is one of the region's most venerable landmarks.The summit of this peak rises to an altitude of 2,851 ft (869 m) above sea level, which is roughly the same altitude as the High Plains of the Llano Estacado 10 mi (16 km) to the northwest. Mushaway Peak is in fact an erosional remnant of what was once a much larger Llano Estacado that has gradually retreated by the process of headward erosion. Its resistant cap has protected its underlying sediments, which have remained intact while surrounding sediments have been eroded away by Grape Creek and Bull Creek, two tributaries of the upper Colorado River.North Fork Double Mountain Fork Brazos River
The North Fork Double Mountain Fork Brazos River is an intermittent stream about 75 mi (121 km) long, heading at the junction of Blackwater Draw and Yellow House Draw in the city of Lubbock, flowing generally southeastward to its mouth on the Double Mountain Fork Brazos River in western Kent County. It crosses portions of Lubbock, Crosby, Garza, and Kent counties in West Texas.
The flowing waters of the North Fork carved Yellow House Canyon, one of three major canyons along the east side of the Llano Estacado.Posey, Texas
Posey is a small, unincorporated, community located on the level plains of the Llano Estacado about 11 mi (18 km) southeast of Lubbock in southeastern Lubbock County, Texas.Ransom Canyon, Texas
Ransom Canyon is a town in Lubbock County of West Texas, United States. The population was 1,096 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Lubbock Metropolitan Statistical Area.South Plains
The South Plains is region in northwest Texas, consisting of 24 counties. The main crop is cotton.Southland, Texas
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.West 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.
There is no consensus on the boundary between East Texas and West Texas. While most Texans understand these terms, no boundaries are officially recognized and any two individuals are likely to describe the boundaries of these regions differently. Walter Prescott Webb, the American historian and geographer, suggested that the 98th meridian separates East and West Texas; Texas writer A.C. Greene proposed that West Texas extends west of the Brazos River.West Texas is often subdivided according to distinct physiographic features. The portion of West Texas that lies west of the Pecos River is often referred to as "Far West Texas" or the "Trans-Pecos", a term first introduced in 1887 by Texas geologist Robert T. Hill. The Trans-Pecos lies within the Chihuahuan Desert, and is the most arid portion of the state. Another part of West Texas is the Llano Estacado, a vast region of high, level plains extending into Eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. To the east of the Llano Estacado lies the “redbed country” of the Rolling Plains and to the south of the Llano Estacado lies the Edwards Plateau. The Rolling Plains and the Edwards Plateau subregions act as transitional zones between eastern and western Texas.Yellow House Canyon
Yellow House Canyon is about 32 km (20 mi) long, heading in Lubbock, Texas, at the junction of Blackwater Draw and Yellow House Draw, and trending generally southeastward to the edge of the Llano Estacado about 10 km (6.2 mi) east of Slaton, Texas; it forms one of three major canyons along the east side of the Llano Estacado and carries the waters of the North Fork Double Mountain Fork Brazos River.Within the city limits of Lubbock, Yellow House Canyon remains a narrow and shallow channel with a typical width of less than 0.5 km (0.31 mi) and a typical depth of not more than 20 m (66 ft). Here, the city of Lubbock has constructed a series of small dams that form a series of narrow lakes, collectively known as Canyon Lakes. The Canyon Lakes park offers conservation areas and recreational opportunities on the water and in the narrow park along the water's edge.
As Yellow House Canyon extends outside the city limits of Lubbock, the canyon gradually widens and deepens. Around 15 km (9.3 mi) to the east-southeast of Lubbock, a dam was constructed to form Buffalo Springs Lake, a recreational lake that now inundates the site of the main springs, though the springs continue to flow beneath the waters of the lake. Immediately downstream of Buffalo Springs Lake is a much smaller dam that forms another recreational lake named Lake Ransom Canyon, where numerous single-family homes surround the lake to form the community of Ransom Canyon, Texas.
Downstream of Ransom Canyon, the North Fork is finally allowed to flow freely across sparsely populated ranchland as the canyon continues to deepen and widen. Where the North Fork crosses Texas Farm to Market Road 400, the canyon is nearly 3 km (1.9 mi) wide and 60 m (200 ft) deep. Further downstream, near the confluence of Plum Creek and the North Fork, the walls of the canyon begin to curve sharply outward as the North Fork Double Mountain Fork Brazos River flows out of the canyon and onto the rolling plains of West Texas.Yellow House Draw
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).
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