Escalante’s Dream: On the Trail of the Spanish Discovery of the Southwest

Norton. Jul. 2019. 360p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780393652062. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393652079. HIST
In 1776, Franciscan friars Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante led a Spanish entrada (expedition of exploration) in a 1,700-mile loop through the North American Southwest. Only 12 men strong and with few supplies or firearms, the Domínguez-Escalante expedition traversed mighty rivers, yawning canyons, and waterless plateaus as they attempted to chart a trade route from New Mexico to California. Hunger and illness forced the explorers to turn back before reaching California, but none died nor harmed any natives along the way—a stark contrast to earlier Spanish and later American depredations. Thirty years before Lewis and Clark crossed the continent, these two idealistic priests crisscrossed the Southwest. Roberts (Limits of the Known) recounts the expedition’s story, blending historical with personal narrative, interpreting, speculating, and reading between the lines of Escalante’s diaries. For nearly 40 days, Roberts and his wife retrace the expedition’s path on a road trip that is unexciting, but the personal element is poignant. Recently diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, Roberts treats this trip—and book—as his swan song.
VERDICT As in Greg MacGregor’s photo essay In Search of Dominguez & Escalante, this work breathes new life into a centuries-old journey.
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