Walking the Llano

A lyrical ecomemoir set in the West Texas prairie

When AmericanEuropean explorers arrived in the Texas Panhandle, they dubbed the region the

“Great American Desert.” Its rough terrain appeared flat, dry, and barely habitable.

Contemporary developments such as cell phone towers, oil rigs, and wind turbines have only

added to this stereotype. Yet there is more to western Texas. In this lyrical ecomemoir, Shelley

Armitage charts a unique rediscovery of an unloved land, a journey at once deeply personal and

far-reaching in its exploration of a changing environment.

At the start of her narrative, Armitage states her intention of walking the llano—of

following the Middle Alamosa Creek thirty meandering miles to the Canadian River. For

Armitage, who grew up on the llano in the tiny town of Vega, Texas, and on her family farm

three miles to the northwest, the act of walking is inseparable from the act of listening and

writing. “What does the land say to us?” she wonders. There is no escaping the severe alterations

caused by human occupation—farming, strip-mining, and oil and gas exploration. Less obvious

but perhaps more catastrophic is the drainage of the land’s most precious water source, the

Ogallala Aquifer.

Even so, the llano’s wonders persist: colorful mesas and canyons, vast flora and fauna,

diverse wildlife. While meditating on the region’s history, Armitage tells of the settlements of

ancient, Native, and Hispano peoples—and their imprints, barely visible today, on the natural

world. Interlaced with the author’s observations are poignant reflections on her childhood, her

mother’s final years, and her father’s efforts to maintain a working ranch.

Reminiscent of the work of memoirists Terry Tempest Williams and John McPhee,

Walking the Llano is both a celebration of an oft-overlooked region and a soaring testimony to

the power of landscape to draw us into greater understanding of ourselves and deeper connection

with the places we inhabit.

Shelley Armitage is Professor Emerita of English and American Culture at the University of

Texas at El Paso. Her numerous publications include Bones Incandescent: The Pajarito Journals

of Peggy Pond Church and Kewpies and Beyond: The World of Rose O’Neill.