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Cities of Gold - A Journey Across the American Southwest in Pursuit of Coronado by Douglas Preston

Douglas Preston's "Cities of Gold" is a riveting account of his journey in the hoof beats of Coronado, the legendary 16th-century explorer and conquistador who led the first European expedition through the American Southwest.

"There must be, I thought, some way to peel back these layers of history, to rediscover the land and see it as it once was...  This was when I first had the idea to retrace the route of the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado..." he wrote.

Preston and a friend, Walter Nelson, thus set out on horseback across one thousand miles of vast deserts and unknown mountains retracing Coronado's search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. Forced to battle extremes of heat and cold, impenetrable mesquite thickets, bad water, and paralyzing drought, they nonetheless find the country awesome in its scale and beauty - with much of it so untouched that it is recognizable from descriptions in Coronado's reports.

"In the Southwest I experienced landscapes so fearfully vast and disorienting that I could not grasp them.  These were not landscapes embedded in my genetic heritage, and I felt a stranger in a very strange land indeed".

Where Preston encounters various people - cowboys, ranchers, crazy old eccentrics - he listens to them talk about their lives, about growing up, and how the West has changed. His journey also takes him through a number of isolated Indian settlements, where he meets some of the actual descendents of the people who fought Coronado.

"I began to wonder just what this continent was like when Europeans first arrived - that moment, 450 years ago, when the peoples of the Old World and the New World first encountered each other within the borders of what would become America.  I became obsessed with that moment of contact.  This was a historical event as shocking and profound as any in the human history of this planet.  Unlike the normal ponderous cycles of history, it was a flash in time, a sudden, terrifying instant that left both Europeans and native Americans forever changed.  The peoples of two worlds, who had coexisted for twenty thousand or thirty thousand years unaware of each other's existence, were suddenly brought face-to-face.  They would attempt to communicate in strange words and mute gestures and almost immediately would begin killing one another - the first formal engagement between Europeans and Indians on what would become American soil".  

Preston's "Cities of Gold" is a rich tapestry of adventures discovered along the trail complete with unforgettable portraits of such Indian leaders as Geronimo and Cochise, lively stories of gun battles and feuds, and memories of cattle drives, dust, and the vanished open ranges. A vivid description of a grueling modern equestrian adventure through the landscape, people and history of the American Southwest, the only word to describe such a book is "classic".                               

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