During a road trip with his wife in the months following his battle with cancer, famed adventure writer Roberts retraces the route of the legendary expedition of two Franciscan friars—Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante—who were charged by the governor of New Mexico with discovering a route across the unknown Southwest to the new Spanish colony in California.
Superbly written, Escalante’s Dream is a multidirectional literary and historical exploration of the unknown American Southwest, transporting the reader through exhilarating discovery shadowed by mortality.
The wistfulness of Escalante’s Dream arises...from Roberts’s physical and existential trials ... The book that results is an amiably discursive, often beguiling entry in what has become a venerable literary form: the expedition in pursuit of an expedition. Roberts knows his Southwestern history, and he knows how to craft an artful sentence. The one thing he doesn’t appear to know is just how cranky he sounds when people he meets along the way don’t share his Escalante enthusiasm ... no one can accuse David Roberts of lacking acquaintance with the truly treacherous.
To steer his trip, Roberts relies heavily on both Escalante's journal and report compiled by a bevy of scholars in celebration of the expedition's bicentennial ... Roberts is clearly infatuated with both texts, but it's in the minutiae of these complimentary guides that Roberts will likely lose many readers; neither of the accounts were written to entertain, and Roberts himself—though occasionally wringing insight from between the lines—falls short of truly re-animating the expedition ... rather than ditch the trail in pursuit of more fertile ground—the margins of my copy are filled with personal pleas for him and his wife to go rogue and chase a little whimsy—the author remains frustratingly dutiful to the original route ... It's unfortunate that Roberts relegates his sickness to the periphery of his road trip, for it's in those rare instances when he humors the sentiments of his own mortality—when he honestly confronts the limits of his latest adventure and affords himself the luxury of reflection—that Escalante's Dream finally comes to life.