One hundred and fifty years ago, Texans were wrestling with big problems – energy, water, public safety, transportation, and economic development. Today these issues are as pressing as ever and new technologies allow us to look back at an earlier era to see how our predecessors addressed these vital issues in their own time.

This suite of public domain documents was selected as a foundation to preserve and to widen access to early writings on the geology of Texas. It encompasses samples of the works of many of the early geologic explorers and interpreters of Texas, and to this core we intend to continue adding both primary documents and historical reviews of early Texas geologic study. These works are important both politically and scientifically, and we hope they will bring to life part of the history of Texas that has been previously available only to those with access to research library collections.


Virtual Landscapes began as a stand-alone database initially containing the Dumble and earlier survey reports around 1996, and later grew to include a wide variety of materials. The site was relaunched in 2011, with new architecture and photographs by Jim Bones. The web site migrated to its permanent home in the Texas ScholarWorks digital repository in 2020.

Background information on some of the materials included

Texas Geological Surveys

Includes the publications of the First, Second, and Third (known as the "Dumble Survey") Geologic Surveys of Texas, the first official State investigations of its lands and potential. Due to the intense political forces surrounding the implications for development and the value of State Lands, the existence of these Surveys and the actions and publications of the individuals involved created strong interest. None of the surveys survived for long. After the turn of the 20th century, and concurrent with the discovery of Spindletop, a University of Texas Mineral Survey was created by the Legislature under the direction of William Battle Phillips. The idea was that by placing the Survey under the umbrella of the University, the “parsimonious legislators” (as R.T. Hill described them) would not be able to dismantle it. In 1909, later legislation created the Bureau of Economic Geology, which has had a long and distinguished history of its own.

US Geological Survey publications

Since Texas joined the United States under unusual circumstances, it did not cede its undeveloped land to the federal government. This limited somewhat the early work of the US Geological Survey in Texas, primarily to topographic mapping in areas of intense economic interest. Nevertheless, some of the early USGS publications on Texas are landmarks. This suite includes two by Robert Thomas Hill. Hill was a geologist of national prominence, and he had a long and stormy career in Texas, both with the USGS and the Texas Survey, as well as a brief stint on the faculty. His work on the Black and Grand Prairies of Texas and the Llano Estacado are still referred to today. Phillip B. King’s work on the Marathon region is also a landmark of early reconnaissance, and Tom Taylor’s short analysis of the failure of the Austin dam was a thorough and revealing piece of research. Other USGS documents include the Texas parts of the Folio Atlas of the United States.

The Jackson School of Geosciences and the Department of Geological Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin There are several publications from the University of Texas Dept. of Geological Sciences. These include the volumes of the Annual Departmental Newsletter, building dedications, and festschrift or workshop type publications.

Texas Bureau of Economic Geology

The Texas Bureau of Economic Geology celebrated its Centennial in 2009, and the bulk of the material in Virtual Landscapes consists of the amazing publishing legacy of this agency.

Texas Water Development Board and its predecessors

We have been working cooperatively with the Texas Water Development Board to supplement their online offerings, focusing on WPA reports on Texas county water records and selected TWDB Report and Bulletin Series.

Austin Geological Society

The leadership of the AGS has given permission to add their out-of-print guidebooks to our site.

Other Materials

There are also a number of other miscellaneous documents that are illustrative of early historical or cultural work on the earth sciences in the state or the Southwest. They include, among others, Marcou’s early treatise on the Geology of North America, and an investigation of an overland railroad route, one of many, which were fundamental to the territorial expansions. There is also a document meant to complete some of the work of Shumard truncated by the Civil War, a tract illustrating the bitter political battles that raged over the early Texas Surveys, and a satire piece which looks suspiciously like publications produced at Baylor in the 1950s and 60s.


These documents have been made available through the combined efforts and funding of the TEX Treasures program of the Texas State Library, the University of Texas Libraries, and the Walter and Library Support funds of the UT Geology Foundation. The Virtual Landscapes project was the brainchild and labor of love of the late Dennis Trombatore, UT Geology Librarian from 1985-2020. Thanks also go to the many individuals who contributed to the effort to digitize, preserve and present these materials, including numerous UT Libraries staff members and many students from the School of Information. The photographs are used with permission of Jim Bones.

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