We just started studying Spanish exploration in North America. What makes it so important today?

Stories and legends about incredible wealth stimulated the Spanish exploration of North America. The earliest expedition brought Juan Ponce de Leon to the Florida peninsula in search of the mythical "Fountain of Youth" (1513).

In 1528, Panfilo de Narvaez sailed along the Gulf Coast of the United States, but was shipwrecked off what is now Texas. A small group of survivors under Alvaro Nunez Cabeza de Vaca made its way across Texas and the Southwest region to Mexico.

Between 1539 and 1543, Hernando de Soto led a large force from western Florida to the Appalachian Mountains and then west across the Mississippi River with the major consequence of spreading smallpox throughout the lower Mississippi Valley. The search for the fabled riches of the "Seven Golden Cities of Cibola," which de Vaca had mentioned in his account, took Francisco de Coronado from northern Mexico as far northeast as present-day Kansas between 1541 and 1543; smaller groups from the main expedition discovered the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. Meanwhile, Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo sailed up the west coast and claimed the California area for Spain.

The founding of the two oldest cities in the United States — St. Augustine, Florida, (1565) and Santa Fe, New Mexico (1609) — was the chief result of almost a century of Spanish exploration.