In 1536 Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca took to Mexico City a report of people who lived in large houses in the Seven Cities of Cíbola, in the northern part of New Spain. To verify Cabeza de Vaca's statements, Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza sent Marcos de Niza to the north in the spring of 1539. After Niza's confirmation of the report, Mendoza, on January 6, 1540, appointed Francisco Vázquez de Coronado to lead an expedition to conquer the area. That expedition, gathered at Compostela for Mendoza's review in February 1540, included 1,000 men, 1,500 horses and mules, and cattle and sheep for the expedition commissary. Two vessels under command of Hernado de Alarcón were sent up the coast to support the land forces.
Coronado made his final preparations at Culiacán and, on April 22, 1540, set out with an advance guard of 100 men ahead of the main force under Tristán de Luna y Arellano. The route, roughly paralleling the west coast of Mexico, led through Sinaloa and Sonora to the Zuñi village of Háwikuh. This settlement, one of the group of villages called Cíbola by Niza and Granada by the Spaniards, was at the site of present Agua Caliento or Ojo Caliente in southeastern Arizona. Háwikuh was stormed and taken on July 7, 1540.
From there an exploring party under Pedro de Tovar made its way to Tusayán, the Hopi villages. García López de Cárdenas led a force to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Intrigued by the tales of an Indian named Bigotes, Coronado sent Hernando de Alvarado east through Tiguex (the area along the Rio Grande in the vicinity of Bernalillo, New Mexico) to Cicúique (the Pecos pueblo that became present Rowe, New Mexico). There an Indian called El Turco acted as guide to the plains and told of the wonderful Quivira Province. An unsuccessful attempt to get in touch with Alarcón's naval expedition, which had sailed through the Gulf of California and into the Colorado River, was made by Melchior Díaz, who went out from Corazones.
Coronado spent the winter of 1540–41 at Tiguex, on the Rio Grande, and on April 23, 1541, moved east from the Rio Grande to Cicúique, down the Río Cicúique or Pecos to a bridge that had been thrown across the river, probably between present Anton Chico and Santa Rosa, and into vast level plains that are identifiable as the Llano Estacado of eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. At "barrancas like those of Colima," present Palo Duro and Tule canyons, Coronado held a council of his captains in which it was determined that the army should return to Tiguex while Coronado took a small force to the north in search of Quivira. The army under Luna y Arellano took the most direct route from the canyons to the Pecos River, passed salt lakes, and arrived at the river thirty leagues below the bridge, apparently at the site of later Fort Sumner, New Mexico. From there Arellano's company went up the river, crossed the bridge, found Cicúique hostile, and went to the camp at Tiguex to await the return of Coronado.
From the ravines or canyons, Coronado, with thirty men on horses and six men on foot, proceeded to the north "by the needle." On St. Peter and Paul's Day, July 29, 1541, he arrived at the "river below Quivira" (probably the Arkansas), which flowed to the northeast. Down this river, at or near the edge of the plains, was Quivira. The unrewarding quest having ended, the expedition spent the winter of 1541–42 at Tiguex on the Rio Grande, where Coronado received a head injury in falling from a horse. In the spring of 1542 the expedition returned to Mexico on the route by which it had come.