We shall not cease from exploration,

And the end of all our exploringWill be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

- T.S. EliotA sense of place - a knowledge of where we are and how we got there - can be comforting as well as intriguing.

Here are three books that - in very different ways - help provide a sense of place.ETERNAL DESERT; by David Muench and Frank Waters; Arizona Highways; 143 pages; $39.95.

To some the desert may seem like a sterile, uninviting, unappealing wasteland. To photographer David Muench, it is a thing of beauty unlike any other. Proof is found in "Eternal Desert," lavishly illustrated by images captured during the photographer's two years of wandering through the Southwest United States and northern Mexico.

But this is more than just a collection of stunning pictures.

A relatively brief text by Western writer Frank Waters sets the stage, gives the book backbone and the desert a definition in prose. Then Muench's photos are teamed with words from another desert lover - one John C. Van Dyke, who published his observations in 1903. In most cases, you couldn't ask for a better fit.

"Who shall paint the splendor of (the desert's) light; and from the rising up of the sun to the going down of the moon over the iron mountains, the glory of its wondrous coloring!" asks Van Dyke.

Muench rises to the challenge admirably. And by book's end, the desert becomes a place of discovery, a place of awe, a place to cherish.UTAH PLACE NAMES; by John W. Van Cott; University of Utah Press; 453 pages, paperback; $19.95.

Take a look at the Utah map, and you'll see a wide range of place names. The origins of some are fairly obvious if you know a bit of Utah history: Hyrum, Brigham City, Nephi. But others are more obscure. Where did names like Lindon, Pickleville and Recapture Canyon come from? What about Drunker Hollow and Lousy Jim Creek?

John W. Van Cott, a former professor of botany and range science at BYU, a charter member of the Utah State Committee on Geographic Names and founding president of the Utah Place Names Society, has spent the better part of his life seeking the answers to such questions. His efforts have been compiled in "Utah Place Names," which presents details of more than 4,000 names. "I have visited most of these places," he notes in the foreword, "and each has a unique story. Donald Jackson's words are true: `Yet, I wrote my notes with immensely greater confidence, having been there.' "

The places are arranged alphabetically, and most are pinned down geographically as to section, township, range and altitude. The book is scholarly and complete - but it is also a lot of fun. Van Cott includes the folklore, the myth and mystery, the logic and reasoning that have made our map what it is.

This is a great book for browsing in, for starting conversations with, for simply enjoying as a window on the past.

Oh yes, Lindon was named for a linden tree (the pioneers were not always great spellers); Pickleville was named for engineer Charles C. Pickel who improved the town's water supply; Recapture Canyon was where some early settlers believed the Aztec emperor Montezuma hid out and was retaken. Miners congregated for drinking sprees at Drunker Hollow, and Lousy Jim Creek was named for a local sheepherder afflicted with a bad case of lice.MAPS OF THE OREGON TRAIL; by Gregory M. Franzwa; The Patrice Press; 295 pages, paperback; $18.95.

The Oregon Trail, the pathway by which thousands of pioneers trekked West, has captured a place in history equaled by few others. Stretching for approximately 2,000 miles, from the Missouri to the mouth of the Columbia River, it has become an indelible symbol of the frontier experience.

"Had there been anything like it in the Old World, it has long since been forgotten," notes Gregory Franzwa in the introductory essay to this collection of maps.

This new and improved edition of a book that was first issued in 1982 contains 133 maps, drawn at a scale of 1/2-inch:1 mile, of the lands through which the historic highway passed.

It's an invaluable book for travelers who are driving through these parts of the country, but it is also interesting to thumb through, to see how the land has changed, to see where other points of interest are located. Where appropriate, commentary adds to the significance of particular locales.

Franzwa has added information about recently discovered emigrant graves. New aerial photographs have proved existence of ruts heretofore unknown.

"And sadly, we've had to erase indications of ruts in places where landowners indiscriminately placed land under cultivation - places where the ruts were clean and sharp are now vineyards, pastures and potato fields."