Geography of the United States

Geography of the United States

IN LESS THAN 400 YEARS, the United States of America (USA) has grown from wild countryside inhabited by native peoples to the world’s most powerful industrial nation. The country is made up of 50 states, including Alaska in the far north and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. There are two major mountain ranges, the Appalachians to the east and the Rockies to the west, while much of  its center is covered by the gently sloping Great Plains. Vast supplies of coal, oil, and minerals, together with mass immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries, helped business and industry grow fast. Today, American products and culture arer throughout the world. 

PEOPLE OF THE US

People in the US belong to a wide range of different groups and races. Most are descended from immigrants – people who moved there from other parts of the world, such as Europe and Asia. Many African-Americans are descendants of slaves forced to the US in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. Today, the population is increasingly Hispanic (Spanish speaking), Asian, and African-American.  By 2050, these groups will make up almost half the population.

LIVING IN THE CITY

Almost 80 percent of Americans live in cities or the surrounding suburbs. Most people who live in the suburbs own their own homes and travel to work by car. New York is the biggest city, with more than 22 million inhabitants, followed by Los Angeles, and then Chicago. People from different backgrounds mingle in most cities. Often they have their own neighborhoods, with names such as Little italy or Chinatown. This view shows midtown Manhattan, New York.

MOVING WEST

The population of the US has always been mobile, moving to new states in  search of work or a better lifestyle. Major events, such  as the Great Depression in the 1930s, also forced people to move in the hope of finding work. The general pattern of movement since settlers first arrived is shown on this map. Over the past 30 years or so, more and more people have moved to the “Sun Belt” states of the South and West. These include California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida.  

NATIONAL PARKS

Large areas of the country’s most spectacular countryside are protected in more than 350 national parks. Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming and Montana, was the first park to open, in 1872. Yellowstone provides a safe environment for animals, including bison, elk, antelope, grizzly bear, moose, and deer. 

AMERICAN CULTURE

The influence of US can be seen all overthe world. Fast foods, such as hamburgers, hot dogs,and soft drinks, as well ascharacters from films andTV shows, are recognizedin cities from Berlin toBeijing. This “selling of America” is a billion-dollar industry and plays a vital part in the US economy.

BASEBALL

Baseball is the country’s national sport. The first game played between two organized teams took place in New Jersey in 1846.

The National League was formed in 1876, theAmerican League in 1901,and today baseball is the most popular spectator sport in the US. It is traditional for the president to pitch the first ball at the start of each new baseball season.

THE FIRST AMERICANS

Native Americans, the first inhabitants of the US, today make up less than 1 percent of the population. When Europeansa in the 1500s, Native American tribes were decimated by disease.

They lost many of their homelands and were forced over time to live on reservations – land allotted to them by the government. Despite these hardships, many tribalt and languages still survive.

This Zuni artist, a member of the Pueblo tribe,makes and sells silver and turquoise jewelry. 

FROM THE ICY LANDSCAPE OF ALASKA, through the deserts of Nevada and Arizona, to the semitropical islands of Hawaii, the western states cover a dramatic range of scenery. Along the West Coast, large cities such as Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco ship lumber, fish, and fruit all over the world. The West is also home to Hollywood, capital of the multimillion dollar movie industry, and Silicon Valley, a stretch of northern California that lies  at the heart of the high-tech computer business. Sun Valley, in Idaho, ranks as one of the country’s leading ski and summer resorts. 

EARTHQUAKE COUNTRY

People in California have to live with the constant threat

of earthquakes. The area lies on the boundary, or fault

line, between two plates of the Earth’s crust. When these

plates push and slide against each other, it causes

earthquakes, which can destroy roads and

homes. It is difficult to predict an earthquake, so

most people keep a survival kit in case they are

trapped or left without supplies. Some of the

items included in such a kit are displayed here.

SOUTH OF THE BORDER

The majority of immigrants living

in the western states come from

nearby Mexico. They are called

Hispanics because their ancestors

came from Spain and they speak

Spanish. Many still follow the

religion and festivals of Mexico.

Hispanics also arrive from Cuba,

Puerto Rico, and El Salvador.

FAULT LINES

The San Andreas

Fault runs for

750 miles (1,207 km)

across California,

passing through the

cities of San Francisco

and Los Angeles. There

are also hundreds of

other smaller faults

that constantly cause

minor tremors.

CAR CULTURE

When Henry Ford introduced the

first cheap car in 1910, it promised

freedom on the open road. Today,

there are more cars on the road in

the US than in any other country.

Networks of six-lane highways weave

across cities such as Los Angeles,

shown above. Fumes from the cars

contribute to city smog problems.

FIELDS OF PLENTY

Fertile soil, plenty of sunshine, and

water, diverted from rivers that

flow from the Sierra Nevada

Mountains, make California

the leading agricultural

state. The land is used to

grow more than 40 percent

of the fresh fruit and

vegetables eaten in the

US, such as peaches,

oranges, and strawberries,

as well as artichokes and

brussels sprouts. Mexicans

often cross into the country

illegally to find work on the

fruit farms. The Napa Valley,

north of San Francisco, is an

important grape-growing and

wine-producing area.

THE NORTHERN FORESTS

Great forests of pine, cedar, and fir trees

thrive in the wet climate near the coasts

of Oregon and Washington. These

states are the country’s major suppliers

of lumber and wood pulp. The trees are

cut into logs and transported by road to

the coast. Environmental groups are

now trying to protect the trees, many

of which are more than 200 years old.

Lightweight bag of emergency

items, including first-aid

supplies (not shown)

Bar of dried food

with vitamins

Mini rolls of

toilet paper

Towelette

Disposable

toothbrush

with toothpaste

Emergency blanket

designed to reflect

body heat

Light sticks

work for 12

hours and do

not need

batteries.

Heavy-duty

flashlight

Packet of pure

drinking water

FAMOUS FOR COWBOYS AND CATTLE RANCHES, the

central states of the US are also the country’s

“bread basket” and oil refinery. This vast region

includes high mountains, fertile plains, and the

Mississippi River system. Texas and Oklahoma

have major oil and gas fields, while coal is mined

in Wyoming and Montana. The Rocky Mountains

contain important national parks, such as

Yellowstone and Glacier, and are rich in mineral

resources. Hot summers and cold winters, as well

as violent hailstorms and tornadoes, make the

region’s climate one of extremes.

MISSISSIPPI RIVER

From Minnesota in the north to its

enormous delta in the Gulf of Mexico, the

mighty Mississippi River flows through

the central states. It is one of the world’s

busiest waterways, suitable for cargo boats

for almost 1,802 miles (2,900 km). This

view of the river shows it flowing through

Iowa, where it forms a natural border with

Illinois and Wisconsin. In the south, severe

flooding often occurs after heavy rains.

CITIES OF THE DEAD

Cemeteries in New

Orleans are built

above ground to

protect them when

the Mississippi

floods. The burial

grounds are called

Cities of the Dead.

COWBOY COUNTRY

Cattle are raised on the Great Plains and

foothills of the Rocky Mountains. In summer,

cowboys on horseback used to drive the

cattle to fresh pastures; in winter, they

herded them back to the ranch to be sold

at auction for food. Hollywood movies

turned cowboys into heroes, but life in

the saddle was not easy. Pay was poor,

and men often spent 15 hours a day on

horseback in scorching heat or driving

rain. Today, ranches are smaller and

cowboys and horses may be ferried from

ranch to pasture by truck and trailer.

TORNADO ALLEY

Several hundred tornadoes a

year strike “Tornado Alley,”

an area that runs through

Kansas, Oklahoma, and

Missouri. They occur when

hot air from the Gulf of

Mexico hits cold, dry air

from Canada. The violent

storms, known as “twisters,”

cut through towns and

countryside, destroying

everything in their path. RURAL AMERICA

Today, most Americans live in cities

and towns, but at the start of the

20th century, two out of every five

adults lived on farms. There are still

many small towns with populations

of less than 10,000 people. These

towns are often in farming country

and are where people go for

supplies, to attend school, church,

or special events, such as this fair.

THE GREAT PLAINS

Once home to millions of buffalo, the vast open plains

between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River

are now planted with cereal grains. Farmers on the Great

Plains produce more wheat and corn than anywhere else

on Earth. Farming is highly mechanized, with huge

machines to harvest the grain. In drier parts, the land can

be farmed only if it is irrigated, often using water taken

from a natural underground reservoir, called an aquifer.

US:CENTRAL STATES

A twisting column of rising air forms beneath a thunder cloud.

Hats keep off the sun and the rain,and were once used to carry water.

Boots have to keep feet firmly in the stirrups.

Fringe helps to drain away any rainwater.

Chaps protect the rider from cattle horns.

A lasso is used to rope cattle.

Leather cuffs Sheaves of the type of wheat used for making bread 

A wreath of flowers  can travel at 112 mph (180 km/h).

Spurs

The air spirals up the column and sucks

up dirt and objects in its way.

US:EASTERN STATES

EXCELLENT HARBORS, FERTILE LAND, and rich mineral resources have made this region one of the most densely populated in the country. It was along the East Coast that the first settlers from Europe arrived in the 16th century. Today, the area includes some of the country’s largest cities, such as New York and Washington, DC, as well as the once-great centers of Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland on the Great Lakes. Farther south, farmers use the land to cultivate cotton, tobacco, and vegetables grown for their oil. Hurricanes are a threat to people living on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

BIG BUSINESS IN NEW YORK

Originally a fur-trading post at the mouth of the, River New York is now the US’s financial capital. Wall Street, so called because it the line of the old city wall, is the home of the New York Stock Exchange. Financialdeals worth billions of dollars are made there every day. Nasdaq, short for National

Association of Securities Dealers Automated.Quotation System, based in New York, was the world’s first electronic stock market. Because it is a purely computer-based system, shares can be traded around the globe, 24 hours a day.

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