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These dry areas encompass much of Nevada , Utah , and Arizona. The Mojave Desert and Sonoran Desert along with other deserts are found here. Beyond the deserts lie the Rocky Mountains. In the north, they run almost immediately east of the Cascade Range , so that the desert region is only a few miles wide by the time one reaches the Canada—US border. The Rockies are hundreds of miles kilometers wide, and run uninterrupted from New Mexico to Alaska. East of the Rocky Mountains is the Great Plains, the western portions for example, the eastern half of Colorado of which are generally considered to be part of the western United States.
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The West has several long rivers that empty into the Pacific Ocean , while the eastern rivers run into the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River forms the easternmost possible boundary for the West today. The Missouri River , a tributary of the Mississippi , flows from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains eastward across the Great Plains , a vast grassy plateau, before sloping gradually down to the forests and hence to the Mississippi. The Colorado River is a major source of water in the Southwest and many dams, such as the Hoover Dam , form reservoirs along it.
So much water is drawn for drinking water throughout the West and irrigation in California that in most years, water from the Colorado River no longer reaches the Gulf of California. Most of the public land held by the U. Public lands account for 25 to 75 percent of the total land area in these states. As a generalization , the climate of the West can be summed up as semi-arid. Also, the climate of the West is quite unstable, as areas that are normally wet can be very dry for years and vice versa. The seasonal temperatures vary greatly throughout the West.
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Low elevations on the West Coast have warm summers and mild winters with little to no snow. The desert southwest has very hot summers and mild winters. While the mountains in the southwest receive generally large amounts of snow. The Inland Northwest has a continental climate of warm to hot summers and cold to bitter cold winters. Annual rainfall is greater in the eastern portions, gradually tapering off until reaching the Pacific Coast where it increases again. In fact, the greatest annual rainfall in the United States falls in the coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest.
'The American epic': Hollywood's enduring love for the western | Film | The Guardian
Drought is much more common in the West than the rest of the United States. The driest place recorded in the U. Violent thunderstorms occur east of the Rockies. Tornadoes occur every spring on the southern plains, with the most common and most destructive centered on Tornado Alley , which covers eastern portions of the West, Texas to North Dakota , and all states in between and to the east. Agriculture varies depending on rainfall, irrigation, soil, elevation, and temperature extremes.
The arid regions generally support only livestock grazing, chiefly beef cattle. The wheat belt extends from Texas through The Dakotas , producing most of the wheat and soybeans in the U. Irrigation in the Southwest allows the growing of great quantities of fruits, nuts, and vegetables as well as grain, hay, and flowers.
Texas is a major cattle and sheep raising area, as well as the nation's largest producer of cotton. Washington is famous for its apples, and Idaho for its potatoes. California and Arizona are major producers of citrus crops, although growing metropolitan sprawl is absorbing much of this land. Starting in , Congress passed a series of acts authorizing the establishment of the United States Bureau of Reclamation to oversee water development projects in seventeen western states. During the first half of the 20th century, dams and irrigation projects provided water for rapid agricultural growth throughout the West and brought prosperity for several states, where agriculture had previously only been subsistence level.
The population growth, mostly in the Southwest states of New Mexico , Utah , Colorado , Arizona , and Nevada , has strained water and power resources, with water diverted from agricultural uses to major population centers, such as the Las Vegas Valley and Los Angeles. Plains make up much of the eastern portion of the West, underlain with sedimentary rock from the Upper Paleozoic , Mesozoic , and Cenozoic eras. The Rocky Mountains expose igneous and metamorphic rock both from the Precambrian and from the Phanerozoic eon.
The Inter-mountain States and Pacific Northwest have huge expanses of volcanic rock from the Cenozoic era. Salt flats and salt lakes reveal a time when the great inland seas covered much of what is now the West. The Pacific states are the most geologically active areas in the United States. Earthquakes cause damage every few to several years in California.
While the Pacific states are the most volcanically active areas, extinct volcanoes and lava flows are found throughout most of the West. The Western United States has been populated by Native Americans since at least 11, years ago, when the first Paleo-Indians arrived. Pre-Columbian trade routes to kingdoms and empires such as the Mound Builders existed in places such as Yellowstone National Park since around AD. Major settlement of the western territories developed rapidly in the s, largely through the Oregon Trail and the California Gold Rush of California experienced such a rapid growth in a few short months that it was admitted to statehood in without the normal transitory phase of becoming an official territory.
One of the largest migrations in American history occurred in the s as the Latter Day Saints left the Midwest to build a theocracy in Utah. Both Omaha, Nebraska and St. Louis, Missouri laid claim to the title, "Gateway to the West" during this period. Louis built itself upon the vast fur trade in the West before its settlement. The s were marked by political battles over the expansion of slavery into the western territories, issues leading to the Civil War.
The history of the American West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries has acquired a cultural mythos in the literature and cinema of the United States. The image of the cowboy , the homesteader , and westward expansion took real events and transmuted them into a myth of the west which has shaped much of American popular culture since the late 19th century. Writers as diverse as Bret Harte and Zane Grey celebrated or derided cowboy culture, while artists such as Frederic Remington created western art as a method of recording the expansion into the west. The American cinema , in particular, created the genre of the western movie , which, in many cases, use the West as a metaphor for the virtue of self-reliance and an American ethos.
The contrast between the romanticism of culture about the West and the actuality of the history of the westward expansion has been a theme of late 20th and early 21st century scholarship about the West. Cowboy culture has become embedded in the American experience as a common cultural touchstone, and modern forms as diverse as country and western music have celebrated the sense of isolation and independence of spirit inspired by the frontiersmen on virgin land. The advent of the automobile enabled the average American to tour the West.
Western businessmen promoted Route 66 as a means to bring tourism and industry to the West.
In the s, representatives from all the western states built the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center to showcase western culture and greet travelers from the East. During the latter half of the 20th century, several transcontinental interstate highways crossed the West bringing more trade and tourists from the East.
Oil boom towns in Texas and Oklahoma rivaled the old mining camps for their rawness and wealth. The Dust Bowl forced children of the original homesteaders even further west. The movies became America's chief entertainment source featuring western fiction, later the community of Hollywood in Los Angeles became the headquarters of the mass media such as radio and television production.
California has emerged as the most populous state and one of the top 10 economies in the world. Four more metropolitan areas of San Bernardino - Riverside , San Diego , Denver , Phoenix , and Seattle have over a million residents, while the three fastest growing metro areas were the Salt Lake City metropolitan area , the Las Vegas metropolitan area ; and the Portland metropolitan area. Although there has been segregation , along with accusations of racial profiling and police brutality towards minorities due to issues such as illegal immigration and a racial shift i.
White flight and now black flight in neighborhood demographics, sometimes leading to racially based riots i. The state of Utah has a Mormon majority estimated at In remote areas there are settlements of Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians. Facing both the Pacific Ocean and the Mexican border, the West has been shaped by a variety of ethnic groups.
Hawaii is the only state in the union in which Asian Americans outnumber white American residents. Asians from many countries have settled in California and other coastal states in several waves of immigration since the 19th century, contributing to the Gold rush , the building of the transcontinental railroad, agriculture, and more recently, high technology.
The border states— California , Arizona , New Mexico , and Texas —and other southwestern states such as Colorado , Utah , and Nevada all have large Hispanic populations, and the many Spanish place names attest to their history as former Spanish and Mexican territories. Mexican-Americans have also had a growing population in Northwestern states of Oregon and Washington , as well as the southern states of Texas and Oklahoma.
In the Pacific states, the wide areas filled with small towns, farms, and forests are supplemented by a few big port cities which have evolved into world centers for the media and technology industries. Now the second largest city in the nation, Los Angeles is best known as the home of the Hollywood film industry; the area around Los Angeles also was a major center for the aerospace industry by World War II , though Boeing, located in Washington State would lead the aerospace industry.
Fueled by the growth of Los Angeles , as well as the San Francisco Bay area , including Silicon Valley , the center of America's high tech industry, California has become the most populous of all the 50 states.
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