The United States
The U.S. is located in the center of the North
American continent. It is bordered by Canada to the
north, and Mexico to the south. On the east is the Atlantic
Ocean, and on the west, is the Pacific Ocean. In
addition to the 48 continental states, Alaska and Hawaii are
included, for a grand total of 50 states.
For the sake of comparison, all of the land area in North America
totals 13,408,433 square miles. Of that, the United States
alone accounts for 5,983,517 square miles. That means the U.S.
occupies just less than half (almost 45%) of continent!
It also means that the United States is the third-largest
country on earth (by size), right behind Russia and
According to 2001 Census figures, the U.S. population measured
people. So, not only are we the third-largest in size (behind
China and India), but we are also the third-largest nation
if measured by population.
U.S. Climates and
Most of the
United States has a temperate climate, but Hawaii and
Florida are tropical, Alaska is polar/arctic, the Great Plains
region is semiarid (dry, almost desert-like), and the Great Basin of the southwest is an
arid (desert-like) climate.
U.S. can be divided into many different regions (areas that
share some common characteristics). By clicking on the
map to the left, you can see the United States divided into
five geographic regions: The Western Mountains & Basins, the
Great Plains, the Central Lowlands, the Appalachian Mountains,
and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. This is only one way to
classify the very diverse areas of America.
Not only does it have very different geographic regions,
but the U.S. has a huge array of natural resources
such as timber, coal, petroleum, and natural gas. In
addition, it has large metal deposits of copper, lead, uranium, gold, iron, nickel,
silver and zinc. As you can imagine, the mining industry in
the U.S. is extensive.
From the non-agricultural, arid land in the southwest, to
the fertile central lowlands and coastal plains, there is an
extremely variable array of landforms and land usage in the
United States. The map to the right highlights two dozen
different vegetation zones in the U.S. and North America.
Barriers to Expansion
One of the greatest
obstacles for early settlers intent upon moving westward, were
the Appalachian Mountains. They extend, in an
almost unbroken chain, from Maine to Alabama, with very few
places to pass through. Early settlers quickly found the
Cumberland Gap (at the junction of modern-day Kentucky,
Tennessee and Virginia) to be one of the easiest ways westward
(and inland) from the colonies.
Four hundred miles
west of the Cumberland Gap, settlers would encounter the
largest river in North America, At that point, the 2,552
mile long Mississippi River was nearly one mile wide,
and over 100 feet deep. Travelers had to go miles
upstream to find a ford (a place to cross the river).
Once across the
Mississippi River, the
Great Plains made for fairly easy travel. It was not
until settlers saw the Rocky Mountains, that westward
expansion slowed. Most people were diverted either far
to the south, or chanced high passes through the mountains,
sometimes getting stranded in unpredictable winter snowstorms.
Of course, early Spanish settlers had been venturing inland
from the sixteenth century, and had made many contacts with
the indigenous peoples of the southwest.