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The Great Plains geography

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The Great Plains geography
The Great Plains comprises a massive flatland that transverses the United States' central corridor, from north to south, encompassing a variety of physical landforms, vegetation, and climates. Its geography expands more than one million square miles. Its beautiful physical features encompass as much diversity as its demographics, represented by the settlements it hosts and the history it represents. This article will give you a comprehensive summary of the Great Plains.
  • Running from Canada to Texas and bordered by the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau, the Great Plains make up one-third of the continental United States.
  • Take a moment to look over the following words and definitions. It will help you understand the different physical features of the Great Plains.
Word
Definition
Plain
a large, flat area of dry land.
Plateau
a large area of flat land rising higher than the land surrounding it.
Prairie
a wide, flat land covered in grass or wheat.
Butte
hills with steep sides and flat tops.
Sand dune
a hill made of sand in a desert.
Climate
weather conditions in a particular area.

The Great Plains Geography

The Great Plains make up approximately one-third of the United States. Because it encompasses a great amount of terrain, the landscape varies greatly. Keep reading to learn about the Great Plains' physical features.

Physical Features

Physical features include an area's landforms, bodies of water, soil, climate, vegetation, and animal life.

The Great Plains Geography, States included in the Great Plains, StudysmarterMap of the Great Plains (Wikimedia Commons).What are the Great Plains?

The phrase Great Plains refers to a large area of grasslands in the central United States that extends into Canada. It is generally large and flat with a low elevation. The land was home to indigenous tribes before settlers from European nations displaced them to occupy it themselves.

Plain:

A large, flat area of dry land.

Did you know that despite the name, the Great Plains are not flat?

Where are the Great Plains?

The land that makes up the Great Plains is between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau. Texas makes up the southern border of the plains, while the region extends north into Canada. The Great Plains make up one-third of the land of the continental United States. Its altitude at the base of the Rocky Mountains is between 5,000 and 6,000 feet. It drops to about 1,500 at the Appalachian Plateau.

What's it like in the Great Plains?

The Great Plains has generally dry dirt and rocky plains. Dirt storms often occur there.

Climate:

Weather conditions in a particular area.

The Great Plains have a continental climate. The weather gets drier the farther you go. Most of the region has cold winters and warm summers. There is low precipitation and humidity, but high levels of wind which can make farming tricky.

Plateau:

A large area of flat land that elevates over the land surrounding it.

Prairie:

A wide, flat land covered in grass or wheat. Prairies are wetter than plains.

Landforms

The Great Plains are between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau. The terrain there is generally level, however, there are some rolling hills in various parts. The landforms there include plateaus, prairies, grasslands, mountains, hills, and valleys.

The great plains geography, landscape, StudySmarterBlack Hills Road of the Black Hills (Wikimedia Commons).

Examples of Landforms

The Black Hills and Sand Hills are located in the western and southern parts of the Great Plains. The Black Hills are in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming. They are over a million acres of densely forested hills and mountains. The Sand Hills in Nebraska are sand dunes created by the wind blowing glacial material around.

The Black Hills (Wikimedia Commons).

The Badlands are also in South Dakota. It is a desolate area of land characterized by buttes (hills with steep sides and flat tops), plateaus, and deep canyons and gorges. Wind and water erosion made the sedimentary layers of the rock visible to the eye.

The Missouri Plateau runs along the side of the Missouri River, running from North Dakota and South Dakota. Farmers use the area for farming and raising livestock.

The High Plains make up the southern portion of the Great Plains. They cover parts of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. The High Plains are a flat grassland. The High Plains are used by farmers for raising livestock like cattle and farming.

Plants and Animals

Most of the vegetation in the Great Plains is naturally-occurring grass but a large amount of it has been removed to create agricultural land or was overgrazed by livestock. Before European explorers settled the Great Plains, it was home to buffalo herds, prairie dogs, coyotes, moose, caribou, and gray wolves

Settlement in the Great Plains

Indigenous people lived in the Great Plains prior to its settlement by white settlers.

Who were the natives that inhabited the Great Plains?

The Great Plains were sparsely populated until the 1600s. They were later occupied by Spanish colonists. The plains Indians adapted to horses and cattle introduced to the area by the Spanish colonists.

The Cheyenne Indians

The Cheyenne Indians originally settled in modern-day Minnesota but resettled in the Great Plains after being introduced to horses. In Minnesota, they lived in homes that were earthen lodges (wood frames packed with earth and grass) and hunted buffalo.

After the Cheyenne resettled in the Great Plains, they lived in teepees. They spoke their own language, which was a derivative of the Algonquian language. The Cheyenne found themselves in a tricky position with white settlers taking up their land. They eventually signed a treaty with the U.S. government guaranteeing them land. However, the agreement was followed through and they still lost a significant amount of land. As a result, the Cheyenne attempted to band together with other tribes but lost and had to go to a reservation. Northern Cheyenne made their settlements on a reservation in Montana while Southern Cheyenne began living in Oklahoma.

Homestead Act

In 1862, the United States passed a piece of legislation called the Homestead Act. This piece of legislation turned over land that was previously public domain to private citizens. An individual or head of household over 21 years of age could claim a 160-acre piece of land. The passing of the Homestead Act encouraged settlement in the great plains.

As a requirement for obtaining a piece of land, settlers had to promise to live on the land, build a home, farm, and generally maintain the land. Previously wide-open spaces became farms managed by new settlers.

Farming in the Great Plains

The Great Plains are made up of the land between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau, bordered by Texas in the south and Canada in the North. The great expanse of land allows for a variety of crops and livestock to be cultivated. For example, sheep and goats are raised on the Edwards Plateau in Texas.

The most important crop is wheat. The wheat grown in the United States and Canada makes up half of the world's wheat exports. Barley, canola, cotton, and soybeans also grow in the Great Plains.

The geography of the Great Plains features raw materials employed for urban manufacturing. This, along with rivers and roads, makes the Great Plains a diverse economic area.

Native Americans Farming

Early farmers hunted animals and were dedicated to agriculture. The crops in the region are threatened by grasshoppers, drought, and cold weather. Thus, Native Americans resorted to resilient crops, like maize, which was the primary crop, but they also grew beans and squash. Many tribes grew tobacco as it was a valuable crop to trade.

Did you know? Most of the native American farmers in the Great Plains were women.

European Settlers

European settlers learned how to grow corn from the native tribes in the area. Corn and wheat became important crops to the Europeans. They also raised cattle.

When Homestead settlers first began farming on new land, they had to use large animals to help plow and overturn the land before planting new crops.

Tornadoes in the Great Plains

Did you know that tornadoes occur more often in the Great Plains than anywhere else? Not only do tornados occur there often, but they are more intense than the tornadoes in other regions.

The Great Plains is bordered by mountain ranges that run from the north to the south. This is important because it means that warm, wet air is colliding with cold, dry air.

Tornado Alley includes Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Northeastern Texas. This is a place with a really high frequency of tornadoes. Central Oklahoma sees the greatest number of tornadoes.

The Great Plains Geographical Summary

Running from Canada to Texas and bordered by the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau, the Great Plains make up one-third of the continental United States. The region varies in altitude, ranging from 6,000 to 1,500 feet above sea level, with a total area of 1,100,000 squared miles.

There are a variety of landforms in the Great Plains, including plateaus, prairies, buttes, grasslands, mountains, hills, valleys, and gorges. Real-life examples include the Black Hills, the Badlands, the Missouri Plateau, and the High Plains.

Prior to being settled by Europeans, native tribes such as the Cheyenne lived on the plains, alongside buffalo, coyotes, caribou, and grey wolves. Indigenous people not only raised livestock but grew crops like wheat and maize. They taught settlers how to raise maize and wheat. They adapted to the horses and cattle brought to the area by Spanish settlers.

Settlers in the area were encouraged by the Homestead Act. They took over the land, forcing indigenous tribes onto reservations. Settlers changed the land, plowing it to begin growing crops.

The Great Plains geography - Key takeaways

  • Running from Canada to Texas and bordered by the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau, the Great Plains make up one-third of the continental United States.
  • Tribes like the Cheyenne lived on the plains, before being forced onto reservations by the influx of white settlers who were encouraged by the Homestead act.
  • The Great Plains is not just flat land. It includes plateaus, prairies, grasslands, hills, and valleys.
  • Agriculture in the Great Plains includes:
    • Raising livestock like cattle.
    • Raising crops like wheat and corn.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Great Plains geography

The Great Plains are in the central part of the United States. They run from Canada to Texas and are bordered by the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau

Tornadoes occur there because the Great Plains is bordered by mountain ranges. 

The Great Plains is a good area for growing maize and wheat. It is also good for raising livestock. The Homestead Act encouraged settlement in the plains. 

Final The Great Plains geography Quiz

Question

The Great Plains makes up what fraction of the United States?

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Answer

One-fourth

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Question

What word mean a large, flat area of dry land?

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Answer

plain

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Question

What word means a large area of flat land rising higher than the land surrounding it?

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Answer

butte

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Question

What word means a wide, flat land covered in grass or wheat?

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Answer

prairie

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Question

Which accurately describes the climate of the Great Plains?

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Answer

warm winters and warm summers

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Question

True or false: The Homestead Act encouraged white settlers to head to the plains. 

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Answer

True

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Question

_____ is the most important crop grown on the Great Plains. 

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Answer

Wheat

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Question

______ was the most important crop grown by Native Americans. 

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Answer

Maize

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Question

True or False: More tornadoes occur on the Great Plains than anywhere else in America. 

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Answer

True

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Question

What is the nickname describing the tornado-prone area in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, and northeastern Texas?

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Answer

Tornado Alley

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Question

What is the northern boundary of the Great Plains? 

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Answer

Texas

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Question

What is the southern boundary of the Great Plains?

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Answer

Texas

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Question

Which of the following are types of landforms found in the Great Plains?

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Answer

plateaus

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