“The Sea, The Woods, the Mountains, all suffer in comparison with the Prairie. The Prairie has a stronger hold on the senses…” Albert Pike 1831
Did you know that nearly 502,000 square miles of the U.S. is part of the Great
Plains? No matter where you start from, if your road trip takes you east or west you are likely to encounter the Plains. Most people I know just drive straight across (sometimes as fast as they can!) and never see the Plains as a destination in themselves. Well, it’s time to reconsider spending some time in this beautiful, expansive, wild part of the U.S.! Here there are more than 300 species of Birds, over 100 species of Mammals and 1600 different types of Plants. The Plains are a photographer’s dream land as they encounter large game such as the American Bison and other large animals not easily seen anywhere else in the U.S. Let’s explore the Plains together and learn a little!
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a ‘Plain’ is:
a : “an extensive area of level or rolling treeless country
b : a broad unbroken expanse”
BASIC CHARACTERISTICS OF A PLAIN:
*Plains cover nearly 1/3rd of the earth’s surface
*A Plain is a Flatland area that gentle rises as you travel east to west.
*A Plain can also contain hills, mountains, buttes, mesas and rivers.
*A Plain is dry and windy and has a low elevation.
*Plains are formed when seas or lakes get filled in with lava, sediment or soil and become flat.
*Plains have a ‘continental climate’ which means hot, dry summers, cold winters and violent weather patterns.
*Plains can affect the climate as they alter wind and evaporation rates which affect temperature and humidity.
*Crops that are grown on a Plain are ones that don’t require a lot of moisture such as wheat and barley.
*Native Americans who have occupied the plains include: Arapaho, Arikara, Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Comanche, Cheyenne, Crow, and Gros Ventre.
*Plains can be located in a valley where they are enclosed on two sides, or partially or completely encircled by mountains, cliffs or hills.
*Plains are often located near large rivers.
*When a Plain is covered with grass it is often referred to as a Prairie or grassland.
*The largest plain is the world is the West Siberian Plain in Russia and covers nearly 1,200,000 square miles.
*The Great Plains of the U.S. covers about 501,900 square miles.
*Plains are vital for agriculture. The soils that were deposited there as sediments became deep and fertile. The flatness of the area makes for easy production of crops and the grasslands provide good grazing for livestock.
SOME COMMON TYPES OF PLAINS:
A). Coastal Plains
*A Coastal plain is a large, flat area of land that sits next to an ocean.
*Coastal plains can formed by a continental shelf (a flat piece of land located beneath the surface of the ocean) being exposed as the level of the ocean recedes or when river currents carry rock, soil and other sediment into the ocean. Layers of this deposited sediment build up over time, creating a flat or gently sloping landscape.
*Coastal Plains are separated from the interior by landforms such as sand dunes, mountains or hills.
*The soil of a Coastal Plain is rich and sandy and makes good farmland.
B). Alluvial Plains
*An alluvial plain is a largely flat landform created by the depositing of sediment over a long period of time by one or more rivers coming from a higher region forming a fan-shaped Plain.
*The sediment of an alluvial plain is made up of sand, silt, clay and gravel.
*The Mississippi River has created an Alluvial Plain that covers seven states.
C). Abyssal Plains
*Abyssal Plains are located at the bottom of the ocean. They are found between 10,000’ and 20,000’ feet below the ocean’s surface.
D). Interior Plains
*The Interior plains of the U.S. are called ‘The Great Plains’.
*The Interior Plains were created when cratons (stable portions of the continental crusts) collided and fused together.
*The Plains have 3 steps of elevation: Flat, Hilly and Cliff.
*Plains are flat and large and used primarily for farming, ranching, mining and lumber.
*More than 4,000,000 people live in the Plains.
*The great rivers of the Plains are used for transportation of goods, supplies, crops and livestock.
*The Plains house pipe lines for oil transportation.
*European explorers once considered the Great Plains as ‘hostile, uninhabitable and wholly unfit for cultivation’.
*Inventions that came from the Great Plains areas after the Civil War include: barbed wire, steel plows, windmills and railroads.
*The Great Plains run from Texas to the South, Canada to the North, the Rocky Mountains to the West and the Mississippi River to the East.
*The Great Plains sit on top of one of the world’s largest subterranean freshwater deposit called the Ogallala Aquifer.
*Millions of American Bison roamed the Great Plains until hunted to near-extinction by 1800.
The Great Plains are divided into 10 subdivisions:
- Missouri Plateau – Glaciated – east-central South Dakota, northern and eastern North Dakota and northeastern Montana;
- Missouri Plateau – Unglaciated – western South Dakota, northeastern Wyoming, southwestern North Dakota and southeastern Montana;
- Black Hills– western South Dakota;
- High Plains– southeastern Wyoming, southwestern South Dakota, western Nebraska (including the Sand Hills), eastern Colorado, western Kansas, western Oklahoma,eastern New Mexico, and northwestern Texas (including the Llano Estacado and Texas Panhandle);
- Plains Border – central Kansas and northern Oklahoma (including the Flint, Red and Smoky Hills;
- Colorado Piedmont – eastern Colorado;
- Raton section – northeastern New Mexico;
- Pecos Valley – eastern New Mexico;
- Edwards Plateau – south-central Texas; and
- Central Texas section – central Texas.
Plains can be found primarily in (but not limited to) regions 5 and 7
So next time you find yourself wondering how long it will take to to get across this great expanse of grassland, stop for a while and enjoy!