As Americans celebrate Independence Day this weekend, it’s a good time to ponder and admire the diverse habitats and picturesque vistas all contained in this one large country.
The western half of the country is dominated by the Rocky Mountains–the largest mountain system in North America–and the Pacific Ocean.
The west has far more tectonic plates at work underground than in the east, creating more rugged mountains and geologic features. West coast beaches in general tend to have more craggy rocks and chilly water currents.
Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, America’s first national park, has over half of the world’s geysers and hydrothermal features.
The west is home to expansive deserts, too. Arid regions with minimal precipitation and unique landscapes.
Much of the country’s central section, the Midwest, is flat. Once a land of vast prairies, it now hosts over 127 million acres of agriculture and has some of the richest soil in the world.
Some U.S. prairies still exist, like this one in Texas.
Bisecting the near-center of the country is the Mississippi River, the second largest river in the nation (second to the Missouri). It drains all or parts of 31 states before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf of Mexico, another of our nation’s coasts, is one of humid subtropical climate bordering five states.
America’s Great Lakes, in the center of the country and eastward, form the largest group of freshwater lakes on earth. They were formed via glacial activity.
All of the Great Lakes are huge, this is just a small section of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The eastern half of the country is dominated by the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean’s coast and coastal plain. Mountains on this side of the country are older and not as high as in the west. Warmer waters and long stretches of white sand beaches enrich the eastern seaboard.
In addition to the 48 contiguous states, America also has five major island territories; a tropical island state, Hawaii; and Alaska, our largest state, in northern, arctic regions.
Alaska is the state with the most islands, 171, and the country’s tallest mountain, Denali, with a peak reaching 20,310 feet (6,190 m.).
Lots of rivers in this country too — over 250,000.
The Columbia River, pictured below, has the largest discharge into the Pacific Ocean in North or South America.
Wetlands in the U.S. are critical habitats for improved water quality, erosion control and flood protection to name a few. They are found in every state, but there are more in the east where glaciation created an abundance of aquatic habitat. The largest wetland system in the U.S. is in Florida, the Everglades.
This is the Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin, below. I was born in this region and visiting America’s marshes and swamps is always like going home to me.
Most of our eastern nation’s southern states fall into the humid subtropical climate zones, where warmer temperatures, bayous and swamps can be found.
Cities occupy much of our country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2020 the United States has over 300 cities/towns with populations over 100,000.
It is no wonder that Americans like to flock to our 423 nationally protected parks, monuments and preserves for recreation. Our nation maintains more than 85 million acres of parks in all 50 states. Of those, there are 63 classified National Parks.
While many of America’s cities in the west are lovely…
…the cities in the east boast more national history.
The city where our Declaration of Independence was signed is Philadelphia. It served as the nation’s capital for one decade in the 1790s.
Today, Washington, D.C. is the capital city and federal district of the United States.
This week, the 2020 Census reflects a current U.S. population of 334,861,117.
Our country and its peoples have come a long way since the early days. So many different people and cultures have built this country, called it home.
We all have a lot to celebrate.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.