The WESTERN UNITED STATES, commonly referred to as the AMERICAN WEST,
the FAR WEST, or simply THE WEST, traditionally refers to the region
comprising the westernmost states of the
United States . Because
European settlement in the U.S. expanded westward after its founding,
the meaning of the West has evolved over time. Prior to about 1800,
the crest of the
Appalachian Mountains was seen as the western
Since then, the frontier generally moved westward and eventually
lands west of the
Mississippi River came to be referred to as the
West. Though no consensus exists, even among experts, for the
definition of the West as a region, the U.S. Census Bureau's
definition of the 13 westernmost states includes the Rocky Mountains
Great Basin to the West Coast , and the outlying states of
Hawaii and Alaska.
The West contains several major biomes . It is known for arid to
semi-arid plateaus and plains , particularly in the American Southwest
– forested mountains , including the major ranges of the American
Rocky Mountains – the massive coastal shoreline of
the American Pacific Coast – and the rainforests of the Pacific
* 1 Defining the West
* 1.1 Subregions
* 1.2 Outlying areas
* 2 Demographics
* 3 Natural geography
* 3.1 Climate and agriculture
* 3.2 Geology
* 4 History
* 4.1 20th century
* 5 Culture
* 6 Major metropolitan areas
* 6.1 Other population centers
* 7 Politics
* 8 Health
* 9 See also
* 10 References
* 11 Further reading
* 12 External links
DEFINING THE WEST
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While the West is defined by many cultures, the American cowboy
is often seen as iconic of the region, here portrayed by C. M. Russell
. The West, as the most recent part of the United States, is
often known for broad highways and freeways and open space. Pictured
is a road in
Monument Valley .
The Western U.S. is the largest region of the country, covering more
than half the land area of the United States. It is also the most
geographically diverse, incorporating geographic regions such as the
temperate rainforests of the Northwest , the highest mountain ranges
Rocky Mountains , and the Sierra
Nevada , the Great
Plains , and all of the desert areas located in the
United States (the
Mojave , Sonoran ,
Great Basin , and Chihuahua deserts). Given this
expansive and diverse geography it is no wonder the region is
difficult to specifically define. Sensing a possible shift in the
popular understanding of the West as a region in the early 1990s,
historian Walter Nugent conducted a survey of three groups of
professionals with ties to the region: a large group of Western
historians (187 respondents), and two smaller groups, 25 journalists
and publishers and 39 Western authors. A majority of the historian
respondents placed the eastern boundary of the West east of the Census
definition out on the eastern edge of the
Great Plains or on the
Mississippi River. The survey respondents as a whole showed just how
little agreement there was on the boundaries of the West.
Within a region as large and diverse as the Western United States,
smaller areas with more closely shared demographics and geography have
developed as subregions . The region is split into two smaller units,
or divisions, by the U.S. Census Bureau:
New Mexico ,
Arizona , and
Pacific States Washington ,
Alaska , and Hawaii
Other classifications distinguish between Southwest and Northwest .
Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada,
Utah are typically
considered to be part of the Southwest, though
frequently considered part of the Southwest as well. Meanwhile, the
states of Idaho, Montana,
Oregon and Washington can be considered part
of the Northwest or
Pacific Northwest .
The term West Coast is commonly used to refer to just California,
Oregon and Washington, whereas
Hawaii are more
geographically isolated from the other states of the region and don't
necessarily fit in any of these subregions.
Texas in the
Chihuahuan Desert may be considered as part of the
Western U.S., as from a climatological perspective the West might be
said to begin just west of Austin where annual rainfall drops off
significantly from what is typically experienced in the East, with a
concurrent change in plant and animal species.
Fort Worth has long
laid claim to be "Where the West Begins."
The population distribution by race in the Western United States
* 28.6% were
Latino (of any race)
* 9.3% Asian
* 4.8% Black or
* 1.9% American Indian or
* 12.4% Some other race
As defined by the
United States Census Bureau
United States Census Bureau , the Western region of
United States includes 13 states with a total 2013 estimated
population of 74,254,423.
The West is still one of the most sparsely settled areas in the
United States with 49.5 inhabitants per square mile (19/km²). Only
Texas with 78.0 inhabitants/sq mi. (30/km²), Washington with 86.0
inhabitants/sq mi. (33/km²), and
California with 213.4 inhabitants/sq
mi. (82/km²) exceed the national average of 77.98 inhabitants/sq mi.
(30/km²). These maps from the 2000 US Census highlight
differences from state to state of three minority groups. Note that
most of the American Indian, Hispanic, and Asian population is in the
The entire Western region has also been strongly influenced by
Latino , Asian and Native
Americans ; it
contains the largest number of minorities in the U.S. While most of
the studies of racial dynamics in America such as riots in Los Angeles
have been written about European and
African Americans , in many
cities in the West and
California , Whites and Blacks together are
less than half the population because of the preference for the region
by Hispanics and Asians . African and European Americans, however,
continue to wield a stronger political influence because of the lower
rates of citizenship and voting among Asians and Hispanics.
The West also contains much of the Native American population in the
U.S., particularly in the large reservations in the
Desert States .
The largest concentrations for
African Americans in the West can be
San Diego ,
Los Angeles ,
Sacramento , San
Seattle , Tacoma , Phoenix ,
Las Vegas ,
Denver , and
Colorado Springs .
United States has a higher sex ratio (more males than
females ) than any other region in the
United States .
Because the tide of development had not yet reached most of the West
when conservation became a national issue, agencies of the federal
government own and manage vast areas of land. (The most important
among these are the
National Park Service
National Park Service and the Bureau of Land
Management within the Interior Department , and the U.S. Forest
Service within the Agriculture Department .) National parks are
reserved for recreational activities such as fishing , camping ,
hiking , and boating , but other government lands also allow
commercial activities like ranching , logging , and mining . In recent
years, some local residents who earn their livelihoods on federal land
have come into conflict with the land's managers, who are required to
keep land use within environmentally acceptable limits.
The largest city in the region is
Los Angeles , located on the West
Coast . Other West Coast cities include
San Diego , San Bernardino ,
San Jose ,
San Francisco ,
Oakland , Bakersfield ,
Seattle , Tacoma , and Portland . Prominent cities in the Mountain
Colorado Springs , Phoenix , Tucson ,
Las Vegas ,
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City , Boise , El Paso , and
The geography of the Western
United States is split into three
major physiographic divisions : the Rocky
Mountain System (areas 16-19
on map), the
Intermontane Plateaus (20-22), and the Pacific Mountain
Arid regions of the Western
United States as
mapped in 1893
Zion National Park in southern
Utah is one of
five national parks in the state.
Big Sur ,
The High Desert region of Oregon. The
Mojave Desert covers much
of the Southwestern United States, stretching from
California, Arizona, and Utah.
Pryor Mountains in Montana,
Great Sand Dunes National Park in
Pacific Ocean coast lie the Coast Ranges , which, while not
approaching the scale of the
Rocky Mountains , are formidable
nevertheless. They collect a large part of the airborne moisture
moving in from the ocean. East of the Coast Ranges lie several
cultivated fertile valleys , notably the San Joaquin and Sacramento
California and the Willamette
Valley of Oregon.
Beyond the valleys lie the Sierra
Nevada in the south and the Cascade
Range in the north.
Mount Whitney , at 14,505 feet (4,421 m) the
tallest peak in the contiguous 48 states, is in the Sierra Nevada. The
Cascades are also volcanic.
Mount Rainier , a volcano in Washington,
is also over 14,000 feet (4,300 m).
Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens , a volcano in
the Cascades erupted explosively in 1980 . A major volcanic eruption
Mount Mazama around 4860 BC formed
Crater Lake . These mountain
ranges see heavy precipitation, capturing most of the moisture that
remains after the Coast Ranges, and creating a rain shadow to the east
forming vast stretches of arid land. 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. The Rocky
Region is the highest overall area of the United States, with
an average elevation of above 4,000 feet (1,200 m). The tallest peaks
of the Rockies, 54 of which are over 14,000 feet (4,300 m), are found
in central and western
The West has several long rivers that empty into the
Pacific Ocean ,
while the eastern rivers run into the
Gulf of Mexico
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 snakes through the
Mountain states, at one point forming the
Grand Canyon .
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
California that in most years, water from the
Colorado River no
longer reaches the Gulf of
California . The
Columbia River , the
largest river in volume flowing into the
Pacific Ocean from North
America, and its tributary, the
Snake River , water the Pacific
Northwest. The Platte runs through Nebraska and was known for being a
mile (2 km) wide but only a half-inch (1 cm) deep. The Rio Grande
forms the border between
Mexico before turning due north and
New Mexico in half.
According to the
United States Coast Guard , "The Western Rivers
System consists of the Mississippi , Ohio , Missouri , Illinois ,
Tennessee , Cumberland , Arkansas , and White Rivers and their
tributaries, and certain other rivers that flow towards the Gulf of
CLIMATE AND AGRICULTURE
Most of the public land held by the U.S. National
Forest Service and
Bureau of Land Management is in the Western states. 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 described as
semiarid ; however, parts of the West get extremely high amounts of
rain and/or snow, and still other parts are true desert and get less
than 5 inches (130 mm) of rain per year. 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. Low
elevations on the West Coast have warm to very hot summers and get
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. Drought is much
more common in the West than the rest of the United States. The driest
place recorded in the U.S. is Death
Valley , California.
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, (
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
Texas through the Dakotas , producing most of the wheat
and soybeans in the U.S. and exporting more to the rest of the world.
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.
Arizona are major producers of
citrus crops, although growing metropolitan sprawl is absorbing much
of this land.
Local and state government officials started to understand, after
several surveys made during the latter part of the 19th century, that
only action by the federal government could provide water resources
needed to support the development of the West. Starting in 1902,
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. Following
World War II
World War II , the
West's cities experienced an economic and population boom. 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
Valley and Los Angeles.
Plains make up much of the eastern portion of the West, underlain
with sedimentary rock from the Upper
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
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
American frontier and Timeline of the American Old
United States has been populated by Native Americans
since at least 11,000 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 1000 AD. Major settlement of the western territories developed
rapidly in the 1840s, largely through the
Oregon Trail and the
Gold Rush of 1849.
California experienced such a rapid
growth in a few short months that it was admitted to statehood in 1850
without the normal transitory phase of becoming an official territory.
One of the largest migrations in American history occurred in the
1840s as the Latter Day Saints left the Midwest to build a theocracy
Omaha, Nebraska and St. Louis, Missouri laid claim to the title,
"Gateway to the West" during this period. Omaha, home to the Union
Pacific Railroad and the
Mormon Trail , made its fortunes on
St. Louis built itself upon the vast fur trade in
the West before its settlement.
The 1850s 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
U.S. Route 66 as a means to bring
tourism and industry to the West. In the 1950s, 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
California has emerged as the most populous state and one of the top
10 economies in the world. Massive late 19th-20th century population
and settlement booms created two megalopolis areas of the Greater Los
California and the
San Francisco Bay Area /Northern
California regions, one of the nation's largest metropolitan areas and
in the top 25 largest urban areas in the world. Four more metropolitan
areas of San Bernardino -Riverside ,
San Diego ,
Denver , Phoenix ,
Seattle have over a million residents, while the three fastest
growing metro areas were the
Salt Lake City
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.e.
White flight and
now black flight ) in neighborhood demographics, sometimes leading to
racially based riots (i.e. the 1992
Los Angeles Riots and 1965 Watts
Riots ), the West has a continuing reputation for being open-minded
and for being one of the most racially progressive areas in the United
Los Angeles has the largest Mexican population outside of Mexico,
San Francisco has the largest Chinese community in North America
and also has a large
LGBT community, and Oakland,
California has a
large percentage of residents being
African-American , as well as Long
California which also has a large Black community. The state of
Utah has a
Mormon majority (estimated at 62.4% in 2004), while some
cities like Albuquerque,
New Mexico ;
Spokane, Washington ; Tucson,
Arizona and Billings,
Montana are located near Indian Reservations .
In remote areas there are settlements of
Alaskan Natives and Native
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
Hispanic populations, and the many Spanish place names attest to
their history as former Spanish and Mexican territories.
Americans have also had a growing population in Northwestern
Oregon and Washington, as well as the southern states of
Texas and Oklahoma.
Hollywood is a well-known area of Los Angeles
and the symbolic center of the
American film industry .
Alaska—the northernmost state in the Union—is a vast land of few
people, many of them native, and of great stretches of wilderness,
protected in national parks and wildlife refuges . Hawaii's location
makes it a major gateway between the U.S. and Asia, as well as a
center for tourism.
In the Pacific Coast 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
World War II , though Boeing, located in Washington State would lead
the aerospace industry. Fueled by the growth of Los Angeles, as well
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.
Oregon and Washington have also seen rapid growth with the rise of
Microsoft along with agriculture and resource based
industries. The desert and mountain states have relatively low
population densities, and developed as ranching and mining areas which
are only recently becoming urbanized. Most of them have highly
individualistic cultures, and have worked to balance the interests of
urban development, recreation, and the environment. Newspaper
Rock State Historic Monument ,
Utah , contains petroglyphs left by the
first inhabitants of the American Southwest.
Culturally distinctive points include the large
Mormon population in
Mormon Corridor , including southeastern
Utah , Northern
Arizona , and
Nevada ; the extravagant casino resort towns of Las
Vegas and Reno , Nevada; and the numerous American Indian tribal
MAJOR METROPOLITAN AREAS
These are the largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) with a
population above 500,000 in the 13 Western states with population
estimates as of July 1, 2015 as defined by the
United States Census
Los Angeles -Long
Beach -Anaheim MSA
San Francisco -
Oakland -Hayward MSA
Phoenix -Mesa -Scottsdale MSA
San Bernardino -Riverside -Ontario MSA
Seattle -Tacoma -Bellevue MSA
San Diego -Carlsbad MSA
Denver -Aurora -Lakewood MSA
Portland -Vancouver -Hillsboro MSA
Sacramento -Roseville -Arden-Arcade MSA
Las Vegas -Henderson -Paradise MSA
San Jose -Sunnyvale -Santa Clara MSA
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City MSA
Bakersfield -Delano MSA
Oxnard -Thousand Oaks -Ventura MSA
Stockton -Lodi MSA
Colorado Springs MSA
Boise City MSA
Ogden -Clearfield MSA
Provo -Orem MSA
Santa Rosa MSA
OTHER POPULATION CENTERS
* The MSA of El Paso,
Texas , although belonging to a state
considered part of the Southern
United States , is sometimes also
considered part of the Western United States. Its estimated population
* The Mexican border cities of
Tijuana (part of the
San Diego MSA )
Mexicali (part of the Yuma, AZ -El Centro, CA MSA) in the Mexican
state of Baja
* The Canadian border cities of
Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia and
Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria, British Columbia (the nearest US cities are Bellingham and
Port Angeles , both in Washington).
* The largest MSA in
Alaska is Anchorage ; it has an estimated
population of 399,790, as of July 2015.
States where state-level laws allowed legalized medicinal
marijuana before 2005 . States with legalized
physician-assisted suicide States that have no income tax at
the state level Further information: Coastal
California § Politics
The region's distance from historical centers of power in the East,
and the celebrated "frontier spirit" of its settlers offer two
clichés for explaining the region's independent, heterogeneous
politics. Historically, the West was the first region to see
widespread women\'s suffrage , with women casting votes in
Wyoming as early as 1870, five decades before the 19th Amendment was
ratified by the nation.
California birthed both the property rights
and conservation movements , and spawned such phenomena as the
Taxpayer Revolt and the Berkeley
Free Speech Movement . It has also
produced three presidents:
Herbert Hoover ,
Richard Nixon , and Ronald
The prevalence of libertarian political attitudes is widespread. For
example, the majority of Western states have legalized medicinal
marijuana (all but
Utah and Wyoming) and some forms of gambling
(except Utah); Oregon, Washington, and
Montana have legalized
physician-assisted suicide ; most rural counties in
licensed brothels, and voters in Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, California,
Oregon, and Washington have legalized recreational use of marijuana.
The West Coast and
Hawaii lean toward the Democratic Party . San
Francisco's two main political parties are the Green Party and the
Seattle has historically been a center of radical
left-wing politics. One of the Democratic leaders of the Congress is
from the region: House Minority Leader
Nancy Pelosi of California.
Alaska and the
Mountain States are more Republican , with Alaska,
Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and
Wyoming being Republican
Nevada being swing states. The state of
Nevada is considered a political bellwether, having correctly voted
for every president except twice (in 1976 and 2016) since 1912. New
Mexico too is considered a bellwether, having voted for the popular
vote winner in every presidential election since statehood, except in
1976 and 2000. The state of
Arizona has been won by the Republican
presidential candidate in every election except one since 1948, while
the states of Idaho, Utah, and
Wyoming have been won by the Republican
presidential candidate in every election since 1964. Wyoming, Idaho,
Utah have been some of the country's most Republican states.
As the fastest-growing demographic group, after Asians, Latinos are
hotly contested by both parties. Immigration is an important political
issue for this group. Backlash against illegal aliens led to the
California Proposition 187 in 1994, a ballot initiative
which would have denied many public services to illegal aliens.
Association of this proposal with
California Republicans, especially
Pete Wilson , drove many
Hispanic voters to the
United States consistently ranks well in health measures.
The rate of potentially preventable hospitalizations in the Western
United States was consistently lower than other regions from 2005 to
While the proportion of maternal or neonatal hospital stays was
higher in the Western
United States relative to other regions, the
proportion of medical stays in hospitals was lower than in other
regions in 2012.
Art of the West (magazine)
Autry Museum of the American West
* Folklore of the
High Country News
* History of the west coast of
History of the Jews in the American West
* Sunset magazine
* Professional sports in the Western
* Territories of the
United States on stamps
Western White House
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