|Armchair travelers ask…
You can’t see it all – just a slice.
Just what do you want to get out of the trip? Do you have a special target
destination? There are so many possibilities, so keep these in mind as you
review the geography and history. Specific locations are described in the
section "Places to see".
A brief overview of the history of the country will help to put the travel
possibilities in perspective. The geography and history are intertwined so we'll
start before there was a United States – though very, very briefly.
C You may see snow capped mountains in mid summer when you are in the
Rocky Mountain area. Be prepared to slow down if bothered by the high
altitude. The scenery is incredible and diverse. Diversity is exemplified by the
national parks -- Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and more.
D Between the Rocky Mountains and east of the Mississippi River are the
“Great Plains”, sometimes referred to as America’s bread basket as the wheat
fields extend for miles as do the corn fields. These prairies are considered flat
but do have a gentle rolling, which along with cattle grazing, oil wells and wind
farms adds to the interest.
E This area includes the Ozarks Mountains and the area is generally covered
F The Appalachian Mountain range extends from eastern Canada into Maine
and continues to northern Georgia. The mountains are essentially a north-south
wall that impeded early travel. A trail extends the length of the US portion of the
range and each year a number of hikers attempt to go the entire distance (2,160
miles) and some complete it. It is forested and much is reserved for recreational
use including the Great Smokies, etc. The highest mountain peaks reach a bit
over 6,000 feet.
G The coastal plain is generally level and quite heavily populated, especially
near the Gulf and Ocean. There is substantial farming from about Virgina south
into Florida. Crops include apples, oranges, cotton, as well as a variety of other
fruits and vegetables. Smaller farms are in the north and produce diverse crops
as well as dairy, poultry, corn, and silage.
Over a thousand years ago the Americas were honeycombed with native
populations. The way these early people lived was heavily influenced by the
geography of the area. Climate, availability of water, and characteristics of the
land determined the type of housing as well as the lifestyle. Some were nomadic
who survived by hunting and gathering food. Others advanced to a more settled
communal lifestyle with irrigated farming. It became a sophisticated society
with an extensive trading network, even though they had not learned of the
"wheel" nor use beasts of burden. Visitors can visit these communities,
especially in the Southwest’s pueblos and cliff dwellings. You may even see
their artwork that remains on the sides of caves.
Cultural differences of the various parts of the nation can be explained, in part,
by the early exploration and exploitation of the area by outsiders. Arrival of the
Europeans disrupted these societies by exposing them to lethal diseases, to
which they did not have natural immunity, plus aggressive actions. In your
travels you may observe the Spanish influence that came from Mexico into the
Southwest (where Arizona, California New Mexico and Texas are now). In the
late 1700s Catholic missionaries from Mexico established mission churches that
are now visited by tourists. The French became established along the Gulf of
Mexico. The English, Dutch and Spanish claimed control of significant
segments of the Atlantic coastline. Each of these had commercial interests that
often exploited the native Indians. As the Europeans took over, the English
became dominant and the British colonies were established as political units.
In the late 1700s the colonists fought the Revolutionary War to gain
independence from Great Britain. Today’s tourists visit landmarks from this era
throughout the Atlantic seaboard states, most notably the swath from Boston,
Massachusetts to Williamsburg, Virginia. This includes the major commercial
and political centers of the period. (Boston, New York and Philadelphia were
important then and Washington was post-Revolutionary War). Significant
battles were fought throughout the colonies, however most were in the
northeast. Time has been cruel and few battlefields are preserved. Visitors who
are interested in this period of US history should consider visiting these areas
and allocating sufficient time to Colonial Williamsburg, which is a faithful
restoration of Williamsburg’s influential role as capitol of the Virginia colony.
When in Williamsburg, take time to visit the nearby battlefield in Yorktown.
The 1800s were a time of great change. Industries used the available resources
– coal for power, lumber for construction, and metals for fabrication –diverse
resources seemed endless. Canals were built, steam railroads straddled the
country, and telegraphs provided communication. You can now visit early
mines and oil wells. Canals and railroads continue in commercial use – others
are used as tourist attractions or in formal exhibits.
This was also a period of great expansion. The population pushed further west
beyond the Appalachian Mountains and Mississippi River seeking farmland,
developing natural resources, and they discovered areas that were familiar to
earlier inhabitants. These included areas that are now preserved in National
Parks and Monuments. Some traveled to these areas by covered wagon and
many walked miles in the ruts left by those who preceded them. Explorers,
often with the help of the resident Indians, mapped the rivers, deserts, and
mountains that defined the country. They learned of the landmark canyons,
caves, and locations of the early civilizations that they replaced. Some were
‘49ers who panned for gold. Tourists are attracted to the remains of the mining
communities that are now "ghost towns". Visitors today retrace the Lewis &
Clark expedition, which sought a water route to the Pacific Ocean; see the
remains of frontier forts; explore caves that sheltered early travelers.
The Civil War (sometimes referred to as the War Between the States) threatened
to split the nation in the early 1860s on the underlying issue of slavery. Battles
were fought primarily in the south and many battlefields are preserved and open
to the public. The southern states were primarily agricultural with cotton as the
major commercial crop. The northern states had strong manufacturing,
transportation, and communications facilities that enabled them to overwhelm
the South. Numerous battlefields are open to tourists.
Growth during the past century has been accelerated by technological
advances. Today’s travelers can travel on expansive highways to the sites that
were important to the development of the nation. We can:
|Consider your touring options as you plan your trip to "see America". This basic overview includes
both the history and geography of the regions related to trip planning -- thus a short background of
the United States in just a few minutes for those who have been away from the classroom for a while.