The West Region
Discover the largest of the U.S. regions and the contribution of the west to the rest of the country. Visit the varied landforms and climates of the West, including Alaska and Hawaii. Learn about the vast amount of natural and human resources of this region from agriculture and fishing to tourism and technology.
Explore the environment, climate and natural resources of the West Region of the United States.
- Students will be able to list the eleven states that make up the Western Region.
- Six of these states are called the Mountain States, because they border the Rocky Mountains. The Mountain States include Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada.
- The other five states are called the Pacific States because they border the Pacific Ocean. The five pacific states include Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii.
- Students will realize that the Western Region has a wide variety of landforms, and know example(s) of each type of landform.
- Mountains: Every state in the Western Region has mountains. In general, these mountains tend to be taller than those found in other regions. The Rocky Mountains form the largest mountain system in North America, which is composed of many smaller mountain ranges. These mountain ranges include: The Front Range in Colorado and Wyoming; the Teton Range in Wyoming; and the Brooks Range in Alaska. At 20,000 feet above sea level, Mount McKinley, in the state of Alaska, is the highest peak in North America. An imaginary line, called the Continental Divide, runs north and south along the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Rivers on the east side of the Continental Divide flow east toward the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean. Rivers on the west side of the Continental Divide flow west toward the Pacific Ocean. To the west of the Rocky Mountains is the Cascade Mountain Range. Many of the peaks in the Cascade Mountain Range are volcanoes, including Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier. The Sierra Nevada mountain range, which runs along the California-Nevada border, is composed of huge granite peaks. The Coast Ranges are made up of many smaller ranges that stretch from southern California all the way up the Pacific Coast to Kodiak, Alaska.
- Faults: Areas near the Coast Ranges contain faults, where the earth's crust breaks and shifts. These faults are centers for earthquakes.
- Islands: The Hawaiian Islands are a major feature in the Western Environment. They were formed by volcanoes rising from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Although Hawaii has eight main islands, the state includes 132 volcanic islands.
- Valleys: California's Central Valley sits between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Coast ranges, and it stretches over 450 miles north to south. Waters from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers now irrigate this once dry land. Now the Central Valley's fertile soil is used to produce crops that are shipped throughout the world. At 282 feet below sea level, Death Valley, located in Southern California, is the lowest point in North America.
- Students will realize that the climate of the west is one of extremes. The state of Alaska holds a national record low temperature of minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and Death Valley holds the national record high temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Many areas in the Pacific Northwest receive more than 100 inches of rainfall per year, yet Death Valley gets only 2 inches of rainfall each year. The Western Region's variety of landforms leads to a wide range of climates. These landforms have different elevations, and climate generally changes with elevation. The floor of a valley may be warm most of the year with moderate rainfall, but the top of a mountain may have a cold climate and receive many feet of precipitation.
- Students will know about the wide range of natural resources that the Western Environment supports.
- Lumber: A large amount of lumber comes from the forest of northern California and in Oregon and Washington. Lumber is a necessary resource in the production of homes, furniture, and paper. There are laws in place that protect the Giant Sequoias and some of the Coast Redwoods from being cut down. These laws strike a balance between the environment and industry.
- Crops: The mild temperatures and rainy days of the Pacific Northwest allow farmers to produce many kinds of fruits, vegetables, and nuts. In fact, Washington leads the country in growing apples and cherries. The rich soil of Idaho produces potatoes, wheat, and hay. California's Central Valley yields more than 150 kinds of fruits and vegetables, including grapes, peaches, tomatoes, and artichokes. The warm and wet climate of Hawaii is great for the production of sugarcane, pineapple, Macadamia nuts, coffee, and flowers.
- Fish: The state of Alaska leads the country's fishing industry, catching about 11/2 billion dollars' worth of fish each year.
- Livestock: Cattle and sheep are raised on the great plains of Wyoming, Colorado, and eastern Montana. These states provide large areas of grasses on which the livestock can feed.
- Coal, oil and gas: These resources are found throughout the west, including the states of Utah, which has petroleum and coal, and Alaska, which produces large amounts of oil.
- Metals: Gold, silver, lead, zinc, and copper are mined in Western Region.
- Students will realize that the West's wide variety of natural resources make it a hub for industry. Seattle, Washington is a major port for shipping lumber around the world. California and Utah make computers and computer software. The state of Washington also produces computer software, as well as ships and airplanes. Tourism is a major industry in the West. Places like Volcanoes National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Yosemite National Park draw scores of recreation seekers each year. The West is home to more national parks than in any other region in the United Sates.
- Have students work in groups to prepare a creative extension to any one of the topics covered in the video. For example, students who choose climate might build a model of farmland that requires irrigation due to dry weather. Students who choose natural resources may want to present the class with examples and explain their importance (i.e. gold, lumber etc.).
- Have students work alone or in groups to plan a trip to the Western Region. Research airfare, transportation, etc. Ask students to prepare a budget and itinerary for their trip.