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Lesson 1 - From Coasts to Canyons

Key Vocabulary

Prime Meridian

Global Grid
Dry Farming
Crude Oil

Southwest States

New Mexico

Southwest Links

Land and Water
The geography of the Southwest is varied. It is made up of Coastal Plains, the vast Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountains. The Rio Grande flows out of the Rocky Mountains, forming the border between the United States and Mexico, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Plateaus, Canyons, Mesas
The Colorado Plateau is the major plateau in the Southwest. The area is also famous for its canyons, which are deep, narrow valleys with steep sides. Among the deepest is the Grand Canyon. A mesa is another landform found in the Southwest. It is a hill with a flat top. There are also buttes in the area. They are like mesas, but are even smaller. The Grand Canyon is 217 miles long and stretches through northern Arizona. It is more than one mile deep in some places and measures 18 miles from rim to rim at its widest point. The Colorado River flows out of the Rocky Mountains and runs through the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Over millions of years the river cut a deep path into the plateau and carved the walls into fantastic shapes. This process is called erosion, which is the slow wearing away of the land by water, wind, or ice. Canyons, mesas, and buttes are all formed by erosion. The Grand Canyon is a national park and is visited by about four million people each year. It is one of our country's most famous and beautiful natural features.

The Roaring Rapids
A rapid is where a river flows very swiftly as elevation drops. As the Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon, it falls more than 1,000 feet in elevation. Most of this drop takes place as the river flows over small waterfalls. Rafting down the Colorado River takes several days. Along the way you can see the colorful rock walls, lizards, desert bighorn sheep, and stars in the night sky.

Lesson 2 - Deserts and Oil

The Dry Southwest
The climate of the Southwest is varied. It can be warm and rainy, below freezing, or hot and dry. Many parts of the Southwest are covered by deserts--dry lands that get less than 10 inches of precipitation each year. The Painted Desert of northern Arizona is named for its colorful rocks. The Sonoran is the largest desert in North America covering over 120,000 square miles. Temperatures are high all year in the Southwest because that region is closer to the equator.

Life In a Dry Climate
People have found ways to adapt to the Southwest's environment. Some of the ways they have done this is by drinking a lot of water and by using fans and air conditioners. Over many years plants and animals have adapted in order to survive the difficult climate. The saguaro cactus stores water in its trunk after a rainfall. Most desert animals are light in color, which reflects the sun and helps them stay cooler. A drought in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and states in the Middle West lasted through most of the 1930s. A drought is a period of little or no rain. Because farmers had plowed up thick prairie grasses, the wind blew the dried out soil right off their fields. This resulted in what was called the Dust Bowl. Thousands of families lost their homes and farms. Many moved to California to find work. It took many years for the region to recover.

Black Gold
The Southwest has many natural resources, but two of the most important are found beneath Earth's surface. They are minerals such as copper, silver, and uranium. The other is oil, a resource so valuable it has been nicknamed "black gold." Oil is a common name for petroleum. Texas and Oklahoma are two of our country's largest producers of oil, a fuel.

Lesson 3 - Wells for Water and Oil

Aquifers and Aqueducts
Much of the water used by people of the Southwest comes from aquifers. Aquifers are underground layers of rock or sand that trap rainwater. In the Southwest these layers are made of limestone. There are two ways to get water from an aquifer. One way is to find a natural spring--a place where underground water comes to the surface. The other way is to dig a well. People also build dams across rivers. The dam acts as a wall to hold back part of the river to form a lake. Aqueducts carry this water to cities and farms. Some farmers use dry farming--a way to grow crops with only a small amount of rainwater.

Gusher At Spindletop
The oil boom began in 1901 when a crew drilling at Spindletop, near Beaumont, Texas, came upon a "gusher" that produced oil at a rate of 75,000 barrels a day. Soon this fuel powered ships, locomotives, and factory machines. A new product called gasoline fueled automobiles. Petroleum, oil that comes from the ground, is called crude oil. Crude oil is first taken to a refinery where it is separated into parts. These parts include gasoline and heating oil. Refineries in the Southwest also produce petrochemicals, or chemicals made from petroleum. There are probably many things in your classroom made from petrochemicals.