The United States of America has an area of 3,615,122 square miles (9,4 mln square kilometers) almost all of which is on the American continent. Its overseas possessions are mainly small Pacific Islands (Guam, Samoa, etc.) plus Puerto Rico. There are 50 states and one Federal District, created as a site for the Federal Capital, Washington, and known as the District of Columbia.
The USA is considered to be the fourth largest country in the world. The 48 conterminous states extend from latitude 25° N to 50° N and longitude 125° W to 67° W. From New York in the East to San Francisco or Los Angeles in the West, i.e. from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, you have to travel more than 4,500 km and leave behind four time zones. The other two states, Alaska and Hawaii, are situated respectively near the Arctic circle and in the tropical part of the Pacific Ocean (3,200 km from the mainland).
Thanks to these geographical extremes, different parts of the country range from moist rain forest areas to arid desert regions and bald mountain peaks. Mount McKinley in Alaska of 20,320 feet (6,194 meters) above sea level is the highest point in the USA, while part of Death Valley in California is 282 feet (89 meters) below sea level. The West is an extensive mountain area occupying approximately one-third of the United States and is a region of tremendous variety, which can be subdivided into various other areas. It consists of high ranges of the Cordillera parallel to the Pacific Coast culminating on its eastern border in the Rocky Mountains (a high, discontinuous chain of mountains with peaks of 13,000 and 14,000 feet), which, in their turn, stretch from mountainous Alaska down to Mexico. These mountains are rich in resources such as gold, lead and uranium.
Among high mountains at the western edge of the Cordillera — the Sierra Nevada, the Cascades and the Coastal Ranges — there are broad, fertile valleys and large plateau regions with canyons, cliffs and basins that contain many important metals, oil and natural gas.
The heart of the United States is a vast plain, which extends from Central Canada southwards to Mexico and from the Cordillera eastwards to the Appalachian Mountains. These interior plains, which rise gradually like a saucer to higher land on all sides, are divided into two major parts: the eastern portion is called the Central Plains and the western portion — the Great Plains, both of which have good soil.
The Appalachian Mountains — a chain of low, almost unbroken mountains — are extremely rich in coal and iron. These mountains are at the western edge of the Atlantic coastal plain, which is a long, gently rolling lowland area. These coastal plains are very flat: nowhere in Florida, for example, is more than 350 feet above sea level. The soil is very poor, except in the fertile southern part — the Cotton Belt of the Old South and the citrus country of Central Florida.
Hawaii is a chain of twenty islands, only seven of which are inhabited. The mountainous islands were formed by volcanic activity and there are still a number of active volcanoes.
WEATHER AND CLIMATE
Virtually every type of climate can be found somewhere in the United States — from arctic in Alaska to subtropical in Florida. The climate is not generally temperate, despite the latitude, because the tremendous size of the North American land mass heightens the extreme variations in temperature and precipitation, especially in the central regions (in Dakota temperatures have reached a maximum of 49 °C and a minimum of -60 °C).
Most of the country has a humid continental climate with hot summers and cold winters, while the lack of natural barriers either to the north or south allows cold, dry air to flow south from Canada and warm, humid air north from the Gulf of Mexico, giving rise to spectacular weather of every possible type in the Great Plains and Midwest. Summers are hot and very humid in this region and rainfall decreases to the west as a result of the rain shadow created by the West Pacific Range and the Sierra Nevada. The southwest portion of the Great Plains is the hottest and most arid region of the United States, with precipitation, mostly in the form of summer showers, averaging less than 250 mm a year.
The Pacific coast is almost rainless in the summer, although there is often fog. In winter there is frequent drizzle, but the climate remains generally warm and dry, especially in California.
The eastern part of the country is moderately rainy, with the precipitation fairly well distributed throughout the year. Summers tend to be extremely humid, especially along the coast of Texas and Florida.
The United States possesses vast non-fuel natural resources. The major resource is iron, three quarters of which comes from the Lake Superior region of the Great Lakes. Other basic metals and minerals mined on a large scale are zinc, copper, silver and phosphate rock (used for fertilizers). This wealth is distributed throughout most of the country, but Texas and the West (especially California) are the most important mineral-producing areas. Mining and quarrying account for only about 2 % of GNP.
The United States produces one quarter of the world's coal and one seventh of its petroleum, with sufficient coal reserves to last for hundreds of years. About half of the nation's electric power comes from coal-fired power stations, while natural and manufactured gas supply more than 33 % of the nation's power. The main gas fields are found near the main oil fields in Texas, Louisiana and Alaska. Nuclear power is also used in many places, using uranium mined in New Mexico and Wyoming, and produces over 10 % of the nation's energy output.
No nation had ever done anything like that. Indeed, the very idea of the Federal Government's setting aside a portion of the public domain in the Rocky Mountains for use as a national "pleasuring ground" instead of for private exploitation by farmers, ranchers, or miners had a faintly improper ring, particularly in the "robber baron" era of unbridled private enterprise following the Civil War.
Nevertheless, depictions by artists and photographers, and the reports of official survey teams all pointed to one inevitable conclusion: that the Yellowstone region of the Rockies was of such exceptional beauty, such awe-aspiring dimensions, that this sublime gift of nature was a national treasure, far too valuable for private development, and that it must belong in perpetuity to the entire American people.
Accordingly, Congress passed and President Grant signed legislation establishing Yellowstone National Park, which over the years has been extended to take in 2.2 million acres of breathtakingly beautiful country in Idaho, Montana, and — mainly — Wyoming.
Yellowstone became the first reserve of its kind in the world and the model for US national park system.
Almost two decades passed before new national parks were created, and then, in 1890, Sequoia and Yosemite were both established in California. Subsequently, the pace quickened, particularly during Theodore Roosevelt's conservation-minded administration (1901-1909), when eight new national parks were established.
Today there are 38 national parks, most of them in the West, covering more than 14 million acres. Additional millions of acres have been set aside as national monuments, national recreation areas, national forests and national seashores. Within those sanctuaries millions of vacationing Americans each year enjoy days or weeks of relaxation amid nature's most impressive splendours — preserved by man for posterity.
THE NORTHEAST: MASSACHUSETTS
It is one of New England States with a coastline on the Atlantic. The interior is hilly, rising to over 30,000 feet. The Merrimack and Connecticut are the chief rivers.
Boston is the capital and largest city.
The State became one of the original 13 States. Almost everyone knows at least a little about the early days of Massachusetts. The names of Plymouth, Boston, Cape Cod, Salem, Concord and Lexington are also familiar. Plymouth is the very place where the Pilgrim Fathers on board the "Mayflower" landed in 1620 to found the Plymouth Colony. It is in Lexington that the American Revolution began. This town is matched historically with its Revolutionary twin, Concord. The "shot heard round the world" was fired in Concord.
From earliest colonial days, the Massachusetts men were fishermen. Fish, lobsters, and clams certainly saved some of the settlers from starvation. Fishing is still a big industry. Until the middle of the 19th century Massachusetts sent whaling vessels on voyages to the Pacific Ocean.
Part of Massachusetts is a good farming country. The Connecticut Valley produces general crops, including potatoes, but its successful tobacco farms are more famous. One of the best known specialities of the State is its cranberry crop, grown at the landward end of the Cape Cod.
Early Massachusetts was well forested, and every port had a shipyard where fishing boats were built, and also wooden trading vessels which were sailed by the Massachusetts men to the ports of Europe, Asia and Africa, and to domestic ports farther south on the Atlantic coast. The traders brought back raw materials that gave Massachusetts an early start in manufacturing.
Cotton from the South was the basis of the textile industry in which Massachusetts was a leader until the 20th century. Then the South became the center of cotton manufacture but Massachusetts still has many textile mills, as well as a wide variety of other manufacturing industries.
Now Massachusetts is a highly industrial State. Electrical machinery, including electronics and communications equipment, has become the State's leading product.
Massachusetts has many famous universities and colleges. Across the Charles River, close to Boston, stands Cambridge, where the cultural history of America has developed side by side with the history of Harvard University (the country's oldest). Named after John Harvard, a clergyman, who at his death in 1638 left the institution a few hundred books and half his estate, Harvard has turned into one of the largest, richest, and best universities in the world.
THE SOUTH: FLORIDA
The State is completely different from all other southern States. It consists mainly of a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The entire State is flat, with only a very few hills in the interior. In the south there is a swampy region.
Agriculture is the chief industry, and sugar, псе, cotton, tobacco and tropical fruits are grown. Fishing is important, and there are valuable forest reserves. Cattle raising is gaining importance.
Florida was chosen by NASA as a perfect launching place. At Cape Kennedy, formerly Canaveral, is the US Missile Test Center from which satellites are sent into manned space and orbital flights.
Although an agricultural State by geography, inclination and climate, it has been developed primarily as a resort area. The shorelines are sandy, with miles of fine white bathing beaches. So the State's leading business activity is tourism.
Tallahassee is the capital but Jacksonville and Tampa are larger. Miami is a famous resort on the southeast coast. Other resort towns are Palm Beach, Key West, Venice.
Florida was discovered in 1513 and was bought by the USA from Spain in 1819, becoming a State in 1849.
THE SOUTHWEST: TEXAS
It is the largest and most southern state on the Mexican border with a coastline on the Gulf of Mexico. The chief rivers are the Rio Grande and the Colorado. Much of the central part of the State is flat prairie land.
Cattle raising and poultry are major activities. Texas is also an important agricultural state. Agriculture products include cotton, corn, vegetables, grains, and cereals. Minerals include petroleum and cement. The State's leading manufactures are chemicals, oil and gas, wood products and leather.
Austin is the capital, but Houston, Dallas and San Antonio are much larger. The Capitol at Austin, built in 1888 of red granite, covers three acres and is 311 feet to the top of its dome; it is the largest of the States' Capitols.
There are more than 600 airports in Texas, including about 60 major US Air Force bases.
Texas has more than 130 higher educational institutions, the most famous being the University of Texas at Austin.
Texas became independent in 1836, and entered the Union in 1846. Texas is the only State that was an independent republic recognized by the United States before annexation.
THE CENTRAL NORTHWEST: COLORADO
Colorado is the State in the Rocky Mountains. Being the highest State in the country, it contains some of the highest peaks as well. All in all, there are 52 peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation. Numerous rivers rise in the mountains, the chief being the Colorado and the Arkansas.
Coal, gold, silver, copper, lead and petroleum are mined. Agriculture is becoming important, sugar-beet, wheat, maize and oats being the chief crops.
There are several National Parks. Denver is the capital and largest town; others are Pueblo and Colorado Springs.
Colorado became a State in 1876.
THE SOUTHWEST: ARIZONA
The natural features of this State are the Colorado River with its extensive deserts and famous canyons among which is the world known Grand Canyon.
The soil is not fertile; cattle and sheep are reared, but the chief products are minerals.
Phoenix is the capital.
The Grand Canyon of Arizona has sometimes been called the greatest of the world's wonders. It is, in fact, the world's most spectacular illustration of erosion, being the result of the combined action of a great river, of rain, wind and of frost.
The Grand Canyon is a gigantic chasm, 247 miles long, 4 to 14 miles wide and 1 mile deep. At the bottom is the mighty Colorado River that rushes to the sea and carries an average of nearly half a million tons of silt through the Canyon every day. Rising from the depths of the Canyon are ranges of mountains.
According to geologists' estimates, it has taken 7 to 9 million years to cut the Grand Canyon. Rocks from the first era of geological history are exposed on the Canyon's walls. More than 6,000 prehistoric sites have been found in Grand Canyon National Park.
The colors of the Canyon change through the day. One cannot describe its beauty, and the Grand Canyon is always mysterious.
THE FAR WEST: CALIFORNIA
This State lies north of the Mexican border and has a long Pacific coastline. Except for the south, where there is the California Desert, there are three distinct geographical divisions: the Sierra Nevada, which runs the length of the state and rises to 14,500 feet in Mount Whitney; the Coast Range, a series of ranges; and the great California Valley, containing the Sacramento and San-Joaquin rivers, which unite and flow through the Golden Gate into San Francisco Bay.
Gold, silver, copper, lead and petroleum are produced. The film industry is important.
Sacramento is the geographical capital, but Los Angeles and San Francisco are very important. Los Angeles is the motion picture capital, with major studios in Hollywood, and San Francisco is the biggest Pacific Coast port, a major banking, communications, financial, and industrial center.
California was part of Mexico from its discovery until 1846, when it was claimed by the USA. It became a State in 1850, following the increase in population and property caused by the "gold rash" of 1849.
California is nicknamed the Golden State. The emblem of the State is a golden poppy, and the entrance to its finest harbor is called the Golden Gate. The glamour of Hollywood, a romantic past, snow-topped mountains, rushing streams, the sparkling blue Pacific, mysterious deserts, warm winters — all these make California very attractive for the people who dream of it.
California has about 200 higher educational institutions. Among the world famous are the University of California, Stanford University, University of Southern California, and California Institute of Technology.