Western United States

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Western United States
American West, Far West, or the West
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Left-right from top: Seattle skyline, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Boise skyline, Angel's Landing, Mt. Rainier, Los Angeles skyline
Map of USA highlighting West.svg
Regional definitions vary from source to source. This map reflects the Western United States as defined by the Census Bureau. This region is divided into Mountain and Pacific areas. [1]
Country United States
States

The Western United States (also called the American West, the Far West, and the West) is the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. As European settlement in the U.S. expanded westward through the centuries, the meaning of the term the West changed. Before about 1800, the crest of the Appalachian Mountains was seen as the western frontier. The frontier moved westward and eventually the lands west of the Mississippi River were considered the West. [2]

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Manifest destiny 19th Century American expansionist manifest

Manifest destiny was a widely held belief in the 19th century United States that its settlers were destined to expand across North America. There are three basic themes to manifest destiny:

Contents

The U.S. Census Bureau's definition of the 13 westernmost states includes the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin to the Pacific Coast, and the mid-Pacific islands state, Hawaii. To the east of the Western United States is the Midwestern United States and the Southern United States, with Canada to the north or east, and Mexico generally to the south.

Rocky Mountains Major mountain range in western North America

The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch 3,000 km (1,900 mi) in straight-line distance from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico in the Southwestern United States. Located within the North American Cordillera, the Rockies are distinct from the Pacific Coast Ranges, Cascade Range, and the Sierra Nevada, which all lie farther to the west.

Great Basin large depression in western North America

The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America. It spans nearly all of Nevada, much of Oregon and Utah, and portions of California, Idaho, and Wyoming. It is noted for both its arid climate and the basin and range topography that varies from the North American low point at Badwater Basin in Death Valley to the highest point of the contiguous United States, less than 100 miles (160 km) away at the summit of Mount Whitney. The region spans several physiographic divisions, biomes, ecoregions, and deserts.

West Coast of the United States Coastline

The West Coast or Pacific Coast is the coastline along which the continental Western United States meets the North Pacific Ocean. As a region, this term most often refers to the coastal states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. More specifically, it refers to an area defined on the east by the Alaska Range, Cascade Range, Sierra Nevada, and Mojave Desert, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The United States Census groups the five states of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii together as the Pacific States division.

The West contains several major biomes, including arid and semi-arid plateaus and plains, particularly in the American Southwest; forested mountains, including two major ranges, the American Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains; the massive coastal shoreline of the American Pacific Coast; and the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.

Biome Distinct biological communities that have formed in response to a shared physical climate

A biome is a community of plants and animals that have common characteristics for the environment they exist in. They can be found over a range of continents. Biomes are distinct biological communities that have formed in response to a shared physical climate. Biome is a broader term than habitat; any biome can comprise a variety of habitats.

Arid severe lack of available water

A region is arid when it is characterized by a severe lack of available water, to the extent of hindering or preventing the growth and development of plant and animal life. Environments subject to arid climates tend to lack vegetation and are called xeric or desertic. Most "arid" climates straddle the Equator; these places include parts of Africa, Asia, South America, Central America, and Australia.

Semi-arid climate climate with precipitation below potential evapotranspiration

A semi-arid climate or steppe climate is the climate of a region that receives precipitation below potential evapotranspiration, but not as low as a desert climate. There are different kinds of semi-arid climates, depending on variables such as temperature, and they give rise to different biomes.

Defining the West

While the West is defined by many occupations, the American cowboy is often used as an icon of the region, here portrayed by C. M. Russell. HerdQuit.jpg
While the West is defined by many occupations, the American cowboy is often used as an icon 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 Utah to Monument Valley. Monument Valley road.jpg
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 Utah to 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 (including the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, and the Cascade Range), numerous glaciers, and the western portions of the Great Plains. It also contains all of the desert areas located in the United States (the Mojave, Sonoran, Great Basin, and Chihuahuan 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. [3] 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.

Rainforest type of forest with high rainfall

Rainforests are forests characterized by high and continuous rainfall, with annual rainfall in the case of tropical rainforests between 2.5 and 4.5 metres, and definitions varying by region for temperate rainforests. The monsoon trough, alternatively known as the intertropical convergence zone, plays a significant role in creating the climatic conditions necessary for the Earth's tropical rainforests: which are distinct from monsoonal areas of seasonal tropical forest.

Pacific Northwest Region that includes parts of Canada and the United States

The Pacific Northwest (PNW), sometimes referred to as Cascadia, is a geographic region in western North America bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and (loosely) by the Rocky Mountains on the east. Though no official boundary exists, the most common conception includes the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) and the U.S. states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Broader conceptions reach north into Southeast Alaska and Yukon, south into northern California, and east to the Continental Divide to include Western Montana and parts of Wyoming. Narrower conceptions may be limited to the coastal areas west of the Cascade and Coast mountains. The variety of definitions can be attributed to partially overlapping commonalities of the region's history, culture, geography, society, and other factors.

Sierra Nevada (U.S.) mountain range

The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in the Western United States, between the Central Valley of California and the Great Basin. The vast majority of the range lies in the state of California, although the Carson Range spur lies primarily in Nevada. The Sierra Nevada is part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges that consists of an almost continuous sequence of such ranges that form the western "backbone" of North America, Central America, South America and Antarctica.

Subregions

The region is split into two smaller units, or divisions, by the U.S. Census Bureau: [1]

Mountain states  
Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada
Pacific states  
Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, and Hawaii

Other classifications distinguish between Southwest and Northwest. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Utah are typically considered to be part of the Southwest, though Texas and Oklahoma are less 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.

Southwestern United States Geographical region of the USA

The Southwestern United States, also known as the American Southwest, Desert Southwest, or simply The Southwest, is the informal name for a region of the western United States. Definitions of the region's boundaries vary a great deal and have never been standardized, though many boundaries have been proposed. For example, one definition includes the stretch from the Mojave Desert in California to Carlsbad, New Mexico, and from the Mexico–United States border to the southern areas of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. The largest metropolitan areas are centered around Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tucson, Albuquerque, and El Paso. Those five metropolitan areas have an estimated total population of more than 9.6 million as of 2017, with nearly 60 percent of them living in the two Arizona cities—Phoenix and Tucson.

Northwestern United States geographical region of the United States

The Northwestern United States, also known as the American Northwest, is an informal geographic region of the United States. The region consistently includes the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho—and usually Montana and Wyoming. Some sources include Southeast Alaska in the Northwest. The related but distinct term "Pacific Northwest" generally excludes areas from the Rockies eastward.

Arizona U.S. state in the United States

Arizona is a state in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the Western and the Mountain states. It is the sixth largest and the 14th most populous of the 50 states. Its capital and largest city is Phoenix. Arizona shares the Four Corners region with Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico; its other neighboring states are Nevada and California to the west and the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California to the south and southwest.

The term West Coast is commonly used to refer to just California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, whereas Hawaii is more geographically isolated from the continental U.S. and do not necessarily fit in any of these subregions.

State 2017 Estimate
[ citation needed ]
2010 Census
[ citation needed ]
ChangeArea
[ citation needed ]
Density
Flag of Arizona.svg  Arizona 7,016,2706,392,017+9.77%113,591.04 sq mi (294,199.4 km2)
Flag of Colorado.svg  Colorado 5,607,1545,029,196+11.49%103,641.81 sq mi (268,431.1 km2)
Flag of Idaho.svg  Idaho 1,716,9431,567,582+9.53%82,643.05 sq mi (214,044.5 km2)
Flag of Montana.svg  Montana 1,050,493989,415+6.17%145,545.69 sq mi (376,961.6 km2)
Flag of Nevada.svg  Nevada 2,998,0392,700,551+11.02%109,781.09 sq mi (284,331.7 km2)
Flag of New Mexico.svg  New Mexico 2,088,0702,059,179+1.40%121,455.60 sq mi (314,568.6 km2)
Flag of Utah.svg  Utah 3,101,8332,763,885+12.23%82,169.56 sq mi (212,818.2 km2)
Flag of Wyoming.svg  Wyoming 579,315563,626+2.78%97,093.07 sq mi (251,469.9 km2)
Rocky Mountain24,153,52122,065,451+9.46%855,920.91 sq mi (2,216,825.0 km2)
Flag of Alaska.svg  Alaska 739,795710,231+4.16%570,640.51 sq mi (1,477,952.1 km2)
Flag of California.svg  California 39,536,65337,253,956+6.13%155,779.10 sq mi (403,466.0 km2)
Flag of Hawaii.svg  Hawaii 1,427,5381,360,301+4.94%6,422.62 sq mi (16,634.5 km2)
Flag of Oregon.svg  Oregon 4,142,7763,831,074+8.14%95,987.94 sq mi (248,607.6 km2)
Flag of Washington.svg Washington 7,405,7436,724,540+10.13%66,455.47 sq mi (172,118.9 km2)
Pacific53,252,50549,880,102+6.76%895,285.64 sq mi (2,318,779.2 km2)
Total77,406,02671,945,553+7.59%1,751,205.6 sq mi (4,535,602 km2)

Outlying areas

Ofu Beach on Ofu Island in American Samoa Ofu Beach American Samoa US National Park Service.jpg
Ofu Beach on Ofu Island in American Samoa

The three inhabited Pacific U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands) are sometimes considered part of the Western United States. American Samoa is in Polynesia in the South Pacific Ocean, while Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands are in the Mariana Islands in the western North Pacific Ocean. Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have district courts within the 9th Circuit, which includes western states such as California and Nevada. [4] (See District Court of Guam and District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands). The U.S. National Park Service groups American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands within their western region. [5] Also, the Federal Reserve Bank system includes American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands within their "12th District", which consists mostly of western states. [6]

Territory 2018 Population
Estimate
[7] [8] [9]
2010 Census
population [10]
ChangeArea
[7] [8] [9]
Density
Flag of American Samoa.svg  American Samoa 50,82655,519−8.45%77 sq mi (200 km2)
Flag of Guam.svg  Guam 167,772159,358+5.28%210 sq mi (540 km2)
Flag of the Northern Mariana Islands.svg  Northern Mariana Islands 51,99453,833−3.42%179 sq mi (460 km2)

In addition, West 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.[ citation needed ] Fort Worth has long laid claim to be "Where the West Begins".[ citation needed ]

Demographics

The population distribution by race in the Western United States (2010): [11]

As defined by the United States Census Bureau, the Western region of the United States includes 13 states [1] with a total 2013 estimated population of 74,254,423. [12]

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 West. American West census maps.png
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 West.

The entire Western region has also been strongly influenced by European, Hispanic or 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 Mountain and Desert States.

The largest concentrations for African Americans in the West can be found in San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Fresno, San Francisco, Seattle, Tacoma, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver, and Colorado Springs.

The Western United States has a higher sex ratio (more males than females) than any other region in the United States. [13]

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 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, Fresno, Sacramento, Seattle, Tacoma, Anchorage, and Portland. Prominent cities in the Mountain States include Denver, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Boise, El Paso, and Billings.

Natural geography

The Western United States is subdivided into three major physiographic regions: the Rocky Mountains (16-19), the Intermontane Plateaus (20-22), and the Pacific Mountains (23-25) US west coast physiographic regions map.jpg
The Western United States is subdivided into three major physiographic regions: the Rocky Mountains (16–19), the Intermontane Plateaus (20–22), and the Pacific Mountains (23–25)
Zion National Park in southern Utah is one of five national parks in the state. Zion NP20.jpg
Zion National Park in southern Utah is one of five national parks in the state.
Big Sur, California Big Sur Coastline.jpg
Big Sur, California
The High Desert region of Oregon Oregon High Desert.jpg
The High Desert region of Oregon
The Mojave Desert covers much of the Southwestern United States Mojave vista.jpg
The Mojave Desert covers much of the Southwestern United States
Feral horses in the Pryor Mountains of Southeast Montana Feral horses - Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range - Montana.jpg
Feral horses in the Pryor Mountains of Southeast Montana
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado Great sand dunes.JPEG
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Grand Canyon, Arizona Grandcanyon view5.jpg
Grand Canyon, Arizona

Along the 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 valleys of California and the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Beyond the valleys lie the country boys in 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, a volcano in the Cascades erupted explosively in 1980. A major volcanic eruption at 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 Mountain 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 Colorado. East of the Rocky Mountains is the Great Plains, the western portions (for example, the eastern half of Colorado) of which are generally considered to be part of the western United States.

The West has several long rivers that empty into the Pacific Ocean, while the eastern rivers run into the 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.

The 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 in 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 Texas and Mexico before turning due north and splitting 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 Mexico." [14]

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. [15]

As a generalization, the climate of the West can be summed up as semi-arid. However, parts of the West get extremely high amounts of rain 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 summers and mild winters with 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. [16]

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, (Texas to 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 extends from 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. California and Arizona are major producers of citrus crops, although growing metropolitan sprawl is absorbing much of this land.

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, 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 Las Vegas Valley and Los Angeles.

Geology

Plains make up much of the eastern portion of the West, underlain with sedimentary rock from the Upper Paleozoic, 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 West.

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 the West.

History

The Western 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 California 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. [17]

One of the largest migrations in American history occurred in the 1840s as the Latter Day Saints left the Midwest to build a theocracy in Utah.

Both 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 outfitting settlers; 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. [18]

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. [19]

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. [20]

20th century

The advent of the automobile enabled the average American to tour the West. Western businessmen promoted 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. [21]

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 production. [22]

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 Angeles/Southern 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, and Seattle have over a million residents, while the three fastest growing metro areas were the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, the Las Vegas metropolitan area; and the Portland metropolitan area. [23] [24]

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 States.

Los Angeles has the largest Mexican population outside of Mexico, while 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 Beach, California which also has a significant Black community. The state of Utah has a Mormon majority (estimated at 62.4% in 2004), [25] while some cities like Albuquerque, New Mexico; Billings, Montana; Spokane, Washington; and Tucson, Arizona are located near Indian Reservations. In remote areas there are settlements of Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians.

Culture

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 large Hispanic populations, and the many Spanish place names attest to their history as former Spanish and Mexican territories. Mexican-Americans have also had a growing population in Northwestern states of 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. Hollywood-Sign.jpg
Hollywood is a well-known area of Los Angeles and the symbolic center of the American film industry.

In the Pacific 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, though Boeing, located in Washington State would lead the aerospace industry. Fueled by the growth of Los Angeles, as well as the 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.

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 United States and Asia, as well as a center for tourism.

Oregon and Washington have also seen rapid growth with the rise of Boeing and 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. Newspaperrock.jpg
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 the Mormon Corridor, including southeastern Idaho, Utah, Northern Arizona, and Nevada; the extravagant casino resort towns of Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada; and the numerous American Indian tribal reservations.

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 Bureau: [26]

Rank
(West)
Rank
(USA) [27]
MSAPopulationState(s)   
12 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim MSA 13,340,068 California Los Angeles, Winter 2016.jpg
211 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward MSA 4,656,132 California Lightmatter sanfrancisco.jpg
312 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale MSA 4,574,531 Arizona Downtown Phoenix Aerial Looking Northeast.jpg
413 San Bernardino-Riverside-Ontario MSA 4,489,159 California Downtown San Bernardino.jpg
515 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue MSA 3,733,580 Washington Seattleskyline1cropped.JPG
617 San Diego-Carlsbad MSA 3,299,521 California Sandiego 1 bg 071302.jpg
719 Denver-Aurora-Lakewood MSA 2,814,330 Colorado DENM.JPG
823 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro MSA 2,389,228 Oregon
Washington
Portland panorama3.jpg
927 Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade MSA 2,274,194 California Sacramento Riverfront.jpg
1029 Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise MSA 2,114,801 Nevada The Strip from Eiffel Tower (9176999807).jpg
1135 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara MSA 1,976,836 California Downtown san jose south market st.jpg
1248 Salt Lake City MSA 1,170,266 Utah Salt Lake City panorama.jpg
1353 Tucson MSA1,010,025 Arizona CatalinasAndTusconAZ.JPG
1454 Honolulu MSA998,714 Hawaii Honolulu01.JPG
1556 Fresno MSA 974,861 California Downtownfresno.jpg
1660 Albuquerque MSA 907,301 New Mexico Downtown Albuquerque 2.jpg
1761 Bakersfield-Delano MSA882,176 California DowntownBakersfield.jpg
1866 Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura MSA 850,536 California VenturaNW.jpg
1977 Stockton-Lodi MSA726,106 California UOP-burnstower.jpg
2080 Colorado Springs MSA 697,856 Colorado CC COSPRINGS.jpg
2181 Boise City MSA 676,909 Idaho Boise Idaho.jpg
2286 Ogden-Clearfield MSA 642,850 Utah Downtown ogden.jpg
2393 Provo-Orem MSA 585,799 Utah Downtown Provo.jpg
24100 Spokane-Spokane Valley MSA547,824 Washington SpokaneFromPalisades 20070614.jpg
25102 Modesto MSA 538,388 California Modesto Arch.JPG
26106 Santa Rosa MSA 502,146 California Old Courthouse Square, Downtown Santa Rosa (Smaller Version).jpg

Other population centers

Politics

States where state-level laws allowed legalized medicinal marijuana before 2005 Map of USA medicinal marijuana.svg
States where state-level laws allowed legalized medicinal marijuana before 2005
States with legalized physician-assisted suicide Map of USA highlighting euthanasia.svg
States with legalized physician-assisted suicide
States that have no income tax at the state level Map of USA highlighting states with no income tax.svg
States that have no income tax at the state level

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.[ citation needed ] Historically, the West was the first region to see widespread women's suffrage, with women casting votes in Utah and 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 Reagan.

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); Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Montana have legalized physician-assisted suicide; most rural counties in Nevada allow licensed brothels, and voters in Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington have legalized recreational use of marijuana. [29]

California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii and New Mexico lean toward the Democratic Party. San Francisco's two main political parties are the Green Party and the Democratic Party. Seattle has historically been a center of radical left-wing politics.[ citation needed ] One of the Democratic leaders of the Congress is from the region: Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi of California.

Alaska and most Mountain states are more Republican, with Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming being Republican strongholds, and Nevada being a swing state. 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. 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, and 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 passage of 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 incumbent governor Pete Wilson, drove many Hispanic voters to the Democrats. [30]

The following table shows the breakdown of party affiliation of governors, attorneys general, state legislative houses, and U.S. congressional delegation for the Western states, as of 2019.

StateGovernorAttorney GeneralUpper House MajorityLower House MajoritySenior U.S. SenatorJunior U.S. SenatorU.S. House Delegation
AK RepublicanRepublicanRepublican
13-7
Republican
23-16-1
RepublicanRepublicanRepublican
1-0
AZ RepublicanRepublicanRepublican
17-13
Republican
31-29
DemocraticRepublicanDemocratic
5-4
CA DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
29-11
Democratic
61-19
DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
46-7
CO DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
19-16
Democratic
41-24
DemocraticRepublicanDemocratic
4-3
HI DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
24-1
Democratic
46-5
DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
2-0
ID RepublicanRepublicanRepublican
28-7
Republican
56-14
RepublicanRepublicanRepublican
2-0
MT DemocraticRepublicanRepublican
30-20
Republican
58-42
DemocraticRepublicanRepublican
1-0
NV DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
13-8
Democratic
29-13
DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
3-1
NM DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
26-16
Democratic
46-24
DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
3-0
OR DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
19-11
Democratic
38-22
DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
4-1
UT RepublicanRepublicanRepublican
23-6
Republican
59-16
RepublicanRepublicanRepublican
3-1
WA DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
28-21
Democratic
57-41
DemocraticDemocraticDemocratic
7-3
WY RepublicanRepublicanRepublican
27-3
Republican
50-9-1
RepublicanRepublicanRepublican
1-0

Health

The Western 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 2011. [31] 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. [32]

See also

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Further reading

Coordinates: 40°N113°W / 40°N 113°W / 40; -113