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By Gina Teague, Alan Beechey
Bravo LtdCopyright © 2016 Gina Teague and Alan Beechey
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LAND & PEOPLE
Fifty states make up the United States of America. The "lower forty-eight," plus the District of Columbia — the 68 square miles (176 sq. km) around Washington, D.C., the nation's capital — stretch from "sea to shining sea" in a central band across the North American continent, with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south.
The other two stars on the national flag represent the states of Alaska, northwest of Canada, and Hawaii, situated in the Central Pacific, 2,500 miles (4,023 km) to the west of California. Other territories and dependencies include American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, and Guam in the Pacific, and Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea.
With a landmass of 3,675,031 square miles (9,518,286 sq. km), America is the third-largest country in the world. It has a coast-to-coast span of some 2,700 miles (4,345 km), and is as geographically diverse as it is vast, encompassing mountain ranges and endless prairie, swampy wetlands, lush rain forests, shimmering deserts, and glacial lakes. The five Great Lakes that create vast inland seas on the border between the USA and Canada form the largest body of freshwater in the world. The Missouri-Mississippi River system is the longest in North America, giving two states their names. Immortalized in the nineteenth-century writings of Mark Twain, the Mississippi was at one time the country's lifeline, connecting the upper Plains states and the South.
The range of altitudes together with the sheer size of the landmass produces great variations of temperature and precipitation. In a nation that is subarctic at its highest elevations and tropical at its southernmost points, temperatures can vary from below zero in the Great Lakes region to a balmy 80 degrees in Florida. On the same day!
The continental climate of the central portion of the country produces extreme conditions throughout the year. Temperatures in the Great Plains state of North Dakota have ranged between a summer high record of 121°F (49°C) and a winter low of -60°F (-51°C). With no high elevations to protect it, the interior lowlands are at the mercy of both the warm southern Gulf Stream and blasts of arctic air from the north. At times, these incompatible weather systems collide violently. Displays of nature at her most ferocious can be witnessed in the form of blizzards, hailstorms, tornadoes, and dust storms. Every year, with tragic consequences, the central plains between the Rockies and the Appalachians earn their nickname "Tornado Alley."
The western mountain states enjoy mild summers, but the higher elevations are blanketed in snow throughout the winter months. The low, desert areas of Arizona and New Mexico experience hot, dry air, although winters can be surprisingly cold.
The coastal areas are more temperate, blocked from extending their moderate influence inland by the Appalachian mountains in the east and the Pacific Coast ranges in the west. The Gulf Stream, a warm ocean current that flows from the Gulf of Mexico northeast across the Atlantic, produces hot, wet, energy-sapping conditions for Florida and the other Gulf Coast states.
Temperatures are moderate year-round on the Pacific Coast, although they start to dip as you venture northward into America's wettest region. The Cascade Range acts as a climatic divide, with the lush western side receiving up to twenty times more precipitation than the dusty plains to their east.
America's malls and main streets may be taking on a uniform blandness, but there are still rich, diverse cultures to be found at the regional level. People express their regional identity in many ways, not least through the state motto on their license plates. What follows are definitions from the US government Web site — as official as it gets!
(Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island)
For such a small region, New England has played a disproportionate role in the country's political and cultural development. The town meetings held by church congregations to voice opinions and effect change on local issues, for example, provided the model for democratic popular government in America. The religious principles, political activism, and industriousness that shaped its history translate today into a culture characterized by community involvement and a strong work ethic.
Many of the first European settlers were English Protestants, seeking religious freedom. The area was also a crucible for anticolonialist sentiment, providing the setting for the Boston Tea Party and many of the battles of the ensuing Revolutionary War. Family fortunes amassed in Boston through fishing and shipbuilding financed the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century. The region's wealth established it as the intellectual and cultural center of the fledgling country.
Today, New England's whaling and manufacturing have been replaced by high-tech industries. However, its history is still evident through the Bostonian accent and the colonial-style houses and white-spired churches. The region is favored by tourists for its rugged coastline and Cape Cod's sandy beaches. Vermont's Green Mountains are home to moose and black bear.
The Middle Atlantic
(New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland)
The Mid-Atlantic region has taken center stage for much of the nation's historical and economic activity. Home to New York's Ellis Island, the point of entry for immigrants, the region was the original melting pot into which ambitious newcomers eagerly dived. Today, there are still eight times as many people per square mile in the Northeast than there are in the West. New England's money may have financed the industrial revolution, but it was New Jersey and Pennsylvania's manpower that stoked the chimneys. New York has not only replaced Boston as the financial capital, but its energy, pace, and intensity fuels and defines American capitalism. Historic Philadelphia — one of the eight cities to be declared the capital of the USA before Washington was purpose built — provided the backdrop for the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the drafting of the US Constitution.
The original farmers and traders of the region were blessed with rich farmlands, vital waterways, and forests teeming with wildlife, timber, and mineral resources. Man has encroached on and altered this part of the American landscape more than any other, yet it retains a stunning array of scenic landscapes. The indented coastline has rolling sand dunes and bustling harbor resorts. The lowlands of the Atlantic coastal plain incorporate both the eastern corridor of major metropolises and gently undulating farmlands. Further inland, the plains bump up against New York's Catskills and Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains. These subsidiary ranges are part of the Appalachian Mountain range, which forms an almost unbroken spine running parallel to the East Coast from northern Maine south to Georgia.
The region's waterways are no less impressive. While it may be surrounded by motels and commercial kitsch, the sheer power of Niagara Falls, one of the world's seven natural wonders, is still breathtaking.
(Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, parts of Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Eastern Colorado)
An agricultural powerhouse of patchwork farms giving way to rolling wheat fields, the northeast corner of America's vast interior plain has long been regarded as the breadbasket of the United States. The rich soil and the landscapes first beckoned European immigrants to farm the interior plains of America. Illinois, home to the third-largest city, Chicago, attracted Poles, Germans, and Irish. Scandinavians favored Minnesota, with its familiar forests of birch and pine. Milwaukee is renowned for its European-style taverns and beer festivals.
As western settlement pushed past the Mississippi, the Midwest was transformed from an outpost into a trading and transportation hub. Spilling across the country from New York toward Chicago, a region dubbed "The Rust Belt" embraced many cities known for large-scale manufacturing, from the processing of raw materials to the production of heavy goods for industry and consumers. Detroit in Michigan, known as "Motor City" (or "Motown" to fans of R&B), is famously the home of the US automobile industry, which — like much traditional US manufacturing — has not had an easy ride in recent years.
This interior region is also called the "heartland," a reference to the wholesome values and unpretentious nature of its people, deemed to be representative of the nation in general.
Further west, the Dakotas area is rich in both human and paleontological history, featuring Oligocene fossil beds dating back 35 million years. However, the desolate landscape evokes images of the more recent past, when the Black Hills and Badlands region formed the backdrop for battles between US soldiers, land-hungry settlers, and Native American tribes. The constant battle against extreme weather and dust-bowl conditions has forged a stoic and taciturn nature. On its western edges, the flat prairie land of the Great Plains rises majestically to form the Rockies.
(Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, California, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington)
The Rocky Mountains bisect the western portion of the continent, stretching from Montana in the north to New Mexico in the south. Moving west, the glacial basins and plains of the Intermontane Plateau include Utah's Salt Lake City, Arizona's Grand Canyon, and California's forbidding Mojave Desert. Closer to the Pacific coast, the Sierra Nevada range runs up through California. Continuing the line through the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington, the volcanic peaks of the Cascade Mountains extend to the Canadian border.
In America's western states, the forces of nature seem to have conspired to ward off visitors. Here, the mountain peaks are higher, the deserts deadlier, and the foaming river rapids swifter than anywhere else. Even the wildlife is not for the fainthearted — grizzly bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes call this region home. Further natural barriers have been thrown up relatively recently. In 1906, Point Reyes was at the epicenter of what became known as the San Francisco earthquake, with the infamous San Andreas Fault creating a peninsula that juts ten miles into the Pacific.
California is equally popular for the attractions of its cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco for example, and its stunning natural beauty. Fun-loving, energetic Californians brag they have world-class ski slopes, lush vineyards, and endless beaches all in their backyard. The state has the nation's most important and diversified agricultural economy, and its sunshine and variety of landscapes also drew the motion picture industry across the continent to the West Coast.
These days, newcomers are attracted here for its sense of space, easygoing nature, and tolerance of alternative lifestyles.
(Western Texas, parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and the southern interior part of California)
The desert vistas of the Southwest have a deeply spiritual quality. Arizona's largest city, Phoenix, was so named in 1867 by Darrell Duppa because he thought the desert oasis had sprung from the ashes of an ancient civilization. Actually, Duppa's fertile "oasis" was due to a primitive but effective irrigation project, established centuries before the Europeans' arrival. Other vestiges of ancient civilizations remain in the form of the ninth-century ruins of the scientifically advanced Chaco culture, and the mysterious cliff dwellings of the thirteenth-century Mogollon tribe. Mexican Pueblo settlements of sun-baked adobe structures and the abandoned communities of silver miners and gold prospectors are further reminders of the cultural diversity of the region.
Navajos believe that they have journeyed through several other worlds to this life, and have always considered the land in the Southwest to be sacred. Many descendants of local tribes now live on reservations, which occupy half the states' lands. These areas — like many others across the USA — are called "nations," and they give a degree of self-government and autonomy to the tribe. Visitors should note that rules of conduct may change when you step onto tribal lands.
A reliable water supply has transformed the once desolate, forbidding desert into an attractive option for transplanted telecommuters, immigrants, and retirees. Indeed, the dry air, endless sunshine, and world-class golf courses have placed Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Tucson among the country's fastest-growing communities.
Billions of years of evolution, severe wind and water erosion, and geographical anomalies reveal themselves in dramatic fashion in some of the area's natural features. The rainbow-striped rock of the Painted Desert, the red sandstone monoliths of Monument Valley, the orange-hued Grand Canyon, and the bleached landscape of White Sands Monument all give lie to the idea that desert vistas come in two monotonous tones of brown.
(Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Central Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and parts of Missouri and Oklahoma)
Forged by its history, climate, and location and expressed in music, food, and the drawl of its accent, the South possesses perhaps the strongest regional personality. From the Civil War to the civil rights movement, from huge territorial acquisitions to the constant stream of immigrants, the South has been shaped by its diversity, its turbulent past, and the ongoing challenge of social integration. The conflicts — both physical and political — have created a fiercely independent spirit. While Texas is characterized as having a devil-may-care nature, the rest of the South is known for its hospitality, charm, and gentle pace.
The old Mason-Dixon line, which demarcated north from south in the late 1700s, may have been erased from the maps, but a strong divide still exists, as witnessed in South Carolina's controversial battle to keep the flag of the confederate states, despite their defeat in the Civil War by the anti-slavery north. The unofficial motto of the Lone Star state — "Don't mess with Texas" — reminds us that this state was once an independent nation, and still considers itself to be a republic!
This broad sweep of states is a study in contrasts and superlatives. The ostentatious affluence of such cities as Charleston and Atlanta contrasts sharply with Mississippi shantytowns and West Virginia trailer parks. The region embraces the highlands of Missouri's Ozark mountains, Virginia's Blue Ridge, and Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains, as well as the fertile cotton belt of the interior plain. A scattering of hurricane-weary coastal islands dots the lower eastern seaboard. The delicate ecosystem of the Florida Everglades sustains the sly alligator and the odd-looking manatee (fortunately "quite devoid of vanity," as the great American poet Ogden Nash once famously rhymed). Among the most evocative images of the South are the mangrove swamps and the Spanish moss dripping from ancient oaks in Louisiana bayou country.
Alaska and Hawaii
Adding to the nation's geographical diversity are the glacial mountains of Alaska, featuring America's highest peak, Mount McKinley.
A tourist's paradise, the Hawaiian islands boast volcanic formations, tropical vegetation, and the occasional black sand beach.
A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS
For the English seeking religious freedom, Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, and Irish escaping famine, America represented a land of refuge and opportunity. Since 1886, the Statue of Liberty provided the first glimpse of America and a symbol of hope for the millions of immigrants who arrived in New York harbor.
The museum on neighboring Ellis Island, the site of the original immigration-processing center, chronicles the experiences, hardships, and eventual settlement patterns of America's newcomers. Today, nearly half of all Americans are descendants of the twelve million people, most of them Europeans, who entered the USA through Ellis Island between its peak years of 1892 and 1954.
Excerpted from USA by Gina Teague, Alan Beechey. Copyright © 2016 Gina Teague and Alan Beechey. Excerpted by permission of Bravo Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About the Authors,
Map of the USA,
Chapter 1: LAND AND PEOPLE,
Chapter 2: VALUES AND ATTITUDES,
Chapter 3: CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS,
Chapter 4: MAKING FRIENDS,
Chapter 5: THE AMERICANS AT HOME,
Chapter 6: TIME OUT,
Chapter 7: TRAVEL, HEALTH, AND SAFETY,
Chapter 8: BUSINESS BRIEFING,
Chapter 9: COMMUNICATING,