How to Read the American West
A Field Guide
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of Washington Press
About the Series, Frontispiece, Title Page, Copyright
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I should confess here at the beginning of William Wyckoff’s wonderful new book that I share with its author a passion for landscape reading—a passion that those who have never experienced this particular pleasure may find eccentric. My students will tell you that I am fond of...
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Preparation for this project began early. For many years, I traveled in the backseat of the family sedan, venturing with parents and grandparents to every corner of the West. We went on camping trips and fishing excursions, attended family reunions, and more. One of my earliest...
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In addition to all the people who shared ideas with me informally as I journeyed around the West, special thanks go to Don Meinig and Lary Dilsaver, who spent time sharpening and adjusting my approach and my shifting list of western landscape features to emphasize. Mark Fiege...
Map of the Eleven Western States
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Navigating Western Landscapes: An Introduction
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Landscapes tell great stories. But we need to know where to look for them and how to make sense of what we find. This field guide to the American West is designed to help you do just that: open your eyes and examine your everyday surroundings—your neighborhood, what you...
1. Nature's Fundament
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John Charles Frémont, the Great Pathfinder, conquered plenty of mountain ranges in his nineteenth-century explorations of the West. Perhaps none was more thrilling than his August 1842 ascent of Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Champion of Romantic prose and his own heroic persona...
1. Wide-Open Spaces
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American artist Thomas Hart Benton’s Open Country (1952) captures the feeling (fig. 1.7). While most westerners live in cities, the region’s wide-open spaces remain one of its most recognized and celebrated qualities. What are its essential characteristics? First, these are places of low population density (fig. 1.8). Benton’s archetypal...
2. Mountain and Valley Topography
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Mountains and valleys dominate much of the West, shaping landscapes in predictable ways. Long, narrow valleys (often trending north to south) are bordered by mountain ranges in places like southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley and Sangre de Cristo Mountains (fig. 1.10). The complex...
3. Fault Scarps and Quake Zones
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Many parts of the West are in earthquake country. Earthquakes reshape the landscape, producing subtle shifts in stream courses as well as dramatic breaks along the surface that can rupture the ground, collapse buildings, and disrupt freeway systems. Fault scarps (surface breaks) are common, but not always easy to recognize...
4. Layered Rocks
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When Roadrunner outfoxes Wile E. Coyote in the classic Warner Brothers cartoons, the pair leap off spectacular plateaus or speed by natural stone bridges and arches—a reminder that most of the Earth’s surface is composed of sedimentary rocks. These are the many-layered, multihued deposits you can see in many places, from coastal bluffs near...
5. Igneous Landscapes
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No one living in the Pacific Northwest at the time will ever forget the morning of May 18, 1980. In moments, a volcanic blast removed 23 square miles from southern Washington’s Mount Saint Helens, triggering landslides, floods, and mudflows that killed 57 people, 12 million...
6. High Country
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Quintessential place-names of the high country are revealing. Both the Sierra Nevada (“snowy mountains” in Spanish) and the Rocky Mountains, for example, identified exotic terrain to the Euro-Americans who named them. These landforms bore little resemblance to the landscapes that nineteenth-century explorers knew in New Spain or eastern...
7. Rivers and Riparian Corridors
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There is one surefire way to learn about western rivers and the riparian corridors that border them. Find a quiet stretch of water, close your eyes, and listen. The stream offers an organizing melody of moving water over rocks, sand, and gravel bars. The wind rustles the trees and the...
8. Dry Washes and Gullies
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Travelers crossing the arid Southwest have all seen road signs warning motorists about potential flash floods (fig. 1.31). Usually, the cloudless sky and dry streambeds make such threats seem ludicrous, but those dry washes and gullies have been known to carry away cars and...
9. Dry Lakes
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The distribution of lakes in the Pleistocene era (2.5 million to 12,000 years ago) across Utah, Nevada, southeastern Oregon, and eastern California constitutes one of the most remarkable maps in the natural history of the West (figs. 1.34 and 1.35). Dozens of sizable lakes covered...
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More than thirteen hundred miles of Pacific coast separate Imperial Beach south of San Diego from Cape Flattery on the Olympic Peninsula. These settings are integral, dynamic parts of the regional landscape and westerners have transformed these special places in myriad...
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In the West, clouds have helped define the cosmos for Native Americans, raised the hopes of western farmers, and sparked the imagination of modern artists (figs. 1.38 and 1.39). Even as they drift a mile or two above the earth, clouds are an integral element of the larger landscape and...
12. Dust Storms and Dust Devils
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Dust is an integral and unwelcome part of life in the West, an element of its natural landscape that residents have seen, smelled, and tasted for centuries. People have contributed to the legacy of this dust, particularly with the widespread plowing-up of the Great Plains in the early...
13. Cacti and Joshua Trees
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The giant saguaro (suh-WAH-ro) cactus, Carnegiea gigantea, has been celebrated as an exotic, humorous, multiarmed cartoon character (figs. 1.45 and 1.46), but it is also a symbol of how plants survive in a marginal landscape. Attaining heights of more than fifty feet and weighing up to ten...
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Pungent, aromatic, tough, adaptable, sagebrush creates a landscape whose beauty is subtle, featuring generously spaced plants that leave plenty of room to tap available moisture (fig. 1.51). Nevada is rightly named the Sagebrush State, but the distribution of Artemisia tridentata (so named because its tiny leaves feature three teeth on their upper edges) and...
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Conifers are evergreen, cone- and needle-bearing trees that cover many of the West’s higher and better-watered landscapes (fig. 1.54). The region’s coniferous landscape remains the most complex on Earth. The distribution of boreal (northern coniferous) and Mexican species reflects...
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Fire lookout towers, red flag warnings (alerts for dry, windy weather), signs warning “Extreme Fire Danger,” and posters of Smokey Bear are all reminders that westerners have been trying to prevent wildfires for more than a century. Preventive measures are especially visible along the...
17. Exotic and Invasive Plants
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In the evocative language of ecology, the West’s nonnative plants are referred to as “exotics” or “invasives.” Exotics are plants that evolved elsewhere but have established themselves in a new area (fig. 1.62). In the coastal Oregon forest, for example, you might encounter an exotic...
18. Wild Animals
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Wolves, eagles, bears, and mountain lions are essential parts of the West’s identity, and our fascination with wild animals has shaped how we think about the region (figs. 1.66–1.73). We name our towns after them—Beaver, Utah; Deer Lodge, Montana—our sports teams—Colorado...
2. Farms and Ranches
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Thomas Jefferson, champion of rural life, believed in the virtues of an agricultural West, a land of small farmers where democracy would flower. He shared his vision with John Jay in a letter dated August 23, 1785: “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. . . . They are the...
19. Isolated Farmsteads
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Dispersed farmsteads have been a part of American life since colonial times. Perhaps it was the abundant, inexpensive land or the independence of America-bound migrants. Perhaps the particulars of the land survey and disposal systems encouraged a dispersed pattern of settlement (58). No single factor explains why Europeans...
20. Cattle Ranching
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Cattle ranching has left a ubiquitous but subtle signature on the rural West (fig. 2.15). The quintessential cowboy is often low-key and soft-spoken, and the same can be said of the ranching landscape, which is often quietly dominant across much of the rural West, both on private and on public land. Today, however, many family-run cattle operations...
21. Dry Farming
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Dry farming depends on natural rainfall and has always been a risky proposition in the interior West. Dry farming began in the Southwest (and is still practiced by the Hopi today) once agriculture arrived from Mesoamerica centuries ago. In northern Arizona, you can still spot small...
22. Grain Elevators
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Grain elevators punctuate the skyline in the West. They are often the first indication of an approaching town as you travel across areas such as north-central Montana, eastern Colorado, or eastern Washington. Designed to store grain safely in a cool, dry, pest-free environment...
23. Field Irrigation Systems
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Irrigation has transformed more than twenty million acres of the West. From an airplane or the top of a hill, you can see how large center-pivot irrigation systems have inscribed elaborate arcs and circles across the landscape (fig. 2.27). On the ground, you can see signatures of irrigation...
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Pulling off the highway next to an orchard to buy a peach or a box of freshly picked cherries is certainly one of life’s simple pleasures. But consider the complex conditions that make such transactions possible. Begin with nature. Fruit and nut trees typically require a delicate balance of...
25. Vineyards and Wineries
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With Americans’ thirst for wine increasing, vineyards (where grapes are grown) and wineries (where wine is manufactured, stored, and often sold) are an increasingly common sight across the West. Both a Spanish-era fondness for the vine and an accommodating Mediterranean...
26. Farm Towns
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When you drive through California’s Central Valley or along Montana’s Hi-Line, you will experience a predictable landscape punctuated by farm towns, often five to ten miles apart. As the road approaches town (fig. 2.38), speed limits fall and the small main street flashes...
27. Farmworker Settlements
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In Ill Fares the Land (1942), social critic Carey McWilliams described the enduring invisibility of farmworkers: “You do not see them in the fields, on the highways, or in the towns. . . . From the highway, it may look as though a dozen or so hands were stooping over at work in the fields
3. Landscapes of Extraction
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In east-central Wyoming, near the Orin exit on Interstate 25, sixty miles southeast of Casper, there is an overpass that spans the Union Pacific Railroad line. If you stop there, it won’t be long before you will see an example of how landscapes of extraction remain crucial elements of the...
28. Surface Mining: Gold and Copper
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The West’s largest, most famous sites of surface mining center on gold and copper. Surface mining involves the extraction of valuable mineral deposits by removing them from near the Earth’s surface. Placer gold rushes transformed California’s Sierra Nevada foothills in 1848 and 1849...
29. Underground Mining: Gold, Silver, and Copper
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When you descend into an underground mine, daylight recedes to a pinpoint of light. Subterranean geographies of hard-rock mining are intricate, enveloping—a landscape that both beckons and repels (fig. 3.12). This underground world was often an overheated, underventilated...
30. Metals Millling, Processing, and Refining
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What do a pioneer stamp mill (used for crushing gold-bearing ore), an amalgamation vat (used for concentrating silver), and a towering stack above a copper smelter (fig. 3.14) have in common? Each represents a part of what it takes to process raw ore into its refined state. The...
31. Mining Towns
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There is no mistaking the look and feel of mining towns, which are enduring expressions of western identity (fig. 3.17). They are all about labor. Workers needed places to live, eat, drink, raise hell, buy boots, have families, and build communities. What we see today in towns...
32. Ghost Towns
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Many western mining towns (31) have withered away and become ghost towns, with a population of zero or close to it. As the process of decline unfolded across the West, phrases such as “dead camps” and “ghost cities” were used to describe a dying settlement. Sometime between...
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If you fly over the western forests on a clear day, especially in the Pacific Northwest, you are likely to see signs of commercial logging, a patchwork of mature trees, cut-over land, and replanted forest (fig. 3.26). The landscape is part of a long story of human modification. Native Americans...
34. Lumber Milling and Processing
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Just as mineral ore requires smelting and refining, raw lumber needs to be milled into marketable products. In some cases, timber is processed close to where it is harvested (33), but in other operations logs are milled in distant places (fig. 3.6). You can see larger western sawmilling operations...
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When you flip on a light switch, coal is the last thing on your mind, but it does much of the everyday work of our economy, mostly by producing relatively inexpensive electricity. Despite its attractions, coal exacts a price, and the human and environmental costs of coal mining...
36. Oil and Natural Gas
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People still come to see Jean Dakessian’s Iron Zoo. The paint has faded on the animals and fanciful creatures that adorn oil pumps near Coalinga, California, but the local artist’s work, dating from the early 1970s, continues to celebrate the role of petroleum in the town’s history (fig. 3.34). Many western towns have a legacy based...
37. Wind and Solar
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The West is home to many of North America’s most ambitious and visible wind and solar energy initiatives. Many westerners are attracted to the enduring availability, lower environmental impacts, and potentially lower costs of these technologies. In addition to fluctuating federal...
4. Places Of Special Cultural Identity
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North of Missoula, Montana, U.S. 93 enters the Flathead Indian Reservation, bends northeast, and then gently descends into the lovely Mission Valley at Saint Ignatius. With the dramatic Mission Range in the background, you cross Sabine Creek and encounter a bilingual landscape...
38. Indian Country
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Indian country features a constellation of distinctive landscapes across the interior West (figs. 4.9–4.14). The Southwest is often thought of as the center of Indian country (the Automobile Club of Southern California has long published a map of the region by that name). In percentage...
39. Hispano Plaza Towns
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Spaniards began to settle the upper Rio Grande Valley in 1598. They initiated a distinctive regional settlement pattern that included towns, missions, presidios (military forts), farming villages, and ranches. Hispano plaza towns, clustered settlements oriented around a central open...
40. Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture
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The two events were seemingly unrelated. In 1884, Helen Hunt Jackson published the novel Ramona, a nostalgic look back at California’s Spanish missions and quaint Mexican adobes. Three years later, Florida developer Henry Flagler completed his grand Ponce de León Hotel in Saint...
41. Latino Communities
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Mi Favorita Market is a neighborhood grocery store (fig. 4.21) in the farm town of Toppenish, Washington, far from Latin America. Or is it? Since about 1960, the growth of Latino communities has been one of the most transformative forces in the West. Latinos account for 29...
42. Mormon Country
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While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) has changed greatly since it was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, the location of Mormons in the Great Basin has created a distinctive cultural landscape still apparent today (fig. 4.27). In July 1847, Mormon leader Brigham...
43. Persisting European Communities
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Sometimes the signs are subtle, as in the unassuming signatures of German Russian immigrants (German dissenters who lived in Russia after the 1760s and immigrated to the United States starting in the 1870s) in older neighborhoods of Fort Collins, Colorado (fig. 4.31), or in eastern...
44. African American Neighborhoods
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African American neighborhoods offer another reminder of the diverse cultural geography of the West and of how large-scale forces produce enduring local patterns and place identities. The subregional geographies are striking: Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming remain among the states...
45. Japanese Internment Camps
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Angular Heart Mountain overlooks the windswept Shoshone Valley (fig. 4.38). Surrounded by ranching country, the nearby community of Heart Mountain was once Wyoming’s third largest city with 10,767 residents, most of them Japanese Americans who were imprisoned there...
46. Emergent Asian Mosaic
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The work and life of Black Eyed Peas artist apl.de.ap (Allen Pineda Lindo) illustrate one aspect of the intimate twenty-first-century connections between Asia and the American West. Born in Barrio Sapang Bato, a suburb of Angeles City in the Republic of the Philippines, Lindo...
47. Gay and Lesbian Neighborhoods
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A fixture in western American cities during much of the twentieth century, the region’s well-established gay and lesbian neighborhoods— sometimes called “gayborhoods”—are changing. While there were earlier visual expressions of gay and lesbian place identity, especially in San...
48. Countercultural Impulses
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The American West has long been a place for utopian experiments. The region has been the setting for the mingling of ideas from many traditions, and a tolerance for and interest in everything from Montana’s armed militias to California’s Esalen Institute. Place figures importantly in these stories, and perhaps the West’s open spaces allow for the...
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Much of the western American landscape is devoted to connecting one place to another. Whether it be the maze of interstate highways—the roads, on-ramps and off-ramps, rest areas, service centers, motels—or the infrastructure of railroad lines—tracks, depots, water towers...
49. Historic Trails
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Sometimes history is a journey, and historic trails in the West offer a wonderful way to capture a glimpse of the past and to reflect on why these early expressions of the region’s modern musculature still matter. Trails were key corridors of commerce and immigration, and they often paved...
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The echo of western railroads can be picked up in many ways. The depot was the hub of railroad movement, commerce, and travel (fig. 5.11), connecting communities to the rest of the world. The depot represented a new kind of western space, an efficient, rational, urbanized world of linkages...
51. Narrow-Gauge Railroads
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It’s a quintessential western experience: climb aboard a narrow- gauge railroad car, listen to the steam whistle, and feel the measured jerk of the cars as the train heads up the track. Such rail lines have played a special role in linking western places and in defining their...
52. The Open Road
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For many Americans, the open road best captures the essential character of the West—unfinished, open-ended, a marriage of the human psyche with the earth, sky, and highway. The genius of the open road lies in its simplicity, reducing to a bare geometry of space and form all the...
53. Mountain Roads
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Harvard geologist Nathaniel Southgate Shaler wrote this passage for American Highways in 1896. His assessment of the challenges of mountain roads is particularly true in the West, where engineering a road over rugged mountains was a complex and costly undertaking. It took...
54. Bypassed Highways
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Four words of advice: take the old road—Route 66, the Yellowstone Trail, the Old Ridge Route, the Columbia River Highway. Bypassed highways offer a different experience of western topography and landscapes, and they help you understand how western places were linked together in the...
55. Interstate Landscapes
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Most road trips are dominated by interstate landscapes. Like the rest of America, the West has been crisscrossed by routes on which one stretch of highway looks just like the next and the same gas stations, fast food restaurants, and motels seen in Arizona can be found in Idaho...
56. Electrical Grid
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All but invisible yet ubiquitous, the West’s electrical grid creates a landscape all its own. If you walk beneath a high-voltage line, you can hear the crackle and pop of the electrified air above. This method of long-distance power delivery became possible only after the adoption of alternating current (AC) circuit technology in the 1890s...
57. Coastal Connections
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Enduring coastal connections make life alongshore possible and contribute to place identities never far from high tide. The West’s spectacular coastline and harbors (10), recreational seaside activities (87), and global seaborne trade have produced cultural landscapes from the...
6. Landscapes of Federal Largesse
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There are several versions of a game called Uncle Sam. One version that can be played for this portion of the field guide awards a point for every sign of federal evidence you see on the landscape. Post offices; red, white, and blue signs; eagles; flags; federal prisons; veterans’ hospitals...
58. Township-and-Range Survey System
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Many people flying cross-country have looked out the window and seen evidence of the cardinally oriented, rectilinear, federally imposed township-and-range survey system, which organizes much of the American landscape (fig. 6.7). As one of the inventors of the system, Thomas Jefferson would be delighted with the modern western landscape, with its...
59. International Borders
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The West shares international borders with Canada (1,017 miles) and Mexico (almost 700 miles). On those borders, environment, history, and politics have produced disparate landscapes (figs. 6.12 and 6.13). Visit these settings and think about how each boundary is really three borders...
60. State Lines
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Much of the familiar jigsaw puzzle of western state lines, largely an exercise in political horse-trading and Euclidean serendipity, was shaped between 1850 and 1880 (fig. 6.3). The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 created a two-step process for establishing new territories and states...
61. Historic Military Landscapes
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Historic military landscapes—especially forts and battlegrounds— represent another manifestation of federal largesse in the region (fig. 6.17). Western expansion, especially during the 1840s (59), produced an increased military presence. Forts also acted as early nuclei of...
62. Modern Military Spaces
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Westerners have become accustomed to the presence of low-flying jets, military convoys, and the sights and sounds of modern military spaces. The West, which is home to some of the planet’s most militarized real estate, contains the vast majority of the Defense Department’s...
63. New Deal
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The Great Depression left no corner of the West untouched. Especially hard hit were farm and ranch communities as prices for grains and livestock plunged. Making matters worse were drought conditions that affected large portions of the region—the Dust Bowl era on the plains...
64. Federal Dams and Water Projects
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The creation of federal dams and water projects in the West began with a trickle (fig. 6.30). By 1875, irrigation’s potential had been demonstrated (23) and boosters were calling for federal involvement. The Desert Land Act of 1877 rewarded individual farmers with land if they irrigated; at the state level, California’s Wright Act (1887) encouraged farmers...
65. The Atomic West
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Part of the legacy of the atomic West is its almost miraculous consummation along with its twinned qualities of potency and invisibility, all born from the trajectories of physics, war, and serendipity. Its regional landscapes both reflected and produced a disturbingly modern world...
66. National Parks
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The West’s most spectacular, iconic natural landscapes— Yosemite Valley, Grand Canyon, the redwoods, Old Faithful—are in national parks (fig. 6.36). The National Park Service (NPS) manages about twenty million acres of western federal lands in more than 130 separate units...
67. National Forests
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As the U.S. Forest Service slogan claims, national forests are managed as “lands of many uses.” A long-standing commitment to multiple use is a defining mantra of the Forest Service, which manages these parts of the public lands. Beginning in the 1780s, the federal government...
68. BLM Lands
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Take a slice of the West. Remove farms, towns, and cities. Next, select monumental landscapes for national parks and monuments. Claim crucial forested watersheds for national forests. Eliminate marginal lands populated by Native peoples for Indian reservations. Finally, excise...
69. Federal Wilderness
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Three strands of history, inexorably intertwined, produced the map of federal wilderness areas that we see today (figs. 6.47 and 6.48). First, trace the story of settlement: Between 1850 and 1920, huge portions of the West were opened to development, regional populations grew...
7. Cities and Suburbs
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A city’s collective memory is its cultural landscape, but in the urban West historic landscapes have often been bulldozed, burned down, flooded, rebuilt, redesigned, and reimagined. The pace of urban change has been remarkable in the region, as landscapes have been transformed by...
70. Urban Grid
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Euclidean order infuses American culture and vernacular language: we have gridlock in traffic, we think outside the box, we resist being too square but enjoy three square meals a day, and when we’ve had our fill of the conventional routine we live off the grid. The urban grid, with...
71. City Beautiful
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The City Beautiful movement shaped urban landscapes across the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As cities grew larger and more congested after the Civil War, urban planners, landscape architects, municipal reformers, and progressive politicians searched...
72. Mega Civic Landscapes
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Mega civic landscapes are those large and visible public places that serve important urban functions and shape a city’s collective sense of place (fig. 7.13). These landscapes inevitably intermingle with nearby mega consumer areas (73) as downtowns increasingly orient themselves...
73. Mega Consumer Landscapes
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Mega consumer landscapes are central-city settings where shopping, eating, and drinking shape the visual scene and help define urban identity. While closely connected to downtown public space (72), these landscapes are private places open to the public and focused on consumption. As geographer Michael Conzen notes, these developments demand...
74. City Invisible
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Every western urban landscape has a vast collection of ordinary places, nameless streets and alleyways, low-rent districts, and parking lots. In these landscapes, the boundaries between City Beautiful (71) and city invisible can be sharp. In Tucson, Pueblo, Los Angeles, and Spokane, for...
75. California Bungalows
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The California bungalow is connected with a particular period of urban expansion in the West, between 1905 and 1930, when the region experienced a building boom that produced thousands of new homes. These horizontally designed homes were dramatic departures from the earlier...
76. Ranch Houses
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Low-slung and far-flung, California-style ranch houses multiplied after World War II, becoming the house of choice for millions of Americans. The single-story, rambling, horizontal elements of the ranch house, often organized around an interior-facing patio, have their roots in...
77. Front Yards
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No one denies the dominance of the American lawn. Lawns still define the domestic landscape of millions of front yards. About two-thirds of American households possess lawns, and they cover a vast national acreage roughly equivalent to the area of New England. The lawn was...
78. Modernist Apartment Boxes
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The recipe for the modernist apartment box is simple: place a cube on the urban grid (70) and adjust height, width, and length to lot limits, zoning regulations, and pocketbook. Two- or three-story wood-frame structures are typical. Dice up the interior into four to twelve apartments...
79. Suburban Master-Planned Communities
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At Foothill Ranch, one of Southern California’s many suburban master-planned communities (fig. 7.41), a statue of an imagined nuclear family stands in bold white relief against a background of carefully landscaped grounds and homes. The advertised strengths of master-planned living are its insularity, low crime rates, affluent neighbors, convenient shopping...
80. Commercial Strips and Strip Malls
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Just as the grid (70) shapes cities, the linear imperatives of commercial strips and strip malls shape traffic flows, connect central city and suburb, and produce built environments that celebrate automobiles and mass consumption (figs. I.9, 7.2, and 7.3). Landscapes in motion, strips are...
81. Edge Cities
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You know it when you see it: the edge city just off the freeway, a generic cluster of suburban office buildings surrounded by swathes of green, encircled by boulevards and parking lots (fig. 7.51). In 1991, journalist Joel Garreau wrote that a true edge city has at least five million...
82. Suburban Research Parks
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Lands of lawns and laboratories, the West’s suburban research parks have produced landscapes of national and global significance. Where the best and brightest minds come to invent and innovate, they are centers of research and development that occupy an ambiguous conjoined...
83. Urban-Wildland Ecotone
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As western cities expand into surrounding foothills, mountains, deserts, and prairies, they carve out an urban-wildland ecotone, a penumbra of peripheral landscapes that are no longer wild but are not yet fully urban (figs. 7.2 and 7.57; an ecotone is a transition zone between two disparate ecological communities). These front lines of suburban expansion...
84. Hillside Letters
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The most visible landmark of some western cities and towns is on a hillside. The widespread regional practice of constructing hillside letters is more than a century old and may be another take on an even older western tradition of connecting urban identity to surrounding high points...
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In 1904, the third revised edition of Karl Baedeker’s United States was one of the mostly widely consulted volumes on American travel. A good deal of the space in the guidebook is devoted to the West’s natural cathedrals—Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite Valley, and the Grand Canyon...
85. Dude Ranches
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Leathery-faced Curly (played by Jack Palance) was “like a saddlebag with eyes” as the crusty trail boss in City Slickers, a 1991 film that told the story of three eastern rubes who head west for a dude ranch adventure. Their misdeeds drew little sympathy from Curly, whose cowboy...
86. Hot-Springs Resorts
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Geology created hot springs, but people transformed these curious natural features into hot-springs resorts. The chemical and thermal properties of hot springs have long been valued for their medicinal and restorative qualities. Traditions of “taking the waters” among Native Americans...
87. Coastal Playgrounds
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Sun, sand, and surf are the three essential qualities of any coastal playground. In California, such settings extend from Imperial Beach near San Diego to the beaches of Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties, and they also include quieter spots such as Big Sur, Point...
88. Lakeside Landscapes
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For many westerners, a perfect summer day is spent relaxing on a lake (fig. 8.17). Lakeside landscapes offer a place to stay in a weekend cabin, put a boat in the water, climb aboard a Jet Ski, or reel in a trout for dinner. These lakeside pleasures are part of traditions developed at eastern...
89. Adventure Play
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When John Muir climbed California’s Mount Ritter in 1872, he “was suddenly brought to a dead stop, with arms outspread, clinging close to the face of the rock, unable to move hand or foot either up or down. My doom appeared fixed. I must fall. . . . But . . . life blazed forth again...
90. Hunting and Fishing
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The development of hunting and fishing playgrounds in the West was shaped both by local practitioners and by exotic visitors. Native peoples hunted game and fished streams and rivers in the West for millennia, primarily for sustenance and clothing. Early settlers threw a line in the water...
91. Rodeos and Roundups
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You can listen for the loudspeaker as you amble toward the rodeo. In a sharp, staccato style, the announcer barks out events, competitors’ names, and hometowns, a liturgy delivered in a bourbon-kissed twang originating somewhere between West Texas and eastern Montana. Rodeos and roundups are rooted in the dusty, gritty work of the range cattle...
92. Ski Towns
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Western ski towns come in two flavors: those with a vintage patina that have their roots in older, mostly mining-related settlements (Breckenridge, Telluride, Park City), and newer localities developed specifically for sport (Big Sky, Squaw Valley). You can see the differences...
93. Golf Courses
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There are more than three thousand golf courses in the West, more than 30 percent of them in California. From above, especially in the arid West, you can spot them at thirty thousand feet, long narrow strips of green set within some of the country’s most desolate environments...
94. Sexual Commerce
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From light-beer commercials to brothels, commodified sex sells. Sexual commerce on the western landscape is both revealed and concealed. Billboards, store windows, and the sexualized fashion industry— even for children—exemplify how sex and money mingle. In its more explicit...
95. Amenity Exurbs
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Since 1970, a quiet revolution has reconfigured the rural West. Massive tracts of land beyond the edge of cities and suburbs (83) have become amenity exurbs, places where people who are not farmers or ranchers settle in rural areas. They are drawn to the attractions of privacy...
96. Gated Communities
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As cultural landscapes, gated communities produce hardened, privatized terrain across the West, and they suggest how physical and social spaces intertwine. The message of encapsulation is clear: perimeter walls, gates, guard shacks, private security patrols, and electronic surveillance...
97. Regional Arts Communities
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Chance often shapes people and places. In 1898, artists Ernest Blumenschein and Bert Phillips were touring the Southwest when their wagon broke down on the rough roads of northern New Mexico. Waiting for repairs, they dallied near Taos. The locality caught their eye: sparkling...
98. Retirement Communities
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In Green Valley, Arizona, one of the West’s largest retirement communities, founded in 1963, the streets and sidewalks are well maintained. Upscale homes and condos feature Southwest-style architecture and desert-themed front yards (fig 8.50). Health-care services are readily available...
99. Snowbird Settlements
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Every winter, people flock to Palm Springs, California; Quartzsite, Arizona; and Deming and Alamogordo, New Mexico. The seasonal migration from the northern tier of states to areas known as snowbird settlements balloons Quartzsite’s population, for example, from 3,600...
100. Las Vegas
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Las Vegas is unlike any other city in the West. With more than 150,000 hotel rooms and 200,000 slot machines at their disposal, the city’s forty million annual visitors find plenty of ways to play. How many places offer a landscape oriented toward an indelicato conjoining of eroticism...
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Other Works in the Series
Publication Year: 2014