Major Landforms in the United States

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  • 0:01 What Is a Landform?
  • 0:50 Mountains, Valleys & Canyons
  • 2:30 Rivers and Lakes
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain what a landform is and describe some of the most important landforms in the United States. A short quiz will follow.

What is a Landform?

A landform is any natural feature of the Earth's surface. This includes mountains, rivers, lakes, canyons, valleys, shorelines, and bays. There are many attributes that can be used to describe landforms. You can describe their elevation (also known as their topography), their slope, their orientation, the rock exposure, or the soil type, among others. Topographical maps can be seen as landform maps because they tend to also include coastal areas and rivers.

The United States has so many mountains, valleys, canyons, rivers, and lakes that we couldn't possibly cover them all in a short lesson like this. So, we'll just talk about a few of the most significant ones.

Mountains, Valleys, & Canyons of the U.S.

Probably the most important and well-known mountains in the United States are the Rocky Mountains. It's like the spine of the country, running along the western side from New Mexico and Arizona in the south, all the way up to Idaho and Montana in the north. They even continue into Canada. They span 3,000 miles, making it the second longest mountain range in the world. The Rocky Mountains were formed 50-80 million years ago where a number of tectonic plates slid under the North American plate. Other important mountain ranges in the USA include the Appalachian Mountains in the Eastern United States, the Cascades in the Northwest, and the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Southwest.

The United States is also home to many famous valleys, including Death Valley, which is the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America, and Napa Valley, home of the United States' most popular wine.

Some of the canyons of the United States are truly extraordinary. The Grand Canyon is visited by people from around the world and is absolutely huge: 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. It exposes layers of rock showing two billion years of Earth's history. Kings Canyon in California is home to the deepest gorge in the country. Hells Canyon in Oregon and Idaho is also very famous, containing a large river at the bottom. It's especially well-known for its black rock formations and ancient petroglyphs. Bryce Canyon in Utah is bright red in color and is also extremely distinctive.

Rivers and Lakes of the United States

Rivers and lakes are like the veins and arteries of a country's natural landscape. They have a major effect on the plant and animal life that grows and lives across the country. Many of those plants and animals rely on rivers. And the United States has some huge ones.

The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are probably the most famous and also most important of all the rivers in the United States. The Missouri is the longest river in the United States, reaching a total length of 2,341 miles. The Missouri then flows into the Mississippi, north of St. Louis, which continues another 2,320 miles. The Mississippi River has the largest drainage system of any river in the United States, receiving water from 31 states. The water that flows into it starts as far north as Northern Minnesota (though it also receives some water from Canada) and continues all the way to the Mississippi Delta, flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. It's the fourth longest and tenth largest river in the world. Other large rivers in the United States include the Rio Grande, the Yukon, and the Colorado River.

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