Mapping the Physical & Human Characteristics of Texas

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  • 0:04 Mapping Texas
  • 0:38 Physical Regions of Texas
  • 2:46 Human Geography of Texas
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Texas is a pretty big state, but we can map it out by starting to look for physical and human characteristics. In this lesson, we'll explore Texas and look at some different ways to understand its geography.

Mapping Texas

The American state of Texas is pretty big. Not only is it the largest state in the continental US, it's actually about the size of most entire countries in Western Europe. It's home to over 27 million people, dispersed over nearly 270,000 square miles. How do you begin to map that?

There are two ways we can answer this, and both have to do with identifying regions. Regions are great tools in geography; they help us organize the world into areas of similar characteristics. So, we can divide Texas into regions. They're just a little bigger than some regions we're used to.

Physical Regions of Texas

There are two related ways to map out Texas. We are going to start by looking at Texas in terms of physical geography, or the natural landforms and features produced by the earth. When we do this, we can divide Texas into four main regions.

Our first region is what's known as the Coastal Plains. The Coastal Plains make up the largest region of Texas, stretching from the gulf coast well into the heart of the state. For the most part, this is a space of softly rolling hills and coastal prairie land. It's warm and gets good amounts of rain. It's also the part of Texas most at risk of hurricanes in late summer and early fall. So, how do we know where this region ends? It's pretty clear. On the west, it runs up against the Rio Grande River, Texas' border with Mexico, although technically the physical characteristics of this region continue south of the border. To the northwest, the region stops at the Balcones Escarpment, a steep cliff that rises quickly out of the ground, thanks to an ancient fault line.

The next physical region of Texas is the Great Plains, which is part of a larger physical region stretching across North America. So, what makes the Great Plains different from the Coastal Plains in Texas? This region is much drier with fewer trees and is dominated by prairies and grasslands. It also sits at a higher elevation, above the escarpment that drops off into the Coastal Plains. Due to its heightened elevation, this region is sometimes called the High Plains of Texas.

East of the Great Plains and north of the Coastal Plains is Texas' third region, the North Central Plains. You never knew there were so many kinds of plains, did you? The North Central Plains aren't as dry as the Great Plains but are still mostly prairies. Due to its geologic history, this region contains a number of unique landforms like mesas, huge flattop mounds and hills created through erosion over the millennia.

Finally, we get to the Mountains and Basins region, on the western edge of Texas. Sometimes called the Basin and Range Province, this is the most mountainous part of Texas, containing parts of the Guadalupe, Davis, Glass, Chalk and Chisos mountain ranges. This region is even drier than the Great Plains and a lot of it contains desert features like cacti.

Human Geography of Texas

These physical regions of Texas are very useful in helping us map out the state, but geography is about more than just the physical landforms. We also have to consider human geography, the relationships people have with physical space. We can see this immediately when we look at the map of Texas. What's human about this? Well, political borders don't exist in nature. These are products of human interaction with space. All of Texas' physical regions extend beyond the state borders; we only talk about them in this limited sense because political boundaries are important to the way we understand the world.

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