The United States cannot be defined solely by television and movies. It is large, complex, and diverse, with several distinct regional identities. Due to the vast distances involved, traveling between regions often means crossing through many different landscapes, climates, and even time zones. Such travel can often be time-consuming and expensive but is often very rewarding.
The contiguous United States or the “Lower 48” (the 48 states other than Alaska and Hawaii) is bound by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, with much of the population living on the two coasts. Its land borders are shared with Canada to the north, and Mexico to the south. The US also shares maritime borders with Russia, Cuba, and the Bahamas. If counting the Insular Areas and Minor Outlying Islands, the United Kingdom, Samoa, and Haiti would also share maritime borders.
The country has three major mountain ranges. The Appalachians extend from Eastern Canada to the state of Alabama, a few hundred miles west of the Atlantic Ocean. They are the oldest of the three mountain ranges and are covered with a diversity of flora and fauna, a thick canopy of dense vegetation. They offer spectacular sightseeing and excellent camping spots. The loess lands of the southern Mid-West and the Limestone cliffs and mountains of the south add beauty to the region, with lush vegetation coating the surfaces of cliff faces that border rivers, and mist shrouding beautiful green mountains and gorges. The Appalachian Mts highest elevation is at 6,684 ft above sea level. These mountain ranges are smaller then the Rockies.
The Rockies are, on average, the tallest in North America, extending from BC, Canada to New Mexico, with many areas protected as national parks. They offer hiking, camping, skiing, and sightseeing opportunities, as well as desert and subtropical getaways in the southern lowlands of the region. The combined Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges are the youngest. The Sierras extend across the “backbone” of California, with sites such as Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park; the Sierras transition at their northern end into the even younger volcanic Cascade range, with some of the highest points in the country. The Rockies Mountain highest elevation is 14,440 thousand ft above sea level.
The Great Lakes define much of the border between the eastern United States and Canada. More inland seas than lakes, they were formed by the pressure of glaciers retreating north at the end of the last Ice Age. The five lakes span hundreds of miles, bordering the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and their shores vary from pristine wilderness areas to industrial “rust belt” cities. They are the second-largest bodies of freshwater in the world, after the polar ice caps.
The western portions of the USA are rugged and contain arid landscapes, complete with wind-shaped desert sand dunes like White Sands, New Mexico. In California, Death Valley is the lowest spot on the USA mainland (282 feet below sea level) and is one of the hottest places on Earth. Natural areas include vast areas of desert untouched by humans. Camping and hiking through the majestic landscapes of the Southwest is a big vacation draw for many Americans.
Florida is very low-lying, with long white sand beaches lining both sides of the state. The tropical climate enables many exotic (both native and non-native) plants and animals to flourish. The Florida Everglades are a pristine “river of grass,” made up of tropical jungles and savanna are home to 20-foot alligators and crocodiles, among many other creatures.
The USA contains every biome on earth. The USA has something for everyone; tropical jungles, subtropical and temperate savannas, searing deserts, Mediterranean-like coast lines, frozen mountain peaks, coniferous forests, steamy subtropical river systems, and more.