Geography In The Details: American Great Plains.

Mention the Great Plains to someone, and this is what comes to the mind of many: Endless expanses of featureless, flat land. While this stereotype does have some truth to it, it doesn’t tell the entire geographic story regarding the American Great Plains.

Sandhills of Nebraska

States such as Oklahoma, Kansas, and North Dakota certainly have their flat expanses. They are part of the Great Plains, and this isn’t exactly a rugged region, for the most part. However, to say that it’s completely flat would be a misnomer. Rather, many areas of these states consist of rolling hills. There is a subtlety about the geography in the Great Plains region.

The lay of the land in Oklahoma, while consisting of flat land, also has some mountain ranges of its own. The terrain becomes more rugged towards the southern and eastern reaches of Oklahoma. Part of the Ozarks mountain range, often associated with Arkansas, extends into northeastern Oklahoma, relatively close to Tulsa. Southeastern Oklahoma is home to the Ouachita Mountains, with the Wichita and Arbuckle mountain ranges in the the southern portion of the state. The Oklahoma Panhandle is a land of arid plains, being close to New Mexico and Colorado. It’s also a land of mesas. The highest point in Oklahoma, Black Mesa, is located in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma.

Kansas is a state that is often thought of as “flat as a pancake”. While it is certainly flat in the western part of the state, it isn’t featureless. South Dakota is known for its Badlands. Kansas actually has its own version of rugged badlands in western Kansas. In particular, near the Castle Rock limestone pillars. The landscape becomes more hilly in eastern Kansas, especially towards the Kansas City metropolitan area. The Flint Hills, which also encompass part of northeast Oklahoma (known as the Osage Hills in Oklahoma) are in eastern Kansas. They are named for the flint left behind after erosion has taken place. Kanopolis State Park, in central Kansas, consists of canyons and landscapes similar to parts of Arizona and New Mexico.

Bluffs near Castle Rock in western Kansas.

One fourth of Nebraska consists of the Sandhills. The Sandhills, as the name indicates, are made of sand. They are sand dunes that have been anchored by prairie grasses. This region of grassy hills is located in southern/central Nebraska. These sandhills are also home to wetlands. Northwest Nebraska is home to Pine Ridge, an escarpment with ridges, buttes, and canyons. It has a landscape similar to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Sandhills in southern/central Nebraska

South Dakota is home to the Badlands and the Black Hills, both located in western South Dakota. among the prairies which the Great Plains are known for. The Black Hills are really part of an isolated mountain range. The Badlands are a region in South Dakota consisting of eroded buttes and spires. The land becomes less rugged and lower in elevation the further east one travels within South Dakota.

Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

The same can be said of North Dakota. The western portions of the state tend to be more rugged and higher in elevation than the eastern portions. Like South Dakota, North Dakota also has a badlands region. Erosion is what created the rugged formations. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a protected area that consists of such badlands.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

In terms of the geography of the Great Plains, there is a subtlety to it. It is about the details of the land. The Great Plains certainly has its large expanses of land that are relatively flat. At the same time, with its erosion landforms and rolling hills, it isn’t as featureless as many would believe. It isn’t like the Rocky Mountains, which stand out grand and tall. It is more of a subtlety in the land. The rugged features exist. They exist, not standing apart from the Great Plains, but rather, as part of the Great Plains. Geography is in the details.


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