Article Series

Series: Defining the Southwest

The Southwest has a special place in the American imagination – one filled with canyon lands, cacti, roadrunners, perpetual desert heat, a glaring sun, and the unfolding of history in places like Tombstone and Santa Fe. In the American mind, the Southwest is a place without boundaries – a land with its own style and its own pace – a land that ultimately defies a single definition.

  • Chapter 1: Cultural Definitions of the Southwest

    Corn, a staple of early southwest cultures

    The geographical boundaries of the Southwest are so difficult to pin down, in part, because of the variability of both ancient and modern cultures in the region. Also, as the modern population of the American Southwest continues to grow, so do archeological discoveries. With each new discovery, the boundaries of ancient southwestern cultures shift, and our definitions are once again reevaluated. Read more

  • Chapter 2: Environmental Definitions of the Southwest

    Rain falls over the Grand Canyon

    The Southwest is also definable, to an extent, by environmental conditions – primarily aridity. Aridity is the environmental condition in which the net loss of moisture – through transpiration and evaporation – exceeds the net gain through precipitation. Read more

  • Chapter 3: The Colorado Plateau

    Hazy Fajada Butte, Chaco Culture NAtional Monument

    The Colorado Plateau is centered on the four corners area of the Southwest, and includes much of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Read more

  • Chapter 4: Transition Highlands and the Mogollon Rim

    Looking out from the Gila Cliff Dwellings

    The Transition Highlands, or Central Mountains, consist of numerous rugged low mountains marking the boundary between the tablelands of the Colorado Plateau and the southern deserts. Read more

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