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.

  • Article 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

  • Article 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

  • Article 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

  • Article 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

  • Article 5: Southern Basin and Range

    Mountains and Desert in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

    The Southern Basin and Range is an extension of the Basin and Range Province centered on Nevada and the Great Basin and extending from southern Oregon to western Texas, and into northwest Mexico. Read more

  • Article 6: Southwestern Plains

    Sunset lights up the grass at Capulin Volcano National Monument

    The Plains of the Southwest include the southern Great Plains, the High Plains, Llano Estacado (Staked Plains), and Edwards Plateau. Read more

  • Article 7: Southwest River Environments

    The Colorado River flowing through a canyon

    In the arid Southwest, water means life, and prehistorically, rivers were the lifelines of the people. Read more

  • Article 8: Glossary

    Pottery sherds, each with different colors and patterns

    A large number of sometimes unfamiliar terms are often used when discussing the cultures and environments of the American Southwest. Many of them are defined here. Read more