High Plains (United States)

High Plains
physiographic region
A buffalo wallow on the High Plains.[1]
Country United States
Highest point
 - elevation 7,800 ft (2,377 m) [2]
Lowest point
 - elevation 1,160 ft (354 m) [2]
Length 800 mi (1,287 km)
Width 400 mi (644 km)
Area 174,000 sq mi (450,658 km2) [2]
Physiographic regions of the United States. The High Plains region is the center yellow area designated 13d.[4]
Website: GeoKansas: High PLains
The Western High Plains ecology region is designated by 25 on the map.
This article is about a geographic region in the United States. For the High Plains of Australia, see High Plains (Australia).

The High Plains are a subregion of the Great Plains mostly in the Western United States, but also partly in the Midwest states of Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota, generally encompassing the western part of the Great Plains before the region reaches the Rocky Mountains. The High Plains are located in southeastern Wyoming, southwestern South Dakota, western Nebraska, eastern Colorado, western Kansas, eastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma, and south of the Texas Panhandle.[5] The southern region of the Western High Plains ecology region contains the geological formation known as Llano Estacado which can be seen from a short distance or from miles away on satellite maps.[6] From east to west, the High Plains rise in elevation from around 1,160 feet (350 m) to over 7,800 feet (2,400 m).[2]


The term "Great Plains", for the region west of about the 96th or 98th meridian and east of the Rocky Mountains, was not generally used before the early 20th century. Nevin Fenneman's 1916 study, Physiographic Subdivision of the United States,[7] brought the term Great Plains into more widespread usage. Prior to 1916, the region was almost invariably called the High Plains, in contrast to the lower Prairie Plains of the Midwestern states.[8] Today the term "High Plains" is usually used for a subregion instead of the whole of the Great Plains.

Geography and climate

The High Plains has a "cold semi-arid" climateKöppen BSk—receiving between 10–20 inches (250–510 mm) of precipitation annually.

Due to low moisture and high elevation, the High Plains commonly experiences wide ranges and extremes in temperature. The temperature range from day to night usually exceeds 40 °F (22 °C), and 24-hour temperature shifts in excess of 40 °C (72 °F) are possible. The region is known for the steady, and sometimes intense, winds that prevail from the west. The winds add a considerable wind chill factor in the winter. The development of wind farms in the High Plains is one of the newest areas of economic development.


Plants endemic to the region are Shortgrass prairie, prickly pear cacti and scrub.


Agriculture in the forms of cattle ranching and the growing of wheat, corn and sunflowers is the primary economic activity in the region. The aridity of the region necessitates either dryland farming methods or irrigation; much water for irrigation is drawn from the underlying Ogallala Aquifer, which makes it possible to grow water-intensive crops such as corn, which the region's aridity would otherwise not support. Some areas of the High Plains have significant petroleum and natural gas deposits.

The combination of oil, natural gas, and wind energy along with plentiful underground water, has allowed some areas (such as West Texas) to sustain a range of economic activity, including occasional industry. For example, the ASARCO refinery in Amarillo, Texas has been in operation since 1924 due to the plentiful and inexpensive natural gas and water that are needed in metal ore refining.


The High Plains has one of the lowest population densities of any region in the continental United States; Wyoming, for example, has the second lowest population density in the country before Alaska. In contrast to the rather low and stagnant population in the northern and western High Plains, cities in west Texas have shown sustained growth; Amarillo and Lubbock both have populations near or above 200,000 and continue to grow. Smaller towns, on the other hand, often struggle to sustain their population.

Major Cities and Towns


See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ a b c d "USGS High Plains Aquifer WLMS". U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  3. ^ "Physiographic Regions". U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  4. ^ "Physiographic Regions". U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  5. ^  
  6. ^ "Shaded relief image of the Llano Estacado.". Handbook of Texas: Llano Estacado. 
  7. ^ Fenneman, Nevin M. (January 1917). "Physiographic Subdivision of the United States".  
  8. ^ Brown, Ralph Hall (1948). Historical Geography of the United States. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co. pp. 373–374.  

External links

  • High Plains Regional Climate Center High Plains climatological resources
  • High Plains information - U.S. Department of the Interior (with map)
  • Trains on the High Plains
  • Texas counties map showing the ecoregion