Overview of the Great Plains

Map showing the Great Plains of the American WestMap showing the Great Plains of the American West

The Great Plains are the grasslands of the North American continent, and lie between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

Early European explorers found the Plains a very hostile environment, and the area was marked on early maps as the 'great American desert'.

One American explorer, Major Stephen Long, declared:

I do not hesitate in giving the opinion that it is almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course uninhabitable.Major Stephen Long

Characteristics of the Great Plains

  • enormous size
  • lack of trees
  • semi-arid - little water available
  • unpredictable weather, including extremely cold and violent winters
  • ferocious winds - the winter 'Northers' and the scorching summer winds
  • many areas flat and featureless
  • inhabited by locusts and grasshoppers
  • inhabited by wolves