The Great Plains is the name given to the prairie area of North America just east of the Rocky Mountains. They encompass the entire states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, as well as parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas. The Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and a small bit of Ontario also harbour the plains, as do Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas in Mexico.
Covering about 1.4 million square miles, the Plains stand as a symbol for the wide open land that was America, the Promised Land. They were seen as empty and wild, ready to be made into farmland. Any thought of the Plains Indians who already lived there, was quickly brushed aside. Today the Plains are plowed and the Indians who remain live in reservations.
It rains less the further west one goes on the Great Plains, and therefore different plants thrive in different places. Originally the prairie was divided into three belts, with short grass in the west, tall grass in the east, and mixed grass in the middle. Today the westernmost belt is mainly rangeland, the middle one produces wheat, and the easterly products are soybean and corn. Additional crops of importance are oats, barley, rye and sorghum. About one fourth of the entire world production of these grains is grown here.
Yet the Great Plains have not been fully tamed. Ten million people may sound like a lot, but when spread out over endless plains they become scatteringly few. Compared to other agricultural regions, this one is one of the least densely populated in the world, and its population is sinking rather than growing. In fact, many of the small towns may become deserted in just one generation. The reason for this is migration to the cities and less children being born, but what lies behind that we do not know.
Travelling across the Great Plains was once a test in endurance and bravery; nowadays it is seen as a bit of a drag. Yet the plains are not sameness all over. They curve into hills and canyons. The Black Hills and the Badlands are the Great Plains too, just like Kansas is.