Colorado ranks eighth among the states in size. It has an area of 269,602 sq km (104,094 sq mi), including 974 sq km (376 sq mi) of inland waters. The state is rectangular in shape, measuring 623 km (387 mi) from east to west and 444 km (276 mi) from north to south. Colorado straddles the Continental Divide, which separates rivers flowing to the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. In Colorado the lands west of the divide are referred to as the Western Slope, while those to the east are often called the Eastern Slope.
Colorado includes parts of three major physiographic provinces, or natural regions, of the western United States. They are, from east to west, the Great Plains, the Southern Rocky Mountains, and the Colorado Plateau. In addition, Colorado includes small sections of two other natural regions, the Wyoming, or Green River, Basin and the Middle Rocky Mountains, which lie in the extreme northwest. Both of these regions are, like the Southern Rocky Mountains, part of the vast Rocky Mountain System.
The Great Plains, a broad expanse of flat or rolling prairies that extend from Alberta to Texas, cover the eastern third of Colorado. They rise gently from about 1,200 m (about 4,000 ft) above sea level along the Kansas state line to about 2,100 m (about 7,000 ft) above sea level at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains. The plains are used mainly for growing wheat and other crops and for grazing cattle.
The physical features of the Great Plains are not uniform throughout the state. The plains are sometimes divided into three sections: the High Plains, the Colorado Piedmont, and the Raton section.
The High Plains, which include the most level land in the Great Plains, extend along the eastern border of Colorado. The only significant variations in relief occur where steep-sided river valleys, such as those of the Arkansas and Republican rivers, cross the plains or where there are shallow saucer like depressions.
The Colorado Piedmont, to the west of the High Plains, is more varied in relief, and many low ridges, steep bluffs, flat-topped mesas, and conical hills, called tepee buttes, rise above the surface. In the south the piedmont merges with the Raton section. The Raton section, more rugged than the Colorado Piedmont, includes numerous mesas and buttes of volcanic origin and narrow, rocky canyons.
The Southern Rocky Mountains occupy most of central Colorado and extend in a north-south direction across the state. In Colorado the Rockies are between 120 and 280 km (75 and 175 mi) wide and include 53 peaks with an elevation of more than 14,000 ft (equivalent to 4,267 m).
The mountains do not form a single highland area but are divided into two roughly parallel groups, or belts, of ranges. The mountain belts are separated from each other by several broad, high-altitude valleys and mountain basins called parks.
The eastern mountain belt includes the Laramie Mountains, the Front Range, and part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The highest peaks of these eastern ranges are Blanca Peak, Longs Peak, and Mount Evans, all of which are more than 4,340 m (14,250 ft) high. Pikes Peak, a conspicuous landmark at the southern end of the Front Range, rises to 4,302 m (14,115 ft). Arapahoe Glacier, in the Front Range, is the largest glacier in the Southern Rocky Mountains.
In Colorado the Continental Divide, or Great Divide, follows the crest of the eastern mountain belt as far south as Mount Evans, then crosses over to the western belt and continues southward. The western belt of high mountains includes the Park Range, the Sawatch Range, and the San Juan Mountains. The Sawatch Range contains Mount Elbert, the state’s highest peak at 4,401 m (14,440 ft). The Sawatch Range and the San Juan Mountains combined contain 27 of the state’s mountains over 4,250 m (14,000 ft). The parks and valleys between the two mountain belts of the Southern Rockies are broad, relatively flat, grass-covered areas. The principal ones are, from north to south, North Park, Middle Park, South Park, and the San Luis Valley. They are separated from each other by spur ranges of the mountain belts that flank them. They vary from about 1,800 to 2,700 m (about 6,000 to 9,000 ft) above sea level. The Colorado Plateau occupies most of western Colorado. It is made up of dozens of separate plateaus that range from about 1,500 to 3,400 m (about 5,000 to 11,000 ft) high and are arranged in seemingly haphazard tiers and groups. Many are separated or cut by deep canyons. Most of the canyons were formed by tributaries of the Colorado River, such as the Gunnison River. Rugged hills and a few mountain ranges rise from the Colorado Plateau. "Colorado" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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