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Natural Regions of Kansas


Prairie stream in Kansas
Prairie stream in Kansas

Kansas ranks 15th among the states in size. It has a total area of 213,096 sq km (82,277 sq mi), including 1,197 sq km (462 sq mi) of inland water. The state is rectangular in shape, except for a small section in the northeast where it is bounded by the Missouri River. It measures 661 km (411 mi) from east to west and 335 km (208 mi) from north to south. The surface of Kansas can, in a very broad sense, be described as a plain. However, it is neither entirely flat nor entirely level, and minor variations in relief are conspicuous. The state’s surface elevation increases gradually from east to west, rising from a minimum elevation of 207 m (679 ft) above sea level in the Verdigris River valley to 1,231 m (4,039 ft) at Mount Sunflower, the highest point in the state. The approximate mean elevation is 610 m (2,000 ft). Hills, ridges, and wooded river valleys abound in eastern and central Kansas. Farther west they give way to the flatter, generally treeless High Plains, which are frequently but inaccurately thought of as characteristic of the entire state.

Kansas includes parts of two physiographic provinces, or natural regions, of the United States, the Central Lowland and the Great Plains. Together these two natural regions constitute part of the major physiographic division of North America known as the Interior Plains. In addition, a small area in extreme southeastern Kansas is part of the Ozark Plateau physiographic province.

The Central Lowland


The Central Lowland covers the eastern third of the state. It can be divided into two sections, the Dissected Till Plains and the Osage Plains. The Dissected Till Plains occupy the northeastern corner of the state.

This section differs in appearance from the rest of the Central Lowland in Kansas. The only part of the state that was glaciated during the Ice Age, which ended about 10,000 years ago, it exhibits the gently rolling hills, broad shallow valleys, boulder-strewn plains, and other landforms characteristic of glaciated plains.

It more closely resembles the typical prairie areas of Iowa and other Midwestern states than do the other sections of Kansas. The Osage Plains section is an area of varied relief, with flat or gently rolling plains broken by a series of low, linear ridges that trend north-south. The most prominent of these ridges are the Flint Hills, which lie just east of the 97th meridian and extend from the Kansas River southward into Oklahoma. The Flint Hills, which rise more than 120 m (400 ft) above the surrounding plains, are composed primarily of limestone but derive their name from a form of chert commonly called flint that is scattered over their surface.

The Great Plains


The Great Plains cover the central and western portions of the state. This region can be divided into two sections, the Plains Border and the High Plains. The Plains Border, which forms a transitional zone between the Central Lowland and the High Plains, includes several broad belts of hills. North of the Arkansas River they include the Smoky Hills and the Blue Hills. South of the river, in the great loop between Wichita and Dodge City, lies a broad plains area that forms, in effect, an eastward extension of the High Plains. Much of this region is quite sandy. The sand plain is bounded on the south by the Gypsum Hills, or Cimarron Breaks, a scenic area of mesas and buttes that are composed of red shale capped with gypsum.

The High Plains


The High Plains section is a dry, gently rolling tableland. Some of the section’s most prominent physical features are found where the rivers, especially those of the northwest, have cut valleys well below the general surface, creating steep-sided bluffs. Throughout the High Plains section are numerous shallow saucerlike depressions. Some of these are products of wind erosion. Others have been formed by the sinking of the land, which has been caused by the action of underground water on soluble rocks. A number of unusual geologic formations in Kansas occur on the Great Plains, an area that is also noted for its abundant fossils. In Gove County, Monument Rocks, also called the Kansas Pyramids, rise abruptly above the valley of the Smoky Hill River. Sculpted by wind and water, they represent the remnants of shale and chalk that, eons ago, covered what is now the Smoky Hill Valley. Castle Rock, in Gove County east of the Monument Rocks, is the most prominent of these formations, standing 21 m (70 ft) high. About 30 km (about 20 mi) north of Salina lies Rock City, an area of more than 200 eroded sandstone concretions that resemble huge eggs. "Kansas" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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