Kentucky is the 37th largest state in the Union, with an area of 104,659 sq km (40,409 sq mi), including 1,764 sq km (681 sq mi) of inland water. The state has a maximum extent, from east to west, of 679 km (422 mi) and a maximum dimension north to south of 293 km (182 mi). Because the state’s borders are in part formed by three rivers which often adjust their course, the state’s boundaries are somewhat indeterminate. The approximate mean elevation is 230 m (750 ft).
Kentucky includes portions of three major natural regions, or physiographic provinces, of the eastern United States: the Appalachian Plateaus, the Interior Low Plateau, and the Gulf Coastal Plain. Each of these three regions is part of a larger physiographic division.
The Appalachian Plateaus are part of the Appalachian Region, or Appalachian Highland. The Interior Low Plateau is part of the Interior Plains, and the Gulf Coastal Plain is part of the Coastal Plain.
The Appalachian Plateaus, which cover eastern Kentucky, include parts of the Allegheny and the Cumberland plateaus. These plateaus, worn down by erosion, contain heavily forested ridges and narrow valleys. This region is sometimes called the Cumberlands. The term Cumberland Mountains is usually used to denote the high narrow mountain belt that forms part of the Kentucky state line and that is separated from the Cumberland Plateau by the Cumberland River Valley. This mountain belt, also called the Cumberland Front, includes several ranges and ridges, most of them less than about 900 m (about 3,000 ft) above sea level.
Among them are the long ridge known as Cumberland Mountain and the Black Mountains, which rise to 1,263 m (4,145 ft) above sea level at Black Mountain, the highest point in the state.
The Cumberland Mountains are crossed by several gaps but only one major pass, Cumberland Gap, a narrow pass that reaches 500 m (1,650 ft) above sea level. North and west of the Cumberlands the mountains give way to the hilly rugged terrain of the Allegheny and Cumberland plateaus.
The Interior Low Plateau region can be subdivided into three main sections, the Lexington Plain section, the Shawnee section, and the Highland Rim section. The Lexington Plain section covers the northeastern portion of this region. In Kentucky it is usually called the Bluegrass region, Bluegrass section, or simply the Bluegrass. This section, comprising about one-fifth of the state, is primarily a gently rolling plain from 240 to 300 m (800 to 1,000 ft) above sea level. The Inner Bluegrass, the very fertile central area lying in Bourbon, Fayette, Jessamine, and Woodford counties, is the most prosperous farming district in the state. It is encircled by relatively infertile hilly land, which in turn is encircled by the Outer Bluegrass, which closely resembles the Inner Bluegrass.
The Shawnee section, which in Kentucky is usually called the Western Coal Field, lies in the northwest. Much of it is made up of level or rolling plains from 180 to 240 m (600 to 800 ft) above sea level, with wooded ridges and rocky cliffs rising above the general level of the land, especially in the east. In the southeastern part of this section, which is underlain by limestone rock formations, is a district noted for its sinkholes and its numerous caves. The coal deposits of the Shawnee section are a continuation of those in adjoining Illinois and Indiana. The Highland Rim section occupies the remainder of the Kentucky portion of the Interior Low Plateau.
In the north it includes a narrow band of isolated coneshaped hills and knobby ridges, which rim the western, southern, and eastern edges of the Bluegrass region. The Knobs, as they are called, form a scenic but infertile area of shallow soils and bare rock outcrops. The remaining parts of the Highland Rim section are generally termed the Mississippian Plateau but are known locally as the Pennyroyal, or Pennyrile. The Pennyroyal has numerous underground caves, including Mammoth Cave, and sinkholes.
The Gulf Coastal Plain covers all of western Kentucky west of the Tennessee River. This region is an area of low rolling hills separated by broad, flat, often poorly drained lowlands. Along the Mississippi River is Kentucky’s lowest point, 78 m (257 ft) above sea level. "Kentucky" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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