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What natural obstacles have Americans encountered in their movement from coast to coast?


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August 07, 2008 2:10AM

I'm assuming you mean the migration and growth of the American populace from east to west... The biggest obstacle was purely size - the continent is much larger than any of the countries that our original settlers tended to come from - England, Spain, France, etc. So the biggest single natural obstacle was simply getting from place to place. The Erie Canal across lower New York state was one of the first major East to West thoroughfares in the young nation. It allowed goods and people to move towards the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest much less expensively than before, which mean on horseback and with wagons. Crossing the Mississippi River was the next major hurdle, but as you move north, the river gets narrower. Once a ferry was established at various spots, the river became not so much an obstacle anymore, and became a useful north-south highway for goods, people and communication. The Great Plains were wide, flat and, in most situations, not much of an obstacle - however, as we know, the residents of these areas tended to, in many cases, resent the influx of people into "their" lands. Settlers didn't always sit right with the semi-nomadic natives. The Rocky Mountains were the biggie. They jutted up out of the plains rather suddenly, and passes through them were few and far between. Not many people knew how wide or high they could be, so they became perhaps the biggest single natural obstacle. Once the routes were established over and around the mountains though, passage became much easier. The first people through had it much rougher than those just 20 or 30 years later. The rest of the natural terrain's difficulty depended on whether you were at the northern routes or the southern routes. The northern routes through Colorado and Wyoming, for example, let to Idaha and Utah - the Great Salt Lake was surrounded by thousands of square miles of pretty uninhabitable area. The southern routes through Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona were not nearly so bad, but then on the other side of Arizona you have the California and lower Nevada deserts to contend with. As long as you didn't fall into the Grand Canyon, it wasn't quite so bad as the northern routes. California was the promised land. Sunshine, water, fertile soil in most places, and an overall good to excellent climate made it a prize. The Spaniards who'd been there for a couple hundred years weren't crazy about all these new folks but we soon showed them who was boss. After a while, we got tired of looking at the ocean and thinking it was the end of the line, so we went and conquered Hawaii. Then the Philippines. The Brits already had their hands full with India, or I have no doubt we'd have headed there too...