Kansas, state, United States: Geography


Almost rectangular in shape and mostly part of the Great Plains, Kansas is famous for its seemingly endless fields of ripe golden wheat. The land rises more than 3,000 ft (914 m) from the eastern alluvial prairies of Kansas to its western semiarid high plains, which stretch toward the foothills of the Rocky Mts. The rise is so gradual, however, that it is imperceptible, although the terrains of the east and the west are markedly different. The state is drained by the Kansas and Arkansas rivers, both of which generally run from west to east.

The average annual rainfall of 27 in. (69 cm) is not evenly distributed: the eastern prairies receive up to 40 in. (102 cm) of rain, while the western plains average 17 in. (43 cm). Occasional dust storms plague farmers and ranchers in the west. The climate is continental, with wide extremes—cold winters with blizzards and hot summers with tornadoes. Floods also wreak havoc in the state; hence, flood-control projects, such as dams, reservoirs, and levees, are a major undertaking.

Topeka is the capital; other important cities are Wichita (the state's largest city), Lawrence, and Kansas City (adjoining Kansas City, Mo.). Points of historical interest include the boyhood home of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Eisenhower Library in Abilene. Medicine Lodge has the home of Carry Nation, who, at the turn of the 20th cent., waged war on the saloons. Fort Leavenworth is the site of a large federal penitentiary. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is one of the few large tracts of virgin prairie in the United States.

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