Texas, also known as the Lone Star State, is the second largest state in the United States in terms of population and area. Located in the southernmost part of the central US, Texas is known for barbecue, hot weather, live music, American football, ranching, and a deep-rooted feeling of Texas pride.
Texas is situated in the south-central part of the United States.It shares a border with four other states, including Louisiana and Arkansas to the east, Oklahoma to the north, and New Mexico to the west.
Moreover, Texas forms a significant portion of the United States’ land border with Mexico. Texas borders the states of Nuevo León, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and Chihuahua in Mexico to the south and west, as well as the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast.
With an area of 268,569 square miles (695,662 sq. km), Texas is the second largest state in the US, after Alaska, taking up about 7% of the country’s entire land area. It is also the second largest state by population, with its 28.9 million residents second only to the 39.5 million inhabitants of California.
Texas, as a result of its size, is incredibly geographically diverse It can be broken up into various regions, each of which are dominated by unique terrain. According to the Texas Almanac, the state has 4 major physical regions, namely:
In many respects, Texas can be considered part of the “Deep South,” particularly in East Texas. However, Far West Texas is often thought of as part of the Interior Southwest while the Texas Panhandle, in many ways, is more similar to the Midwest than to the South.
Indeed, simply while traveling from east to west through Texas, the landscape changes drastically from forests and swamps into plains, hills, desert, and mountains. The geographic diversity of the state has also led to the informal creation of a number of different economic and cultural regions, each of which are inextricably linked to the landscape.
Texas covers a huge swath of land, so it’s not surprising that the state’s geology is complex and diverse.
A dominant feature of Texas is its fault lines. The state is bisected by a number of faults which separate a series of different geological sub-regions.
In the south and east, the surface rock is mostly sandstones and shales which are underlaid by large salt domes that contain significant amounts of oil. To the north and west, there are mostly shales and limestones. In fact, the limestones in Texas’ Hill Country contain the Edwards Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to some 2 million people.
Toward the center of the state, there is a large dome of ancient gneisses, granites, and schists, which is surrounded by a large outcropping of sedimentary rock. Perhaps the most famous part of this dome is the Enchanted Rock near Llano, Texas.
The westernmost part of the state arguably has the most complex geologic history. It features a series of rock layers as well as a number of volcanic deposits and fault lines.
Moreover, the Southern Basin and Range is located in the western part of Texas. The Southern Basin and Range is a subsection of the larger Basin and Range Province, which extends throughout Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Texas, and northwestern Mexico.
Within Texas, the Southwest Basin and Range region is characterized by hot temperatures and desert vegetation. Much of the bedrock in these regions is igneous in origin, which was later stretched and faulted to form the mountains that we see today.
As a result of its size, Texas contains a number of different climate zones. In the east, it has more of an oceanic (Köppen: Cfb) and humid subtropical climate (Cfa). This transitions into a hot semi-arid (BSh) and cold semi-arid climate (BSk) in the Panhandle and the southern interior part of the state before becoming a hot desert (BWh) along Texas’ border with Mexico.
Texas can be thought of as having three major climate types: Continental, Mountain, and Modified Marine. Modified Marine is found in most of the state and brings with it warm weather and a decent amount of rainfall.
Mountain climate is found predominantly in the more mountainous regions of the state, especially around the Guadalupe Mountains. Alternatively, the furthest interior sections of the state get a Continental climate, which is dominated by hot summer temperatures and relatively cold winter conditions.
This diversity of climate zones means that Texas has 11 ecological regions, with a number of different soil regions and ecosystems. In fact, while southeast Texas often gets upwards of 64” (160cm) per year of rain, the western part of the state gets just 8.7” (22cm) of rainfall.
Texas is frequently hit by thunderstorms and tornadoes, particularly in the northern parts of the state. The east is often hit by hurricanes, some of which, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017 have been particularly devastating.
Depending on where you are in the state, wildlife is abundant in Texas’ many biomes. The state has three official mammals, including the nine-banded armadillo, the Mexican free-tailed bat, and the Texas longhorn. It is also home to a number of carnivores, such as black bears, foxes, coyotes, mountain lions, ocelots, and bobcats.
In addition to mammals, Texas contains over 200 species of reptiles and amphibians. It is also home to over 590 native species of birds, making it the state with the greatest diversity in bird life in the country.
The region that is now Texas has a long and storied history that goes back thousands of years. Texas was home to a large number of native peoples before the arrival of the Europeans. These groups include the Apache, Bidai, Comanche, Coushatta, Jumano, Kickapoo, Tonkawa, Alabama, Atakapan, Caddo, Choctaw, Hasinai, Karankawa, Kiowa, and Wichita, among countless others.
Upon the arrival of Europeans, the region that would later become Texas was controlled predominantly by Spain until the Wars of Mexican Independence and, soon afterward, the Texas Revolution. At that time, the US became involved in Texan affairs, leading to the formation of the Republic of Texas, and later the annexation of the republic as a state in 1845.
Since Texas' admittance to the union, it has grown substantially in population, drawing millions to its major cities. The state’s economy is driven by its abundance of natural resources, particularly oil, mineral mining, and agriculture. These days, Texas is also becoming a large center for technology, commerce, aeronautics, and education.
Texas is also home to a large number of outdoor recreation areas, which draw visitors from around the country to experience the state’s amazing outdoor opportunities. The state has 2 national parks, as well as a number of historic sites, monuments, forests, and seashores for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy.
Texas is home to a large number of great public lands for outdoor recreationalists to enjoy. Here are some of the best places to check out on your next trip to the Lone Star State:
Situated along the Texas/Mexico border, Big Bend National Park is one of the crown jewels of Texas’ public lands. The park contains 58 named peaks, the highest and most prominent of which is Emory Peak (7,785ft/2,373m).
Big Bend was established in 1935 to protect the part of the Chihuahuan Desert that extends into the United States. It is located along a major bend in the Rio Grande. It is bordered to the south by Parque Nacional Canon de Santa Elena as well as Maderas del Carmen, two of Mexico’s federally-protected natural areas.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located along Texas’ border with New Mexico. It was established to protect the world’s largest Permian fossil relief and it contains parts of the Guadalupe Mountains, which is a subsection of the Sacramento Mountains.
The park contains 11 named peaks, the highest and most prominent of which is Guadalupe Peak (8,757ft/2,669m), which also happens to be Texas’ high point. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is known for its iconic rock formations, such as El Capitan (different from California’s El Capitan), and its high mountains, which include Bush Mountain, Shumard Peak, and Barlette Peak.
The national forest is located within the basin of the Neches River and is dominated by forests of longleaf pine. It also contains hundreds of species of wildlife, some of the most common of which are wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and bobwhite quail. Additionally, the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker is found in Angelina National Forest.
The forest was designated to protect the region’s woodlands and wildlife. White-tailed deer are found throughout the forest, as are bald eagles. It is a popular, camping, fishing, hunting, and boating location for people living in the greater Houston area.
Additionally, the Lone Star Hiking Trail, which covers some 128 miles (206km) crosses through the Sam Houston National Forest. It is a popular hike in the winter and spring, but hikers should be careful to wear highly visible clothing during deer hunting season.
Sabine National Forest is located along the Texas/Louisiana border.It contains 13 named mountains, the highest of which is Forse Mountain (574ft/175m), and the most prominent of which is Big Hill (574ft/172m).
The forest is known for its large concentration of hardwood trees, particularly American beech. It also contains large stands of longleaf pine, shortleaf pine, Florida maple, sweetgum, southern red oak, loblolly pine, and white oak.
Sabine National Forest is a popular destination for local campers and hikers. It also contains a small wilderness area, the Indian Mounds Wilderness.
Padre Island National Seashore is located in Eastern Texas along the state’s Gulf Coast. It is situated on North Padre Island, a barrier island near Corpus Christi. The seashore actually contains 5 named high points, the tallest of which is Green Hill (13ft/4m).
The seashore is unique because it is located on the longest undeveloped barrier island in the entire world, with a length of 70 miles (110km). This puts it in direct contrast with the nearby South Padre Island, which is a popular resort getaway location.
Visitors to the seashore can camp on the beach and experience the region’s amazing wildlife, which include Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, which nest on the island. Padre Island is also located along the Central Flyway, one of North America’s major migratory bird routes, which makes it one of the most important bird areas on the continent.
As the second most populous state in the US, Texas has its fair share of major cities. Here are some of the best ones to check out:
Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest in the country with a population of 2.3 million people. It covers a massive area of over 630 square miles (1,650 sq. km) and is located in eastern Texas near the Gulf of Mexico.
The city is easy to get to by road and train, including a number of Amtrak lines. Additionally, Houston has a major international airport - George Bush Intercontinental - which offers great global connections.
San Antonio is the second largest city in Texas and the seventh largest in the United States with 1.5 million residents. It is located 75 miles (121km) to the north of Austin and 190 miles (310km) west of Houston in eastern Texas.
San Antonio is rapidly growing, thanks to its commerce and aerospace industries. It is also home to a number of military installations, which include a number of Air Force bases. The city is well connected by road and train, and it has an international airport with connections throughout North America.
Dallas is located in northeastern Texas and is the third-largest city in the state with 1.3 million people. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is also the fourth-largest metropolitan region in the United States with a combined population of around 7.5 million people.
Dallas’ economy is mostly centered around defense, information technology, transportation, oil and finance. The city’s international airport (Dallas/Fort Worth) is the third busiest in the world by aircraft movement.
The city of Austin is the capital of Texas. With a population of just under 1 million people, Austin is the fourth largest city in the state, but it is also one of the fastest growing parts of the country.
Austin is known for being a diverse city with great live music, food, and eccentricity. It is a popular location for large tech companies, including Amazon, Apple, Intel, IBM, and Google, which all have regional offices in the city.
Like most major cities in Texas, Austin has an international airport as well as good bus, train, and road connections around the state.
Unlike Texas’ other major cities, El Paso is located in the far western part of the state. With a population of over 680,000 people, it is Texas’ sixth-largest city. It is located along the US/Mexico border across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez, the largest city in Chihuahua.
The city is home to a number of major companies, the University of Texas at El Paso, and a handful of military installations. El Paso is geographically isolated from the other major cities in the state, but is well connected by road, train, and air.