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The Lone Star State

Texas, covering 267,339 square miles, is second largest of the 50 states. It extends approximately 750 miles in both length and breadth. Its southwestern and southeastern boundaries are the Rio Grande River and the Gulf of  Mexico, respectively. The Red River forms part of the Texas-Oklahoma boundary on the north, and on the east, the Sabine River and Toledo Bend Reservoir separate Texas and Louisiana.

The state has four major geographic zones: the Gulf Coastal Plain, the Central Lowlands, the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. The land rises from sea level along the coast to an average elevation of over 4,000 feet along the Texas-New Mexico line.

The Gulf Coastal Plain includes a forested strip along the Sabine River and the Gulf Coast. The mainland is guarded from the Gulf of Mexico by a string of barrier islands and beaches,
including Padre Island, a national seashore.

The Central Lowlands is a 200-mile-wide strip of fertile, rolling land that merges into the Coastal Plain on the south and east. The lowlands are marked by several areas of low hills.

The Great Plains stretch across the northern part of Texas generally referred to as the Panhandle and down into the south-central part of the state. The northern portion of this region, the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains, is table flat except for an occasional canyon or rocky ridge. The rough southern upland is the Edwards Plateau. The Balcones Escarpment, a long line of cliffs and steep slopes which zigzag across the state from north to sourth separrate the Great Plains from the Central Lowlands.

The Rocky Mountains rise from the Great Plains through the westernmost corner of the state and include some of Texas' most magnificent scenery. The highest elevations are in the Guadalupe Mountains (8,000 feet) along the New Mexico border and in the Big Bend wilderness area along the Rio Grande. Although typical desert vegetation covers the lower slopes of this region, Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine flourish in higher elevations.

Texas has numerous rivers, most of which flow southeastward into the Gulf. Impoundments on these rivers and many of their tributaries give Texas over 6,000 square miles of inland waters.

The Handbook of Texas Online

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center