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Travel to U.S.: West: The Great Plains

Paradoxical as it may seem, the Great Plains is the most powerful of all American regions. It's not just the oceanic scale: it's also the rough ride the Plains give to residents. People get on board--build towns, lay out fields, plan lives.  Then the Great Plains throw those people with droughts, erosion, and an agricultural technology that needs fewer and fewer people to produce the crops that people here depend on.

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U.S.: West: The Great Plains picture 1

Starting a new season on the High Plains--here north of Tribune, Kansas--the flattest part of the Great Plains.

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Tractor at work, dust on the move.

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A winter wheat crop resumes its spring growth.

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The secret of success: irrigation water, here about to flow through gated pipe.

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A more expensive solution: center-pivot irrigation, here at the pivot. Note the drop-line sprinkler, that thin pipe hanging down at the right. It's more efficient than heroic, high-pressure sprinklers. Note, too, that very little water comes from it, because this end moves slowly. Out on the other end, the discharge per minute is much greater. In the background, the electric pump that mines water from the Ogallala formation and pushes it through the sprinkler.

U.S.: West: The Great Plains picture 7

Storage dams have never been very prominent on the Great Plains, mostly because the plains don't offer very good reservoir sites. The Missouri River is an obvious exception, though, and there are many others. Here's the sign at a tiny one in central Oklahoma. It bears the name of Floyd Dominy, the last of the Bureau of Reclamation's great dam builders.

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Soil erosion, once a black icon of the Great Plains, isn't the problem it used to be. One of the reasons is shelterbelts: here, the nation's first one, near Hobart, Oklahoma.

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At the end of the season, the harvest heads to market from Tribune, Kansas. It's named for Horace Greeley's newspaper.

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The local county is named for Horace himself.

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People out here have generally found it useful to pray.  Latterly, it's also been useful to demonstrate religiosity, in this case with a towering cross next to Interstate 40 near Grimes, east of Amarillo on the Texas Panhandle.

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Still, the population of the Great Plains is declining irreversibly.  Farms need fewer and fewer people, and what else is there out here except energy production and privately owned prisons?  Not a lot.

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Looking west on New Mexico S.H. 104, perhaps a dozen miles short of Las Vegas. This is still the Great Plains, even if it's uncultivated. The emptiness is not to be confused with loneliness.

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