Most of the United States are situated at — or slightly above — sea level. When you live “out West,” it’s a different ballgame entirely. Mount Elbert soars 14,400 feet, joined by fellow Sawatch Range peaks Mount Massive at 14,428 feet and Mount Harvard at a not-so-modest 14,421 feet, which is about half the height of Mount Everest.
Of course, it’s not just rural areas with sky-high settings. At the base of or within an easy drive to the mountains are Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado, as well as Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City, Utah.
All conjure images of snow-capped peaks, soaring vistas and fauna that’s a nature lover’s dream. Of course, there is a flipside — moving to a mountain town also means adjusting, bundling up and, potentially, rethinking your idea of outdoor activities. All that access to the great outdoors leads to snowfall over a large part of the year — and the traffic and navigation challenges you might expect. If you love snow, skiing and the like, it’s a boon and no big deal.
When living amid a high elevation, it’s also important to remember the air is thinner — meaning a strong set of lungs is key.
Love gardening? Given the short growing season, mountain living may or may not be for you. Have pets? You may need to rethink their unaccompanied time outdoors since predators are often the norm.
That said, there is more to the West than summits and snowstorms — there are spectacular arid and semi-arid deserts and forests, too. You will never be wanting for eye candy because the region highlights some of the world’s wildest and most varied scenery, including sweeping, shape-shifting dunes; red-rock deserts; scenic, verdant valleys; high plains; high deserts; and conifer forests. Not to be overlooked are the lower desert lands. That includes the Sonoran Desert, home to tundra and even tropical deciduous forest in its southernmost reaches.
At the end of the day, moving out west is not just a life and lifestyle choice but also an existential one filled with big and small adventures that are part of your every day.
Hitting the Great Outdoors in the Western U.S.
When it comes to outdoor activities, the Western U.S. has something for everyone, whether it’s hiking an ancient route past sculpted sandstone to a cottonwood oasis on the Bright Angel Trail, BASE jumping off Idaho’s Perrine Bridge or scaling New Mexico’s undulating, powder-white dunes. What’s more, the region boasts a whopping 22 national parks:
- Arches National Park (UT)
- Badlands National Park (SD)
- Big Bend National Park (TX)
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (CO)
- Bryce Canyon National Park (UT)
- Capital Reef National Park (UT)
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park (NM)
- Glacier Nation Park (MT)
- Grand Canyon National Park (AZ)
- Grand Teton National Park (WY)
- Great Basin National Park (NV)
- Great Sand Dunes National Park (CO)
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park (TX)
- Mesa Verde National Park (CO)
- Petrified Forest National Park (AZ)
- Rocky Mountain National Park (CO)
- Saguaro National Park (AZ)
- Theodore Roosevelt. National Park (ND)
- White Sands National Park (NM)
- Wind Cave National Park (SD)
- Yellowstone National Park (WY, MT, ID)
- Zion National Park (UT)
Roll in 13 more from the California, Oregon and Washington on the West Coast and you’ve got more than half of the country’s most prized and protected lands left of the central U.S. With that comes grounding, jaw-dropping beauty at every turn.
Have kids between the ages of seven and 12? Sign them up for the NPS’ Junior Ranger program. Looking for romance? Dine on the edge of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim at the iconic El Tovar Hotel. At the end of the day, the only question is, how much time can you spare?
Getting a Culture Fix
Suffice it to say, the Western U.S. has a look and feel of its own. A touchstone of Hollywood films, it has been shaped by many cultures. Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — as well as other southwestern states like Colorado, Utah and Nevada — are home to large and diverse LatinX populations. By contrast, the Mormon Corridor — which includes Utah, southeastern Idaho, Northern Arizona and Nevada — has a large Mormon population, which you can learn about at the LDS Church History Museum in Salt Lake City.
The largest indigenous area in the United States — the Navajo Nation — is found in parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico — exposing visitors to not just breathtaking landscapes, but also a history dating back to prehistoric times.
Marked by sandstone buttes, the Monument Valley’s russet, sandy desert also brims with Navajo traditions, art and culture — as well as archeological sites you simply must explore. Learn more about native culture at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, which chronicles the history of Native American peoples, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean and Alaska to Mexico, through objects and art.
Asian immigrants — through a complex history — are pivotal to the region’s development. Chinese immigrants, for example, were instrumental in the development of the American West. At Golden Spike National Historic Site in Box Elder County, Utah, reflect on the over 11,000 employed by the Central Pacific Railroad, who endured harsh working conditions to construct the Transcontinental Railway.
Meanwhile, multi-culti Texas is inextricably linked to ranching and cowboy cultures, the Old West and the Texas Revolution, which you can explore at Presidio La Bahía in Golia.
Each group — and state — carries its own traditions and identities. And each one has left its impression. What ties them together? A common frontier heritage. Delve deeper into that and see real, live Wrangler and cowboy hat-wearing buckaroos in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum is found. This cultural and historical center offers year-round programming, exhibits and activities that reveal the pioneer spirit of the American West and the indelible history of the world’s first extreme sport, the rodeo.
Western American Cuisine
Like other parts of the country, the Western United States has its own distinct, varied cuisine. In the plains and mountain states, such as Utah, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming, there is an unmistakable cowboy culture at play. It’s beef country, after all, and meat is king. Not surprisingly, outdoor cooking and chuckwagon dinners are also a thing. Provided you aren’t squeamish, there are Rocky Mountain oysters, too.
Hunting remains a popular hobby in the West. So, wild game is prominently featured both at home and on restaurant menus. In many areas of the West, where sheep ranching and herding prevails, restaurants feature Basque cuisine, often serving it family-style at large, communal tables.
From beef stew to succotash, acorn bread to fry bread, Native Americans have foundationally shaped Western (and Southern) cuisine. Evidence can be found in dishes like grits, cornbread and fried green tomatoes.
In desert regions, don’t be surprised to find a wide variety of edibles made from nopales (prickly pear cactus) and ones that incorporate the “three sisters”: not just corn, but also squash and bean, the latter served whole or refried and tucked into tostadas, tacos and burritos.
Texan cuisine, meanwhile, is known for its Nuevo Mexican and Native American influences, though it doesn’t stop there. Expect smoked-licked barbecue; Southern classics; and Czech, Jewish, British, German, African American, Creole/Cajun, Mexican, Asian, and Italian fare, brought by the waves of immigrants who settled there. Tex-Mex cuisine, on the other hand, is a mashup of American and Tejano traditions and make heavy use of beef and numbing, tiny chiltepin peppers.
Oh, and let’s not forget about Idaho. Home to vast potato farms, its bounty graces supermarkets nationwide. Regionally, bakers are a fixture, as are lesser-known, starchy inventions like the Idaho hot dog, baked inside a hollowed-out potato, split open and finished with chives, bacon bits, and sour cream. Another Western classic, albeit with an unfortunate name? Funeral potatoes, a Morman casserole consisting of cubed potatoes, cheese, onions, sour cream and cream soup, topped with butter and corn flakes or crushed potato chips.
Do you prefer lighter fare? You should head to the West Coast for that!
Careers in the West
During the Gold Rush, farming and mining were the West’s primary industries. Both continue today, though they’re joined by careers in manufacturing, technology and tourism.
Companies of all kinds are attracted to the region’s wealth of resources. Much like the rest of the U.S., the demand for business execs and other professional workers exists — especially in urban areas. A case in point is Colorado’s key sectors: careers in the private aerospace industry; a range of creative occupations; and professions that call for STEM workers.
Topping the charts in Utah? Jobs in IT, finance, healthcare, construction and life sciences. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics, Arizona and North Dakota need cooks; Idaho is looking for heating, air conditioning and refrigeration installers and mechanics; administrative assistants are sought in Wyoming; and New Mexico desires marketing research analysts and marketing specialists, who design, execute and oversee marketing initiatives. As for South Dakota, there is a call for industrial truck and tractor operators.
In other words, there is something for most everyone and it defines how — and where — people live.
Landmarks Worth Experiencing Firsthand
As previously mentioned, national parks of the Western U.S. shape the landscape and leisure time alike. But this is also an area where Spanish settlers, ancient indigenous tribes and gold miners left their mark. You can visit a mission like the Alamo, meander through a ghost town, such as St. Elmo, and see ancient cliff dwellings in Colorado and New Mexico. Be sure to view those left behind by the Mogollon people at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
Are you into the feats of engineering? Visit Hoover Dam, which was built to harness the power of the Colorado River during the Great Depression. Want to know what it was like to live in an adobe home? Check out Taos Pueblo, set at the base of the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. Originating from the Taos-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people, it is among the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States.
Then again, there are off-kilter options as well, like Carhenge — a replica of England’s Stonehenge near Alliance, Nebraska. Meanwhile, you’ll find the turquoise — not golden — arches in Sedona, Arizona; the Alien Mailbox along Nevada’s State Route 375; and the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, which is covered in murals made of corn and other grains.
Considering a move to one of these Western United States? Recently moved and in the process of settling in? Mayflower is here to help you Every Step of the Way®. Click here to get the ball rolling, and be sure to check out our blog for helpful moving tips — not to mention advice on making your house feel like a home.