Andes Mountains
Mapping Latin America's Physiographic Features

Assignment to hand in: Latin America Physiographic Questions & Map

Step 1: Introduction: Look at the picture below and read the following text.

Migration routes of early Americans Migration Routes of Native Americans

There is no physical evidence that human life originated in the Americas. No bones or fossils of the precursors of humans, such as those unearthed on other continents, have ever been found in either North or South America. The earliest evidence of human presence in the Americas is at most only about 30,000 years old, and some authorities argue as little as 13,000 years old.
According to most historians, the Americas were settled as a result of a long-continuing immigration movement from Asia. The first settlers probably hunted large game animals, like mammoth, mastadons, and ground sloths, in the northern tundras of east Asia. From roughly 33,000 through 10,000 B.C., so much water was held in glaciers covering the nothern hemisphere that the ocean level dropped, exposing a broad 500-kilometer-wide land connection between Asia and North America. This bridge was an animal habitat and humans undoubtably occupied the large area. Over thousands of years, these hunters gradually spread south to the warmer forests and grasslands of North and South America. Eventually, these groups adapted to local environments and began to differentiate into distinct cultures.

Step 2: Map Questions: Use Google Earth or an atlas (online too) to complete the Student Handout: Latin American Physiographic Features Questions.

Step 3: Mapping Physiographic Features: Look at the pictures below and label each of these locations on the Student Handout: Latin American Physiographic Features Map.

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca Lake Titicaca, a traditional center of Andean culture, is located in the Andes on the Peru-Bolivia border. At 12,500 feet above sea level, Lake Titicaca is one of the highest large lakes in the world. It is the third-largest lake in Latin America (3,200 square miles). Indigenous Andean villages and terraced fields line the shores of the lake, as can be seen in the tranparency. The relatively high constant temperature of the lake water (51 degrees farenheit) limits the temperature range, enabling local people to grow maize and wheat. The lake's islands of Titicaca and Coati are the legendary birthplace of the Inca, and ruins can still be found there.

Sierra Madre Oriental

Sierra Madre Oriental The Sierra Madre Oriental is the eastern part of the main mountain range of Mexico, which also includes the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre del Sur. The Sierra Madre Oriental begins just south of the Rio Grande near the United States border, and it runs southeast for 700 miles parallel to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The Sierra Madre Oriental and the Sierra Madre Occidental enclose the plateau of Mexico, meeting in the southeast. Mexico's highest peak, which is on this range, reaches a height of 18,700 feet, and many of the higher mountains are snow-capped, like the one shown in this transparency. There are many deep, steep-sided canyons in the region, as well as many precious metals, such as iron ore, lead, silver, and gold.

Rio Grande

Rio Grande The Rio Grande, known to Mexicans as the Rio Grande del Norte, is a 1,885-mile-long river flowing across southwestern United States and Mexico. Its source is in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, from where it winds through New Mexico, along the Texas-Mexico border, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas. Most points except those near the mough are unnavigable, due to the river's shallow, winding path through steep canyon walls, such as those shown in the picture. Dams and reservoirs along the Rio Grande provide water for irrigation and drinking water.

Orinoco River

Orinoco River The Orinoco River begins in the Guiana Highlands in south Venezuela and forms a wide arc as it flows along the Venezuela-Colombia border and then out to the Atlantic Ocean. It passes 1,500 to 1,700 miles through rain forests and savannas, ending in a marshy delta where it meets the ocean. The Azture and Maipures cataracts (waterfalls) shown in the picture divide the upper and lower parts of the river. Most of the Orinoco is navigable and is used for shipping and transport vessels.

Amazon River

Amazon River Reaching 3,900 miles from its headwaters in the Andes Mountains to its outlet at the Atlantic Ocean near Belem, Brazil, the Amazon is the world's second-largest river after the Nile. It carries more water than any other river in the world, gathering water from most of northern Brazil and parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. As it travels east from the Andes, the Amazon passes through the largest rain forest in the world, which covers 35 percent of South America's total land area. Scientists have estimated that the vegetation in this immense rain forest produces half of the world's supply of oxygen.

Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert The Atacama Desert is located in northern Chili, stretching south from the Peruvian border. It is bordered to the east by the Andes Mountains and to the west by the coastal mountains along the Pacific Ocean. This 600-mile-long stretch has virtually no vegetation, and some parts have never received measurable rainfall. The desert has been mined for nitrates and copper, and agriculture is restricted to very narrow strips of arable land.


Pampas The Pampas are wide, grassy plains of Argentina that extend into Uruguay. They cover roughly 300,000 square miles and have been used for cattle grazing since the 1550s by Portuguese and Spanish settlers. In the second half of the nineteenth century. European farmers immigrated to the area and brought the land under cultivation. Agriculture remains the chief economic activity of modern-day Pampas in Argentina, which exports wheat, corn, flax, and oats. The picture shows wheat fields during the wheat harvest.


Patagonia Patagonia is a 300,000-square-mile region located primarily in southern Argentina. Most of the region is formed by a wide, windswept, semi-arid plateau that slopes gently up to the east, ending in cliffs along the Atlantic Ocean. As shown in the picture, sheep raising for wool has been the principal industry of Patagonia, though oil is increasingly important in the region.

Teotihuacan, Valley of Mexico

Teotihuacan, Valley of Mexico Teotihuacan was a metropolis established in the Valley of Mexico. Teotihuacan was a great center of religious and political life from C.E. 350 to 750, and the urban area of the city is estimated at over 12 square miles. The Temple of the Sun, a 215-foot step pyramid, rises to one side of the Avenue of the Dead, the central axis of the city. This picture shows a view of the Temple of the Sun and the Avenue of the Dead. The smaller structures on either side of the Avenue of the Dead are thought to have been bases for temples and ritual activities of the people of Teotihuacan. The Valley of Mexico is a plain hosting broad, shallow lakes that support agriculture for the region.

Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsula

Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsula Chichen Itza is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, which separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea. This site was a capital of the Toltec, who conquered the Maya around A.D. 987 after fleeing from central Mexico. The Toltec were master artisans and architects, and Chichen Itza is a magnificent site whose structures appear to have antecedents in Tula, the former Toltec capital, and the Maya pyramids of Tikal. The Yucatan Peninsula has a tropical climate and hosts extensive hardwood forests, as the surroundings in the picture portray, and tropical wildlife. The main industries on the pennisula include henequen (a hard fiber used for mats and ropes) cultivation, fishing, lumber, and tourism.

Machu Picchu, Andes Mountains

Machu Picchu, Andes Mountains Machu Picchu is a ruin of an Inca settlement that contains an architectural center surrounding a plaza, and an extensive terraced area for agriculture. As shown in the picture, Machu Picchu is located atop a steep hill which is in the Peruvian section of the Andes Mountains. A sacred place for the Inca, Machu Picchu contains fine examples of Inca architecture and stone masonry. The Andes Mountains stretch along the western edge of the entire continent of South America, forming the world's longest contiguous mountain range, and reach greater heights - above 22,000 feet - than any other range besides the Himalayas. In Peru, the Andean system widens out to the high plateau country that also hosted Inca civilization.

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