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The Intermontane Basins and Plateaus, Population

Intermontane Basins, Hopi Indian Reservation, southern margins, precious minerals, annual celebrations

This Intermontane region has great cultural diversity. The Rocky Mountains are home to approximately 300,000 Native Americans, descendants of the original inhabitants. While Native Americans can be found in all states of the Intermontane region, they are concentrated in the Four Corners area of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. This area is dominated by the vast Navajo Indian Reservation; the Hopi Indian Reservation also lies within its boundaries.

The first European inhabitants of the area were the Spanish, who surveyed the region in search of mineral wealth. Southern areas—the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas—border on Mexico and have large Hispanic populations. Street names, foods, and annual celebrations attest to strong historical links to Mexico. Many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly referred to as Mormons) live in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the church’s sphere of influence covers a much broader area. In the mid-1800s, Mormon farmers migrated to the area around Salt Lake City in search of an isolated area where they could practice their religion in peace. The rush to find gold and other precious minerals prompted sporadic movement into the area later in the 1800s.

In general, the Intermontane Basins and Plateaus region is sparsely populated with few significant urban centers. In the 1990s, the overall rate of population growth in the region was high, particularly in the southern regions, as people were increasingly attracted to the mild winters, recreational opportunities, healthful climate, and year-round sunshine. The region has a high immigration rate, both legal and illegal, of citizens from Mexico who move into its southern margins. Border communities have swelled as millions of Hispanics crossed the border to settle in the region.

Historically, the population has remained scattered throughout the region until the last half of the 20th century, when many regional urban centers grew rapidly. The cities in the southern part have grown particularly quickly as increasing numbers of people are attracted to the dry, warm desert environment. Between 1960 and 1990, the metropolitan population of Las Vegas, Nevada, increased by six times, and that of Phoenix, Arizona, tripled. During the same time period, populations doubled in the metropolitan areas of Albuquerque, New Mexico; El Paso, Texas; and Tucson, Arizona.

The largest city in the region is Phoenix, Arizona, with a metropolitan population of 2.8 million (1997 estimate). Other urban centers include Salt Lake City, Utah; Tucson, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; El Paso, Texas; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. These cities serve as regional market centers, and some of them also have specialized economies. For example, Las Vegas, one of the fastest growing urban areas in the United States with a population of 1.3 million (1997 estimate), is known for legalized gambling. El Paso, with a metropolitan population of 702,000, is closely connected economically and culturally with the neighboring Mexican border city, Ciudad Juarez. El Paso serves as a gateway and a destination for Hispanic migrants to the United States.

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