Can You Ace This American Geography Vocab Quiz?


By: Zoe Samuel

6 Min Quiz

Image: Putt Sakdhnagool/Moment/Getty Images

About This Quiz

The geography of the United States is something that is supposedly taught to all of the nation's children. We learn the names of all of the states, their capitals, and their major features, from rivers to mountains to canyons to cities. We even learn roughly how many people are in which state and the key industries that take place there. We might not remember all of it in perfect detail, but generally speaking, we ought to have the gist of it.

However, geography goes beyond knowing where things are and simply being able to identify a city or knowing the difference between a hill and a mountain. What is the technical name for the point where the Mississippi flows into the sea? What is the proper way to refer to that big funny-shaped mountain in Wyoming? What's really underneath Yellowstone National Park? Why does California have all those earthquakes? Knowing the "what" of the landscape is invariably a key to knowing the "how" and from that, the "why." It helps us to make sense of why industries begin in a certain place or what caused migrations of people, and when.

Do you have all the jargon down as well as the names? Let's find out!

The Mississippi is the longest river in the USA. What is the name for the point at its end where it divides into many little rivers?

A delta is where a river reaches the sea, not as one river, but after having divided into a number of smaller ones. The Mississippi Delta is in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi.


What is the longest mountain range in the USA?

The Rockies are a truly enomrous range that slice through the entire USA. Indeed, they actually extend into Mexico and Canada.


What is the proper name for the type of mountain of which Devil's Tower, WY, is an example?

A butte is an isolated hill with steep sides, like a mesa but narrower. One way to remember the difference is that a mesa is more like a table, a butte is like a chair; and a chair is where you put your butt!


What state is the most easterly?

The Aleutian Islands actually cross the International Dateline, meaning they're the furthest east you can be.! Thus Alaska is the most westerly AND most easterly U.S. state.


Very ancient Precambrian metamorphic rock is the oldest rock to be found in which mountain range?

This stuff is old - really old. Some of it might be 1.7 billion years old. Yep, that's billion with a "B."​ The Rockies themselves are nowhere near that old, of course, but some of the stuff of which they're made is!


What is Old Faithful, the famous site in Yellowstone National Park?

A geyser is a hot spring where sometimes the water boils and sends a spurt of water or mud into the air. Old Faithful is one of the most famous examples on the planet.


What geographical feature commonly associated with Norway will you find on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska?

The fjords of Norway are world famous, and the fjords of Kenai should be. A fjord is a narrow inlet where the sea goes between high cliffs, and the Kenai Fjords​ are stunning.


What term describes the formations for which Carlsbad Caverns, NM, are known?

Stalagmite and stalactite are types of speleothem, which is to say, rock formations you find in caves. Carlsbad Caverns has some of the best! You can remember which one is which between stalagmite and stalactite because stalaGmite has a "G" for ground, and stalaCtite has a "C" for ceiling!


Alabama is the only state with all the natural resources to make cast iron and what other essential industrial product?

Alabama is not very famous for its natural resources, except its cotton fields. However, it has all the ingredients to make some very major buildings, which makes it unique in the U.S.


What geographical phenomenon prompted the creation of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the USA?

Crater Lake is nearly 2,000 feet deep. It was caused by the eruption of Mount Mazuma, a massive volcano.


During the geological period 480 million years ago known as the Ordovician, what mountain range was formed in the U.S.?

The Appalachians are really old: 480 million years old. Other mountains in the USA range from older to younger, in geological terms, but none go back as far.


For what weather phenomenon is Dodge City, KS, known?

Want to get out of Dodge? Pick the right direction and the wind will blow you out. Dodge City is the windiest city in the USA.


What is the biggest lake in the USA?

Superior is the greatest of the Great Lakes. It's on the border with Canada so a portion of it is in each country.


What is the last name of the man for whom America was named?

Amerigo Vespucci managed to get his name put on two continents. He'd doubtless be very proud of that until he realized that virtually none of their inhabitants know that the name comes from him!


What is the proper name for the geographical feature known as Antelope Canyon?

A slot canyon is one that is very deep compared to how wide it is. Sometimes they get very little usunlight at the bottom, but they are not caves as the top is still open to the sky.


What sort of area are the Everglades, techically?

The Everglades are a mix of swampland, grassland, wetland, and marshes. They are, unfortunately, also a very endangered habitat due to their location at sea level in Florida, the U.S. state most threatened by sea level rise.


There are two state capitals that have rhyming names. One is in Texas. Where is the other?

Austin and Boston are the capitals of Texas and Massachusetts, respectively. They are the only two state capitals that rhyme.


What does Montana have more of than it has people?

There are more cows than people in Montana. That said, Montana has very good wind and is a great place for wind turbines, so many are being built there. It also has a lot of sheep, but not so many nuclear plants, though.


If you leave Stamford, CT, heading due north, east, south, or west, you arrive in New York state. What is the name of these compass points?

The cardinal directions are north, south, east, and west. If you follow any of them directly from Stamford you will indeed arrive in New York state. You will need a boat if heading east, though.


What phenomenon makes the weather in Orange County, CA, so darn nice?

The microclimate around Orange County makes the weather there unbelievably nice. It's rarely too hot, it's never too cold, and it's not at all humid. Unfortunately, much of it has been covered over with ugly McMansions. Otherwise, it would look just like Italy!


By what name are the earliest confirmed European arrivals in the center of the American continent known as?

The Clovis people have many artifacts in common with those found in ancient French civilizations. Thus they are likely Europeans who came over during the Ice Age, using ice floes to cross the Atlantic. They date back 13,500 years, but they are not the original arrivals.


What is the Mississippi River's nickname?

Old Man River is the Mississippi River's nickname. It became very popular in 1927 when the musical, "Showboat," featured a song about it.


What is the name given to the theory that people arrived by boat on the Pacific coast earlier than the Clovis settlers?

There were definitely earlier settlers than the Clovis people, and it is commonly believed that they arrived by walking across the Bering Strait on a land bridge exposed during the Ice Age. However, this does mean they had to walk across five million square miles of solid ice on the Asian side. Instead, there is another theory that sea kelp and ice floes provided plenty of sustenance for people arriving from Asia by boat.


What word describes the non-stop flight from Boston, MA, to Honolulu, HI, compared to all other U.S. domestic flights?

Honolulu to Boston is now the longest domestic non-stop flight in the USA. It takes 11 hours and covers just over 5,000 miles.


What is the correct term for the climate of the southeastern U.S. states?

The southeastern U.S. is very nice in the spring, fall, and winter, but in the summer, it is like a sauna. This is because of the humid subtropical climate. That means it's not just warm like say, California, it's also muggy as heck!


What mountain in the USA is technically taller than Mount Everest?

Measured from the sea floor, Mauna Kea is 32,000 feet and taller than Everest! However, the rule is that you measure from sea level, which reduces it to a relatively short 12,000 or so feet.


What is the technical term for Point Nemo, located about 6 miles away from Allen in South Dakota?

This point in South Dakota is the place in the North American continent that is furthest from the sea - any sea. It's more than 1,000​ miles to get to a coast.


What ocean phenomenon is causing mass fish deaths in Florida?

Ocean warming, sea level rise, and coral death are like red tide, all symptoms of climate change - and they are all happening in Florida. However, red tide specifically refers to blooms of toxic algae that love the warmer waters and thus breed, eat up all the oxygen, and kill the fish. Bringing climate change under control will, fortunately, help stop red tide from ​getting worse.


What is the one distinguishing fact about Roe River, Montana?

Roe River is only 200 feet long, which makes it the shortest river in the world. It's still technically a river due to its dimensions; it's too wide to call it a stream, even if its volume is small.


What geographical feature bisects Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park has a few glaciers (though it's losing them at a speedy rate). However, that is not what bisects the park. It sits on something called the Continental Divide, which is a ridge of mountains and hills. A raindrop falling one side of it will end up in the Atlantic​; on the other side, the Pacific.


Which one of these is NOT one of the four biomes represented in the USA's landmass​?

Farmland is not a biome; that is, a large ecosystem of flora and fauna existing together in a habitat. The fourth biome is tropical rainforest, which you can find on the North American continent but not the USA.


California is noted for its earthquakes, due to the way the tectonic plates in the area interact. What is the word used to describe how the Pacific plate is behaving with regard to the North American plate?

The Pacific plate is slowly sliding under the North American plate. This is called subduction and it causes regular quakes as the plates slide, get stuck, then release the pent-up energy with an earthquake.


What type of land might you find in the Great Plains?

The Great Plains consist of a variety of landscapes, including all of these types of plains. They're very fertile and suited to all sorts of farming.


Rhode Island has only 1,545 ________.

Rhode Island is the smallest state by land area. The smallest state by population, however, is Wyoming, with only half a million people.


What rather frightening​ geographical feature is underneath Yellowstone National Park?

A supervolcano is a really big volcano. There is one under Yellowstone that, were it to go off, could inundate the Eastern seaboard in a fiery sheet of lava. This is fortunately very unlikely, though.


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