Mountains dominate Mexico’s geography. The Sierra Madre Occidental—the western Sierra Madre—is Mexico’s largest mountain range. On the east, the Sierra Madre Oriental runs parallel to the eastern coast. The central plateau—the Plateau of Mexico—is Mexico’s largest re- gion and lies between the two mountain ranges. About four fifths of Mexico’s people live on the plateau. It has large cities, rich farmland, and plenty of rain. Large numbers of peo- ple have moved to Mexico City in search of a better life. Many active volcanoes border the southern edge of the central plateau. Earthquakes often shake the land, killing people and causing serious damage. Although the southern part of the central plateau is in the tropics, its climate is not tropical. That is because the plateau’s high elevation keeps temperatures mild. The plains of the northern Pacific coast are hot and dry. Farmers use irrigation, the artificial watering of farmland, to raise wheat, cotton, and other crops. By con- trast, the Baja California peninsula, a strip of land sticking out into the ocean, is mostly mountainous desert. Along the southern Pacific coast, moun- tains lie close to the ocean. The tropical cli- mate and beautiful scenery have made tourism an important business. The Gulf coastal plain is rich in oil and natural gas. The Yucatán Peninsula is mostly flat. Ancient Mayan ruins attract tourists.

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#1 In what part of Mexico do most of its people live?
#2 Map Skills: What peninsula is in northwestern Mexico?


The Aztecs built the most powerful empire in early Mexico. Spanish soldiers conquered the Aztecs in 1521. They built Mexico City on the ruins of the Aztec capital of Tenoch- titlán. Mexico became part of the Spanish colony of New Spain. In 1810, Miguel Hidalgo, a priest, began a rebellion against Spanish rule. Mexico won independence in 1821 but was ruled by military dictators. After the Mexican Revolution, which lasted from 1910 to 1920, Mexico had a new constitution. It established a federal republic. However, one political party held power until 2000. The government bought land from large landowners and gave it to people who did not have any land. This policy is called land redistribution. Most of the reclaimed land is owned by the members of rural communities that prac- tice subsistence farming. Approx- imately one third of Mexico’s farms are huge commercial farms. They raise cash crops, farm crops grown for sale and profit.
Millions of Mexicans have no land and cannot find work. Many become migrant workers who travel from place to place where extra workers are needed to help grow and harvest crops. Three quarters of Mexico’s population live in urban areas. Most are very poor, although there is a growing middle class. Two of Mexico’s most important industries are oil and tourism. Factories along the U.S. border assemble goods sold in the United States.

#3 Name two of Mexico’s most impor- tant industries.
#4 Diagram Skills: What are the three cultures that make up Mexico today?