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25,610-square-mile Panhandle of Texas was shaped by the Compromise of 1850, which resolved the state's controverted territorial claims. It is bounded on the east by the 100th meridian, on the north by parallel 36°30', and on the west by the 103rd meridian. It comprises the northernmost twenty-six counties of the state; the line forming the southern boundary of Swisher County in the central Panhandle marks the southern boundary.
The elevation declines from about 4,700 feet in the northwest (Dallam County) to about 2,000 feet in the southeast (Childress County). The growing season increases from 178 days a year to 217 days over the same distance. The average annual precipitation ranges from about 21.5 inches in the eastern counties to about seventeen inches in the western counties. Thus the dry Panhandle climate ranges narrowly from subhumid to semiarid.
The High Plains cover all but the gently undulating southeastern third of the Panhandle, where the Rolling Plains begin. The two are separated by the scenic eastern High Plains escarpment commonly called the Caprock. The upper tributaries of the Red River and the Canadian River drain the region. The Canadian cuts across the High Plains to isolate the southern part, the Llano Estacado, which has little drainage and a reputation as one of the world's flattest areas of such size. Beneath the High Plains lies the enormous store of relict water held by the Ogallala Aquifer-unquestionably the region's most valuable resource.
High Plains soils are loamy, clayey, deep, and calcareous; those of the Rolling Plains are loamy and sandy; and those of the canyonlands and river valleys are loamy, clayey, shallow, and calcareous and support woody species including juniper, cottonwood, hackberry, mesquite, elm, willow, and plum. Scrub oak, grape, and stretchberry grow on the escarpments. Grasses found on the uplands include mainly the bluestems, gramas, buffalo grass, and, around playas, western wheat grass. Especially on the Llano Estacado short grasses have protected the surface from erosion and, along with subhumidity and fire, have inhibited tree growth. ]
In sum, Panhandle physiography produced a primordial grassland that supported the southern buffalo herd and a buffalo-hunting Indian culture, invited a grazing economy introduced by Americans, and eventually gave rise to a farming economy that displaced much of the grassland.
Everything is bigger in Texas!