Mexico is the northernmost country of Latin America. It is bordered by Guatemala and British Honduras on the southeast, the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California on the west, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea on the east, and the United States on the north. The Rio Grande forms part of the northern boundary of Mexico as it flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
Mexico is 1,250 miles from north to south and 1,900 miles from east to west.
Large herds of beef cattle graze on the northern plains. The vaqueros (cowboys) have developed great skill in riding and herding cattle. Forests of low thorny bushes and trees grow in this dry northern section.
Near Mexicali, just over the border from the Imperial Valley of California, is the lowest area in all Mexico, 33 feet below sea level.
The northwest area includes the peninsula of lower California, called Baja California. Much of this peninsula is desert. Some years this land does not receive any rain at all.
The Sierra Madre Occidental is a long mountain range that forms the western rim of the central plateau. This was a natural barrier until 1910, when paved roads were constructed. Now a railroad has been built to cross these rugged mountains. There are some short streams in these mountains that have cut deep canyons while flowing to the Pacific Ocean. The largest of these canyons is the spectacular Barranca del Cobre. This deep gorge was cut by the Urique River, and the area is so wild that parts have not yet been explored on foot.
Along the northern part of the west coast is Mazaltan, a large harbor city. The world-famous beach resort of sunny Acapulco is found further south on the coast.
The Chiapas Highlands rise like great blocks more than 9,000 feet above sea level. Indians in this part of the country still speak Mayan. On these flattened mountaintops are the ruins of Monte Alban, an ancient religious center of the Zopatic Indians.
Mexico is the leading producer of silver, and silver jewelry from Taxco is well known. Fine handwoven blankets are made in Oaxaca.
The Yucatan Peninsula is a low plateau of limestone with many large pits where rain water has drained down through the limestone on its way to the sea. These pits were considered sacred wells by the Mayan Indians. The ruins of Chichen Itza, a large Mayan city, stand near one of these pits. There are no rivers on the peninsula. Mexico has hundreds of kinds of birds, and the beautifully colored quetzal is found here.
The Sierra Madre Oriental is a series of mountain ranges that make up the eastern rim of the central plateau. Tampico and Veracruz are large harbor cities on the Gulf of Mexico. One hundred miles west of Veracruz is Orizaba (18,701 feet), the third highest mountain in North America. South of the coast city of Tabasco, the area becomes a tropical rain forest.
The large valley of central Mexico originally contained five shallow, swampy lakes. The largest of these was Lake Texcoco, home of the Aztecs. This lake is now almost drained and is the site of Mexico City, capital of Mexico. The climate here is cool, dry, and healthful.
The floating gardens of Xochimilco near Mexico City are beautiful. On holidays the canals are filled with tourists and picnicking families.
Northeast of Mexico City are ancient pyramids and temples called Teotichuacan (House of Gods). Here the Pyramid of the Sun covers more than ten acres of land and is over two hundred feet high.
Tarascan Indians still use dugouts (boats) and beautifully shaped butterfly nets to catch fish on Lake Patzcuaro, west of Mexico City.
From Mexico City to the south, the three peaks of Ixtacihuatl, an inactive volcano, can be seen. Many volcanoes in the central plateau are still active. The volcanic soils of the central plateau are fertile and receive enough rain for farming. More farmland is used to grow corn, Mexico’s chief food, than any other product.
The cities of Guadalajara and Pueblo are famous for glassware and pottery. Toluca, to the west of Mexico City, is famous for handwoven blankets. Mexican craftsmen are also famous for their leather work.
Village markets are social centers for Mexican families as well as places to buy or trade food and other products.
Children in Mexico play games similar to hide and seek, fox and geese, and pussy wants a corner. On special occasions, such as birthdays or holidays, they have piñatas, which are usually made in animal shapes and filled with candy and toys. The object is for a blindfolded child to try to hit the piñata with a stick and break it so the treasures are spilled out for all the children to enjoy.