The Dust Bowl

"And then the dispossessed were drawn west- from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless - restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do - to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut - anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land."

- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939


   The Dust Bowl was an ecological and human disaster that took place in the southwestern Great Plains region, including Oklahoma, in the 1930's. It was caused by misuse of land and years of sustained drought. Millions of hectares of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes --many migrated to California.
   As the land dried up, great clouds of dust and sand, carried by the wind, covered everything and the word "Dust Bowl" was coined. In the photo on the left, the sky is obscured by the dust; below, two images of abandoned farms.
The Dust Bowl lasted about a decade. Much was learned about cultivation in dryland ecosystems. New cultivation methods, such as dry farming, have reduced the impact of subsequent droughts in this region.

Web source: Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution: www.nasm.edu/drylands/dust.html
Photo credits: U.S. National Archives

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