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Landscape Terms

The Museum has developed several lessons for use in conjunction with its on-line Collections.

To The Educator: Glossary of Landscape Terms

Mountains Landscape Terms & More

Butte: An isolated, rock hill or mountain with a generally small flat top. A mesa is similar to a butte except it has a large flat top.

Canyon: A deep, narrow valley with steep, rocky sides. Small canyons are called chasms, gorges or ravines.

Cliff: A sheer, steep face of rock or earth. A bluff is similar to a cliff but is less steep and had a broad, softly rounded face. A high, over hanging edge of a cliff is called a precipice.

Erosion: The process by which water, wind, and ice slowly change the shape, size and look of every feature on earth by wearing it away.

Foreground: The part of a landscape painting that appears nearest to the viewer.

Forest: A region thickly covered with trees and abundant underbrush. Forests are also called woodlands or woods.

Geography: The study of all aspects of the earth’s surface, including its physical features and the distribution of life upon it. Through observation, surveying, mapping, and other methods geographers study earth’s structures, what they are and how they came to be. Physical geography, which deals with the physical structures, such as mountains, oceans and coastlines and factors such as climate.

Geyser: A hot, or geothermal, spring that shoots scalding water and steam high in to the air. In the Icelandic language the word geyser means “roaring gusher.”

Glacier: A great mass of ice slowly sliding down a mountain slope or through a valley. Glaciers are slowly moving rivers of ice.

Hill: An elevated rounded point of land that is lower and smaller than a mountain. A knob is a small hill; a knoll is even smaller.

Infinite Space: A pictorial concept in which the visual elements have interval relationships in terms of a two dimensional plane.

Island: A piece of land that is completely surrounded by water.

Lake: A large inland body of water. Lakes are bigger than ponds and ponds are bigger than pools.

Landform: any topographic feature on the earth’s surface, as a plain, valley, hill, or mountain caused by erosion, sedimentation, or movement.

Landscape: a picture representing a section of natural inland scenery, as of prairie, woodland, mountains, etc. An expanse of natural scenery seen by the eye in one view.

Middle ground: The area in a landscape painting between the foreground and background.

Mountain: A rugged, upthrust mass of rock that looms high above the surrounding land. Mountains are sometimes called mounts. Mountaintops have several names: peaks, pinnacles, crests or summits. A mountain range is a long, connected chain of mountains and hills.

Perspective: The appearance of objects or scenes determined by their relative distance and positions.

Plain: A broad region of flat or gently rolling, treeless land.

River: A long, large stream. Major rivers have many tributary streams and rivers flowing into them. The region drained by a great river and all its tributaries is called a drainage basin or watershed.

Stream: A body of flowing water. A brook is a small stream, a creek is a medium-sized, and a river is the largest of streams. The high sides along the edges of streams are called banks.

Valley: A gently sloping depression between hills or mountains. A stream flows along the floor of many valleys. Small valleys with creeks flowing through them are called hollows.

Waterfalls: A stream that flows over a cliff.  There are two types of waterfalls:
Cataract- A large, dramatic waterfall that plunges down from a high, overhanging precipice. Cascade- A small splashing waterfall that tumbles down a mountainside in a series of steps.

Additional Resources on Landscape Terms

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