The California culture area has the widest variety of native languages, ecological settings, and house types of any North American culture area.
The Great Basin Culture Area includes the high desert regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. It is bounded on the north by the Columbia Plateau and on the south by the Colorado Plateau. It includes southern Oregon and Idaho, a small portion of southwestern Montana, western Wyoming, eastern California, all of Nevada and Utah, a portion of northern Arizona, and most of western Colorado. This is an area which is characterized by low rainfall and extremes of temperature. The valleys in the area are 3,000 to 6,000 feet in altitude and are separated by mountain ranges running north and south that are 8,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. The rivers in this region do not flow into the ocean, but simply disappear into the sand.
The Maryhill Museum located near Goldendale, Washington, has a display of Plateau containers. The Plateau Culture Area is the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. From north to south it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. Much of the area is classified as semi-arid. Part of it is mountainous with pine forests in the higher elevations.
The Artic Culture Area includes the Aleutian Islands, most of the Alaska Coast, the Canadian Artic, and parts of Greenland. It is an area which can be described as a “cold” desert. Geographer W. Gillies Ross, in his chapter in North American Exploration. Volume 3: A Continent Comprehended, writes:
“The North American Arctic is usually considered to be the region beyond the northernmost limit of tree growth.”
The Northwest Coast culture area stretches along the Pacific coast between the Cascade Mountains and the ocean. It extends north of California to Alaska. This is an area which is the home to many Indian nations who traditionally based their economy on the use of sea coast and river ecological resources. The Northwest Coast culture area stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California.
Long before the European invasion of North America, a number of autonomous, independent, and linguistically related peoples lived in contiguous territories in what would become the state of Washington. These peoples included the Yakama, Kittitas, Klikitat (also spelled Klickitat), Tainapam, and Wanapam. In 1855, the United States government forced a treaty on these people, grouping them together on what would become the Yakama Reservation and later forming the Consolidated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
California Indian baskets are often considered the best in North America, and Pomo baskets are generally considered to be the best of the California baskets. In his book Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Carl Waldman reports:
“The Pomos created their beautiful baskets for functional purposes, but collectors now value them as works of fine art. In some Pomo baskets, the weaving is so tight that a microscope is needed to count the stitches.”
Many museums, including the Maryhill Museum of Art near Goldendale, Washington, have displays of Mission Baskets. The designation “Mission Baskets” was developed by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber in 1922.