Texas is enormous, but it’s hard sometimes to put its size in perspective: just listing the distance from, say, El Paso to Beaumont (824 miles!), and noting how it compares with the distance from Dallas to Sioux Falls, South Dakota (841 miles!), doesn’t quite do the trick—unless you’ve done both drives, it’s still kind of abstract.
Here’s one way to get a better look at exactly how big Texas is, though, as our friends at MySA.com found last week: using the web app MAPfrappe (fun to say, too!), you can cut out the shape of Texas, and then superimpose it throughout the world via a Google Maps API.
MAPfrappe isn’t the same as just taking your scissors to the World Atlas and moving Texas around to compare things—maps become less accurate at different longitudes, so MAPfrappe distorts the size of Texas to show exactly how big it would appear on the map at a given location. For example, this is what it would look like if you simply took Texas and superimposed it over the part of the map where Alaska is:
Tiny, right? But when Texas is distorted to more accurately reflect how size is magnified at higher longitudes, you get a better idea of how the two states stack up (spoiler: Texas is still smaller than Alaska, but not as much smaller as you’ve heard).
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Texas stacks up to some other parts of the U.S.
A few things here: First off, Montana is friggin’ huge, too, and we don’t spend enough time giving the state credit for its mammoth size. What’s up with that? You’re big, too, Montana, don’t let anybody ever tell you otherwise. Out in the Midwest, meanwhile, the amount of area you can cover while still staying within what would be the borders of Texas is impressive. People in St. Louis don’t tend to think of folks out in Charleston, South Carolina, as living close to them, but they’re almost the exact same distance apart as El Paso and Brownsville are. Charleston is a similar distance from Detroit, but they’re about as close together as Amarillo is to the Rio Grande Valley.
Everything’s a bit more spread out in the west, but still—you can get a good chunk of California in the boundaries of Texas, and pack in Nevada, and parts of Arizona and Utah, too.
Now let’s head over to Africa. Africa, of course, is a gargantuan continent, which is something that our maps have often failed to portray. (When you live in a country whose maps literally cut Asia in half so that you can be in the center of the world, it tends to be a little distorting.) But even a relatively obscure West African nation like Mauritania is bigger, on balance, than Texas. Countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are much larger.
This puts some things in perspective regarding the Ebola scare of 2014, as well: the countries facing an Ebola epidemic were West African nations like Liberia and Sierra Leone. You can spot them a bit underneath Mauritania in the first map up there. Those countries are a massive distance from other parts of Africa. They’re a solid Texas-size distance from Nigeria, which is itself a couple of Texases away from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is still another couple Texases tfrom South Africa (not pictured here, because Africa is huge). That’s a thing worth considering, when thinking about how big Africa is. You could fit literally dozens of Texases in there.
Over in Europe, though, things are a little different. France is roughly the same size as Texas—but you can comfortably stuff Switzerland in alongside it like an accessory. The farther east you go, meanwhile, the more you can smoosh a whole lot of a whole lot of countries within the Lone Star State: Paris, Prague, Milan, Amsterdam, Brussels, Munich, and Florence could all be little bits of Texas, in an alternate reality. (This’ll help explain why, if you live in Texas and have a European friend visiting New York, they might suggest you drive up to meet them—they have no idea that Texas alone is as large as much of their continent.)
A continent that is much bigger than Texas, though, is Australia. We’re basically just a random smattering of outback to them.
Over in Greenland, though, we take up a lot more space than it appears on the map, because of the longitudinal distortion. Texas gets a bit funny-shaped that far north, but the Greenland land mass isn’t as big as we think it might be.
It can also be instructive to look at the size of parts of the world where we’ve been involved in conflicts. In the Middle East, for example, things are pretty spread out, which is useful to keep in mind. Our ally Saudi Arabia is considerably larger than Texas, while there’s a great deal of distance from, say, Iran (also big enough to hold a Texas) to Libya (which is to the left of Egypt in the top map). That’s perspective that it is hard to get without a frame of reference—and when you need a frame of reference, there’s Texas.
The same is true in Southeast Asia. A good deal of Vietnam fits snugly alongside the stretch from Corpus Christi to Texarkana, which is a lot of miles—but you’ve got a whole second Texas to go if you want to include the Northern part of the country and Hanoi. But only the eastern edge of the state—by the time you get as far west as Austin, you’re in Cambodia.
Afghanistan, meanwhile, is smaller than Texas on its own.
If you’re the right kind of nerd, you can probably do this forever and not get bored—check it out, Mexico is maybe two and a half Texases! As a frame of reference for how big parts of the world are, Texas is a pretty good one.