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The exploration of North America was a continuing effort to map and explore the continent of North America. It spanned centuries, and consisted of efforts by numerous people from several countries to map new areas of the continent.

First explorers

The first Europeans to explore North America during the Age of Exploration included Henry Hudson in the New York area. Other major sea-based explorers were Capt. James Cook, George Vancouver, and Charles Wilkes. There were numerous Spanish explorers who explored the Southwest.

Explorers of the American West

Lewis and Clark were the first Americans to venture into the newly-acquired territory of the Louisiana Purchase, at the order of President Thomas Jefferson. They discovered many new geographical features, Indian tribes, and animal and plant species. John Colter was a member of the expedition who subsequently became a guide for others in the Old West, and did some explorations of his own.

Surveys of the West

John Fremont carried out many important explorations.

Joseph Reddeford Walker was one of the most prominent of the explorers, and charted many new paths through the West, which often were then utilized by emigrants crossing to settle in Western towns and communities. In 1833, his exploring party discovered a route along the Humboldt River across present-day Nevadamarker, ascending the Sierra Nevada following the Carson River and descending via Stanislaus Rivermarker drainages to Montereymarker. His return route across the southern Sierra was via Walker Passmarker, named after Walker by John Charles Fremont. The approach of the Sierra via the Carson River route later became known as the California Trail, the primary route for the emigrants to the gold fields during the California gold rush.

As the American population of the West increased, the US government launched ongoing official explorations mainly through the US Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. One of the main officers and explorers in this unit was George Wheeler. In 1872, the US Congress authorized an ambitious plan to map the portion of the United States west of the 100th meridian at a scale of 8 miles to the inch. This plan necessitated what became known as the Wheeler Survey, lasting until 1879, when the survey, along with the Clarence King and John Wesley Powell Surveys, were terminated and their work was reorganized as the United States Geological Survey.

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