certainly part of the definition of the west is cultural. the west include states with large portions of minorities and the four states with no one majority race or ethnicity (texas, new mexico, california, and hawaii), and this diversity has shaped our common experience.
these aren't all rhetorical questions. i really feel like the west is different, is unique, but why? it's the most diverse region of the united states. shouldn't that work against a common identity? we have the lowest rainfall and the highest rainfall, the lowest point and the highest point. the most diverse climates and ecosystems, from all of our deserts to our temperate rainforests. diverse populations. very different current cultures - from the liberal left coast to the libertarian intermountain west to the increasingly nativist arizona. so why do i identify so clearly as a westerner, and why do i feel a kinship with others who are from the west, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of background, regardless of occupation?
maybe i haven't figured out exactly what the west is, but i do have my own designation of what states comprise the west. it's oregon, washington, idaho, montana, wyoming, nevada, california, arizona, new mexico, and just western texas. alaska and hawaii are too different in every way to be part of the shared west - although i'm glad they are part of the u.s. i gladly grab western texas, even though - as a state - texas is a big pain in the ass, and i'd never take eastern texas, with their SUV driving oil-drilling mavens and executives and revisionist textbooks. but western texas is as independent and idiosyncratic as the best of the rest of the west. plus, we've got to have big bend, one of the most beautiful places in the united states.
i am serious, though. i'm curious what anyone reading this thinks the west is. write it in a comment, or if it's too long, send me an email.
map of federal land ownership from an article by David Kennedy. for his (much better) overview of the west, see http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2008/mayjun/features/west.html