Quick facts for kidsRocky Mountains
|the Rockies (en), les Rocheuses (fr),
Montañas Rocosas, Rocallosas (es)
|Peak||Mount Elbert (Colorado, United States)|
|Elevation||14,440 ft (4,401 m)|
|Length||3,000 mi (4,800 km)|
|Countries||United States and Canada|
|Parent range||North American Cordillera|
|Period||Precambrian and Cretaceous|
|Type of rock||Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic|
The Rocky Mountains, commonly known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km) from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the Southwestern United States. Within the North American Cordillera, the Rockies are somewhat distinct from the Pacific Coast Ranges and the Cascade Range and Sierra Nevada which all lie further to the west.
The Rocky Mountains were initially formed from 80 million to 55 million years ago during the Laramide orogeny, in which a number of plates began to slide underneath the North American plate. The angle of subduction was shallow, resulting in a broad belt of mountains running down western North America. Since then, further tectonic activity and erosion by glaciers have sculpted the Rockies into dramatic peaks and valleys. At the end of the last ice age, humans started to inhabit the mountain range. After Europeans, such as Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and Americans, such as the Lewis and Clark expedition, started to explore the range, minerals and furs drove the initial economic exploitation of the mountains, although the range itself never became densely populated.
Currently, much of the mountain range is protected by public parks and forest lands, and is a popular tourist destination, especially for hiking, camping, mountaineering, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, skiing, and snowboarding.
The name of the mountains is a translation of an Amerindian name that is closely related to Algonquian; the Cree name "as-sin-wati", is given as, when seen from across the prairies, they looked like a rocky mass. The first mention of their present name by a European was in the journal of Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre in 1752, where they were called "Montagnes de Roche".
Interesting facts about the Rocky Mountains
- There are 77 mountain peaks over 12,000 feet high in the Rocky Mountains National Park
- Mount Elbert is the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains of North America.
- The length of the mountain range is a distance of around 3,000 miles (4,800 km).
- The Rocky Mountains extend across 8 states. The Mountain States are: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
- The nickname for the Rocky Mountains is “The Rockies”.
- There are 60 species of animals living in the Rocky Mountains.
- The Rocky Mountains are important habitat for a great deal of wildlife from herbivores, such as elk, moose, mule deer, mountain goat and bighorn sheep, to predators like cougar, Canada lynx, bobcat, black bear, grizzly bear, gray wolf, coyote, fox, and wolverine, along with a great variety of small mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians, numerous bird species, and tens of thousands of species of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates and soil organisms.
- The Western diamondback rattlesnake is the only poisonous snake in the Rocky Mountains.
The Rocky Mountains are commonly defined as stretching from the Liard River in British Columbia south to the Rio Grande in New Mexico.
The eastern edge of the Rockies rises dramatically above the Interior Plains of central North America, including the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico and Colorado, the Front Range of Colorado, the Wind River Range and Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, the Absaroka-Beartooth ranges and Rocky Mountain Front of Montana and the Clark Range of Alberta.
In Canada geographers define three main groups of ranges: the Continental Ranges, Hart Ranges and Muskwa Ranges (the latter two flank the Peace River, the only river to pierce the Rockies, and are collectively referred to as the Northern Rockies).
The western edge of the Rockies includes ranges such as the Wasatch near Salt Lake City and the Bitterroots along the Idaho-Montana border. The Great Basin and Columbia River Plateau separate these sub-ranges from distinct ranges further to the west, most prominent among which are the Sierra Nevada, Cascade Range and Coast Mountains.
The Rocky Mountains are notable for containing the highest peaks in central North America. The range's highest peak is Mount Elbert located in Colorado at 14,440 feet (4,401 m) above sea level. Mount Robson in British Columbia, at 12,972 feet (3,954 m), is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
The Continental Divide of the Americas is located in the Rocky Mountains and designates the line at which waters flow either to the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Triple Divide Peak (8,020 feet (2,440 m)) in Glacier National Park is so named because water that falls on the mountain reaches not only the Atlantic and Pacific, but Hudson Bay as well. Farther north in Alberta, the Athabasca and other rivers feed the basin of the Mackenzie River, which has its outlet on the Beaufort Sea of the Arctic Ocean. See Rivers of the Rocky Mountains for a list of rivers.
Human population is not very dense in the Rocky Mountains, with an average of four people per square kilometer and few cities with over 50,000 people. However, the human population grew rapidly in the Rocky Mountain states between 1950 and 1990.
The rocks in the Rocky Mountains were formed before the mountains were raised by tectonic forces. The oldest rock is Precambrian metamorphic rock that forms the core of the North American continent. There is also Precambrian sedimentary argillite, dating back to 1.7 billion years ago. During the Paleozoic, western North America lay underneath a shallow sea, which deposited many kilometers of limestone and dolomite.
In the southern Rocky Mountains, near present-day Colorado, these ancestral rocks were disturbed by mountain building approximately 300 Ma, during the Pennsylvanian.
Terranes started to collide with the western edge of North America in the Mississippian (approximately 350 million years ago), causing the Antler orogeny. For 270 million years, the effects of plate collisions were focused very near the edge of the North American plate boundary, far to the west of the Rocky Mountain region. It was not until 80 Ma that these effects began to reach the Rockies.
The current Rocky Mountains were raised in the Laramide orogeny from between 80 and 55 Ma. For the Canadian Rockies, the mountain building is like a rug being pushed on a hardwood floor: the rug bunches up and forms wrinkles (mountains). In Canada, the terranes and subduction are the foot pushing the rug, the ancestral rocks are the rug, and the Canadian Shield in the middle of the continent is the hardwood floor.
Further south, the growth of the Rocky Mountains in the United States was probably caused by an unusual subduction, where the Farallon plate dove at a shallow angle below the North American plate. Tremendous thrusts piled sheets of crust on top of each other, building the extraordinarily broad, high Rocky Mountain range.
The current southern Rockies were forced upwards through the layers of Pennsylvanian and Permian sedimentary remnants of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. Such sedimentary remnants were often tilted at steep angles along the flanks of the modern range; they are now visible in many places throughout the Rockies, and are prominently shown along the Dakota Hogback, an early Cretaceous sandstone formation that runs along the eastern flank of the modern Rockies.
Immediately after the Laramide orogeny, the Rockies were like Tibet: a high plateau, probably 6,000 metres (20,000 ft) above sea level. In the last 60 million years, erosion stripped away the high rocks, revealing the ancestral rocks beneath, and forming the current landscape of the Rockies.
Periods of glaciation occurred from the Pleistocene Epoch (1.8 million - 70,000 years ago) to the Holocene Epoch (fewer than 11,000 years ago). These ice ages left their mark on the Rockies, forming extensive glacial landforms, such as U-shaped valleys and cirques. Recent glacial episodes included the Bull Lake Glaciation that began about 150,000 years ago and the Pinedale Glaciation that probably remained at full glaciation until 15,000-20,000 years ago.
All of the geological processes, above, have left a complex set of rocks exposed at the surface.
Ecology and climate
There are a wide range of environmental factors in the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies range in latitude between the Liard River in British Columbia (at 59° N) and the Rio Grande in New Mexico (at 35° N). Prairie occurs at or below 1,800 feet (550 m), while the highest peak in the range is Mount Elbert at 14,440 feet (4,400 m). Rain ranges from 10 inches (250 mm) per year in the southern valleys to 60 inches (1,500 mm) per year locally in the northern peaks. Average January temperatures can range from 20 °F (−7 °C) in Prince George, British Columbia, to 43 °F (6 °C) in Trinidad, Colorado.
Ecologists divide the Rocky Mountain into a number of biotic zones. Each zone is defined by whether it can support trees, and the presence of one or more indicator species.
Two zones that do not support trees are the Plains and the Alpine tundra. The Great Plains lie to the east of the Rockies, and is characterized by prairie grasses (below roughly 1,800 feet (550 m)). Alpine tundra occurs in regions above the treeline for the Rocky Mountains, which varies from 12,000 feet (3,700 m) in New Mexico to 2,500 feet (760 m) at the northern end of the Rocky Mountains (near the Yukon).
The USGS defines ten forested zones in the Rocky Mountains. Zones in more southern, warmer, or drier areas are defined by the presence of pinyon pines/junipers, ponderosa pines, or oaks mixed with pines. In more northern, colder, or wetter areas, zones are defined by Douglas-firs, Cascadian species (such as western hemlock), lodgepole pines/quaking aspens, or firs mixed with spruce. Near treeline, zones can consist of white pines (such as whitebark pine or bristlecone pine); or a mixture of white pine, fir, and spruce that appear as shrub-like krummholz. Finally, rivers and canyons can create a unique forest zone in more arid parts of the mountain range.
The Rocky Mountains are an important habitat for a great deal of well-known wildlife, such as elk, moose, mule and white-tailed deer, pronghorn, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, badgers, black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, lynxes, and wolverines. For example, North America's largest herds of moose is in the Alberta-British Columbia foothills forests.
European-American settlement of the mountains has adversely impacted native species. Examples of some species that have declined include western toads, greenback cutthroat trout, white sturgeon, white-tailed ptarmigan, trumpeter swan, and bighorn sheep. In the United States portion of the mountain range, apex predators such as grizzly bears and gray wolves had been extirpated from their original ranges, but have partially recovered due to conservation measures and reintroduction. Other recovering species include the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon.
Since the last great Ice Age, the Rocky Mountains were home first to Paleo-Indians and then to the Native American tribes of the Apache, Arapaho, Bannock, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow, Flathead, Shoshoni, Sioux, Ute, Kutenai (Ktunaxa in Canada), Sekani, Dunne-za and others.
Paleo-Indians hunted the now-extinct mammoth and ancient bison (an animal 20% larger than modern bison) in the foothills and valleys of the mountains. Like the modern tribes that followed them, Paleo-Indians probably migrated to the plains in fall and winter for bison and to the mountains in spring and summer for fish, deer, elk, roots, and berries.
In Colorado, along the crest of the Continental Divide, rock walls that Native Americans built for driving game date back 5,400-5,800 years. A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that Native Americans had significant effects on mammal populations by hunting and on vegetation patterns through deliberate burning.
Recent human history of the Rocky Mountains is one of more rapid change.The Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado — with a group of soldiers, missionaries, and African slaves — marched into the Rocky Mountain region from the south in 1540. The introduction of the horse, metal tools, rifles, new diseases, and different cultures profoundly changed the Native American cultures. Native American populations were extirpated from most of their historical ranges by disease, warfare, habitat loss (eradication of the bison), and continued assaults on their culture.
In 1739, French fur traders Pierre and Paul Mallet, while journeying through the Great Plains, discovered a range of mountains at the headwaters of the Platte River, which local American Indian tribes called the "Rockies", becoming the first Europeans to report on this uncharted mountain range.
Sir Alexander MacKenzie (1764 - March 11, 1820) became the first European to cross the Rocky Mountains in 1793. He found the upper reaches of the Fraser River and reached what is now the Pacific coast of Canada on July 20 of that year, completing the first recorded transcontinental crossing of North America north of Mexico. He arrived at Bella Coola, British Columbia, where he first reached saltwater at South Bentinck Arm, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) was the first scientific reconnaissance of the Rocky Mountains. Specimens were collected for contemporary botanists, zoologists, and geologists. The expedition was said to have paved the way to (and through) the Rocky Mountains for European-Americans from the East, although Lewis and Clark met at least 11 European-American mountain men during their travels.
Mountain men, primarily French, Spanish, and British roamed the Rocky Mountains from 1720 to 1800 seeking mineral deposits and furs. The fur-trading Northwest Company established Rocky Mountain House as a trading post in what is now the Rocky Mountain foothills of Alberta in 1799, and their business rivals the Hudson's Bay Company established Acton House nearby. These posts served as bases for most European activity in the Canadian Rockies in the early 1800s, most notably the expeditions of David Thompson (explorer), the first European to follow the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. After 1802, American fur traders such as Kit Carson and explorers ushered in the first widespread caucasian presence in the Rockies south of the 49th parallel.
Thousands passed through the Rocky Mountains on the Oregon Trail beginning in 1842. The Mormons began to settle near the Great Salt Lake in 1847. From 1859 to 1864, Gold was discovered in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia sparking several gold rushes bringing thousands of prospectors and miners to explore every mountain and canyon and to create the Rocky Mountain's first major industry. The Idaho gold rush alone produced more gold than the California and Alaska gold rushes combined and was important in the financing of the Union Army during the American Civil War.
While settlers filled the valleys and mining towns, conservation and preservation ethics began to take hold. President Harrison established several forest reserves in the Rocky Mountains in 1891-1892. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt extended the Medicine Bow Forest Reserve to include the area now managed as Rocky Mountain National Park.
Economic development began to center on mining, forestry, agriculture, and recreation, as well as on the service industries that support them.. Tents and camps became ranches and farms, forts and train stations became towns, and some towns became cities.
Every year the scenic areas of the Rocky Mountains draw millions of tourists. The main language of the Rocky Mountains is English. But there are also linguistic pockets of Spanish and indigenous languages.
People from all over the world visit the sites to hike, camp, or engage in mountain sports. In the summer season, examples of tourist attractions are:
In the United States:
- Yellowstone National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
- Sawtooth National Recreation Area
- Flathead Lake
In Canada, the mountain range contains these national parks:
- Banff National Park
- Jasper National Park
- Kootenay National Park
- Waterton Lakes National Park
- Yoho National Park
Glacier National Park in Montana and Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta border each other and are collectively known as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
In the winter, skiing is the main attraction, with dozens of Rocky Mountain ski areas and resorts.
The adjacent Columbia Mountains in British Columbia contain major resorts such as Panorama and Kicking Horse, as well as Mount Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park.
There are numerous provincial parks in the British Columbia Rockies, the largest and most notable being Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, Mount Robson Provincial Park, Northern Rocky Mountains Provincial Park, Kwadacha Wilderness Provincial Park, Stone Mountain Provincial Park and Muncho Lake Provincial Park.
Rocky Mountains Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.