The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountain National Park (photo courtesy of NPS)
Rocky Mountain National Park (photo courtesy of NPS)

The Rocky Mountains, often called the Rockies, are a broad mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than 3000 miles (4800 km) from Alaska to New Mexico, extending through Canada and much of the breadth of the contiguous United States. The highest peak is Mount Elbert, in Colorado, which is 14,440 feet (4401 m) above sea level. Mount Robson (12,972 feet/3954 m) is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. The Rocky Mountain System is a United States physiographic region.


Geography and geology

Snowpack accumulation at 14,255 ft. on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park (photo courtesy of USDA).
Snowpack accumulation at 14,255 ft. on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park (photo courtesy of USDA).

The Rocky Mountains were created during what geologists call the Laramide orogeny during a period that started 70 million years ago and ended 30 million years ago. After the mountains were raised to nearly the height of the Himalaya today, part of western North America started to stretch, breaking up much of the south western part of the mountain plateau into horsts (ranges) and grabens (basins). This area is now called the Basin and Range Province.

On July 24, 1832, Benjamin Bonneville led the first wagon train across the Rocky Mountains by using Wyoming's South Pass.

The rivers that flow from the Rocky Mountains eventually drain into three of the world's five Oceans: the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean. These rivers include:

Tourism and Industry

Snowmelt runoff fills a reservoir in the Rocky Mountains near , Colorado.
Snowmelt runoff fills a reservoir in the Rocky Mountains near Dillon, Colorado.

Human population is not very dense in the Rocky Mountains, with an average of four people per square kilometer (2.5 per square mile) few cities with over 50,000 people. However, the region is an extremely popular tourist destination. People from all over the world visit the beautiful sights to hike, camp or engage in mountain sports. In the summer, main tourist attractions are

Canadian National Parks in the mountain range are

Glacier National Park (U.S.) and Waterton Lakes National Park border each other on the U.S./Canadian border and collectively are known as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. (See also International Peace Park.)

In the winter, skiing is the main attraction. The major ski resorts are:

(The adjacent Columbia Mountains in British Columbia and Idaho contain major resorts such as Schweitzer , Panorama and Kicking Horse .)

The main language is English. Major commercial activities are mining, ranching and tourism. The Climax mine, located near Leadville, Colorado, was the largest producer of Molybdenum in the world. Molybdenum is used in heat-resistant steel in such things as cars and planes. The Climax mine employed over 3,000 workers. The Coeur d’Alene mine of northern Idaho produces silver, lead, and zinc. Canada's largest coal mines are in the Crowsnest Coal Field near Sparwood, British Columbia and Elkford, British Columbia ; additional coal mines exist near Hinton, Alberta.


The Rocky Mountains have a highland climate. The average temperature in the Rockies per year is 43 F (6 C). July is the hottest month with an average temperature of 82 F (28 C). In January, the average monthly temperature is 7 F (−14 C), making it the coldest month in the Rockies. The average precipitation per year is approximately 14 inches (360 mm).

The summers in the Rockies are warm and dry, because the western fronts impede the advancing of water-carrying storm systems. The average temperature in summer is 59 F (15 C) and the average precipitation is 5.9 inches (150 mm). Winter is usually wet and very cold, with an average temperature of 28 F (−2 C) and average snowfall of 11.4 inches (29.0 cm). In spring, the average temperature is 40 F (4 C) and the average precipitation is 4.2 inches (107 mm). And in the fall, the average precipitation is 2.6 inches (66 mm) and the average temperature is 44 F (7 C).

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Last updated: 05-11-2005 05:06:34
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04