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The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major
mountain range A mountain range or hill range is a series of mountains or hills arranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with similarity in form, structure, and alignment that have arise ...

mountain range
and the largest mountain system in
North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the southeast by South America and the Car ...

North America
. The Rocky Mountains stretch in straight-line distance from the northernmost part of
western Canada Western Canada, also referred to as the Western provinces, Canadian West or the Western provinces of Canada, and commonly known within Canada as the West, is a list of regions of Canada, Canadian region that includes the four western provinces a ...
, to
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe, New Mexico, Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque, New Mexico, Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Albuquerque metropolitan area, Tiguex , Offi ...

New Mexico
in the
southwestern United States The Southwestern United States, also known as the American Southwest or simply the Southwest, is a geographic and cultural region of the United States that generally includes Arizona Arizona ( ; nv, Hoozdo Hahoodzo ; ood, Alĭ ṣonak ...
. Depending on differing definitions between
Canada Canada is a country in North America. Its Provinces and territories of Canada, ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering over , making it the world ...

Canada
and the U.S., its northern terminus is located either in northern
British Columbia British Columbia (commonly abbreviated as BC) is the westernmost Provinces and territories of Canada, province of Canada, situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. It has a diverse geography, with rugged landscapes that include ...

British Columbia
's
Terminal Range The Terminal Range is the northernmost mountain range of the Canadian Rockies, so-named for its position at the northern terminus of the Rockies. Lying west of Muncho Lake and the Trout River (British Columbia), Trout River, its northern perimete ...
south of the
Liard River The Liard River of the Boreal forest of Canada, North American boreal forest flows through Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, Canada. Rising in the Saint Cyr Range of the Pelly Mountains in southeastern Yukon, it flows sout ...

Liard River
and east of the Trench, or in the northeastern
foothill Foothills or piedmont are geography, geographically defined as gradual increases in elevation at the base of a mountain range, higher hill range or an highland, upland area. They are a transition zone between plains and low terrain, relief hill ...
s of the
Brooks Range The Brooks Range (Gwich’in language, Gwich'in: ''Gwazhał'') is a mountain range in far northern North America stretching some from west to east across northern Alaska into Canada's Yukon Territory. Reaching a peak elevation of on Mount Isto, ...

Brooks Range
/
British Mountains The British Mountains are a mountain range in Yukon Territory, Canada. They constitute some of the largest unglaciated mountain areas in Canada.https://yukon.ca/sites/yukon.ca/files/emr/emr-british-richardson-mountains.pdf References
that face the
Beaufort Sea The Beaufort Sea (; french: Mer de Beaufort, Iñupiaq language, Iñupiaq: ''Taġiuq'') is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, and west of Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Canada's A ...

Beaufort Sea
coasts between the Canning River and the
Firth River
Firth River
across the
Alaska Alaska ( ; russian: Аляска, Alyaska; ale, Alax̂sxax̂; ; ems, Alas'kaaq; Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, Yup'ik: ''Alaskaq''; tli, Anáaski) is a U.S. state, state located in the Western United States on the northwest extremity o ...

Alaska
-
Yukon Yukon (; ; formerly called Yukon Territory and also referred to as the Yukon) is the smallest and westernmost of Provinces and territories of Canada#Territories, Canada's three territories. It also is the second-least populated province or terr ...

Yukon
border. Its southernmost point is near the
Albuquerque Albuquerque ( ; ), ; kee, Arawageeki; tow, Vakêêke; zun, Alo:ke:k'ya; apj, Gołgéeki'yé. abbreviated ABQ, is the most populous city in the U.S. state of New Mexico. Its nicknames, The Duke City and Burque, both reference its founding in ...

Albuquerque
area Area is the quantity that expresses the extent of a region on the plane or on a curved surface. The area of a plane region or ''plane area'' refers to the area of a shape or planar lamina, while ''surface area'' refers to the area of an o ...
adjacent to the
Rio Grande rift The Rio Grande rift is a north-trending continental rift zone. It separates the Colorado Plateau in the west from the interior of the North American craton on the east. The rift extends from central Colorado in the north to the state of Chihuahu ...
and north of the Sandia–Manzano Mountain Range. Being the easternmost portion of the
North American Cordillera The North American Cordillera, sometimes also called the Western Cordillera of North America, the Western Cordillera or the Pacific Cordillera, is the North American portion of the American Cordillera, the mountain chain system (cordillera) alon ...
, the Rockies are distinct from the tectonically younger
Cascade Range The Cascade Range or Cascades is a major mountain range of western North America, extending from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to Northern California. It includes both non-volcanic mountains, such as the North Cascades, ...
and
Sierra Nevada The Sierra Nevada () is a mountain range in the Western United States, between the Central Valley (California), Central Valley of California and the Great Basin. The vast majority of the range lies in the state of California, although the Cars ...
, which both lie farther to its west. The Rockies formed 80 million to 55 million years ago during the
Laramide orogeny The Laramide orogeny was a time period of mountain building in western North America, which started in the Late Cretaceous, 70 to 80 million years ago, and ended 35 to 55 million years ago. The exact duration and ages of beginning and end of the o ...
, in which a number of plates began sliding underneath the
North American plate The North American Plate is a Plate tectonics, tectonic plate covering most of North America, Cuba, the Bahamas, extreme northeastern Asia, and parts of Iceland and Azores, the Azores. With an area of , it is the Earth's second largest tectonic p ...
. The angle of
subduction Subduction is a geological process in which the oceanic lithosphere is Geochemical cycle, recycled into the Earth's mantle at convergent boundary, convergent boundaries. Where the oceanic lithosphere of a tectonic plate converges with the less d ...

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 began inhabiting the mountain range. After explorations of the range by Europeans, such as Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and Anglo-Americans, such as the
Lewis and Clark Expedition The Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the United States expedition to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country after the Louisiana Purchase. The Corps of Discovery was a select gro ...
, natural resources such as minerals and fur drove the initial economic exploitation of the mountains, although the range itself never experienced a dense population. Of the 100 highest major peaks of the Rocky Mountains, 78 (including the 30 highest) are located in
Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. It encompasses most of the Southern Rocky Mountains, as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the wes ...

Colorado
, ten in
Wyoming Wyoming () is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. It is bordered by Montana to the north and northwest, South Dakota and Nebraska to the east, Idaho to the west, Utah to the south ...

Wyoming
, six in New Mexico, three in
Montana Montana () is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West List of regions of the United States#Census Bureau-designated regions and divisions, division of the Western United States. It is bordered by Idaho to the west, North ...

Montana
, and one each in
Utah Utah ( , ) is a state in the Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. Utah is a landlocked U.S. state bordered to its east by Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain states, Mountain West su ...

Utah
, British Columbia, and
Idaho Idaho ( ) is a U.S. state, state in the Pacific Northwest region of the Western United States. To the north, it shares a small portion of the Canada–United States border with the province of British Columbia. It borders the states of Monta ...

Idaho
. Of the 50 most prominent summits of the Rocky Mountains, 12 are located in British Columbia, 12 in Montana, ten in
Alberta Alberta ( ) is one of the thirteen provinces and territories of Canada, provinces and territories of Canada. It is part of Western Canada and is one of the three Canadian Prairies, prairie provinces. Alberta is bordered by British Columbia to t ...

Alberta
, eight in Colorado, four in Wyoming, three in Utah, three in Idaho, and one in New Mexico. Public parks and forest lands protect much of the mountain range, and they are popular tourist destinations, especially for hiking, camping, mountaineering, fishing, hunting,
mountain biking Mountain biking is a sport of riding bicycles off-road, often over rough terrain, usually using specially designed mountain bikes. Mountain bikes share similarities with other bikes but incorporate features designed to enhance durability and per ...

mountain biking
, snowmobiling, skiing, and snowboarding.


Etymology

The name of the mountains is a translation of an
Amerindian The Indigenous peoples of the Americas are the inhabitants of the Americas before the arrival of the European colonization of the Americas, European settlers in the 15th century, and the ethnic groups who now identify themselves with those peopl ...
Algonquian name, specifically
Cree The Cree ( cr, néhinaw, script=Latn, , etc.; french: link=no, Cri) are a Indigenous peoples of the Americas, North American Indigenous people. They live primarily in Canada, where they form one of the country's largest First Nations in Canada ...

Cree
', literally "rocky mountain". The first mention of their present name by a European was in the journal of
Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre (October 24, 1701 - September 8, 1755) was a Canadians, Canadian colonial military commander and explorer who held posts throughout North America in the 18th century, just before and during the French and Indian ...
in 1752, where they were called "'".


Geography

The Rocky Mountains are the easternmost portion of the expansive
North American Cordillera The North American Cordillera, sometimes also called the Western Cordillera of North America, the Western Cordillera or the Pacific Cordillera, is the North American portion of the American Cordillera, the mountain chain system (cordillera) alon ...
. They are often defined as stretching from the
Liard River The Liard River of the Boreal forest of Canada, North American boreal forest flows through Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, Canada. Rising in the Saint Cyr Range of the Pelly Mountains in southeastern Yukon, it flows sout ...

Liard River
in
British Columbia British Columbia (commonly abbreviated as BC) is the westernmost Provinces and territories of Canada, province of Canada, situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. It has a diverse geography, with rugged landscapes that include ...

British Columbia
south to the headwaters of the
Pecos River The Pecos River ( es, Río Pecos) originates in north-central New Mexico and flows into Texas, emptying into the Rio Grande. Its headwaters are on the eastern slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Mora County ...

Pecos River
, a tributary of the
Rio Grande The Rio Grande ( and ), known in Mexico as the Río Bravo del Norte or simply the Río Bravo, is one of the principal rivers (along with the Colorado River) in the southwestern United States and in northern Mexico. The length of the Rio G ...

Rio Grande
, in New Mexico. The Rockies vary in width from . The Rocky Mountains contain the highest peaks in central North America. The range's highest peak is
Mount Elbert Mount Elbert is the List of mountain peaks of the Rocky Mountains#Highest prominent summits, highest summit of the Rocky Mountains, the highest point in the U.S. state of Colorado, and the second-highest summit in the contiguous United States (a ...

Mount Elbert
located in Colorado at above sea level.
Mount Robson Mount Robson is the most topographic prominence, prominent mountain in North America's Rocky Mountains, Rocky Mountain mountain range, range; it is also the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. The mountain is located entirely within Mount Rob ...

Mount Robson
in British Columbia, at , is the highest peak in the
Canadian Rockies The Canadian Rockies (french: Rocheuses canadiennes) or Canadian Rocky Mountains, comprising both the Alberta's Rockies, Alberta Rockies and the British Columbian Rockies, is the Canada, Canadian segment of the North American Rocky Mountains. I ...

Canadian Rockies
. The eastern edge of the Rockies rises dramatically above the
Interior Plains The Interior Plains is a vast Physiographic province, physiographic region that spreads across the Laurentia, Laurentian craton of central North America, extending along the east flank of the Rocky Mountains from the Gulf Coast region to the Arcti ...
of central North America, including the
Sangre de Cristo Mountains The Sangre de Cristo Mountains ( Spanish for "Blood of Christ Blood of Christ, also known as the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in Christian theology refers to (a) the physical blood actually shed by Jesus Christ primarily on the ...

Sangre de Cristo Mountains
of
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe, New Mexico, Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque, New Mexico, Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Albuquerque metropolitan area, Tiguex , Offi ...

New Mexico
and
Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. It encompasses most of the Southern Rocky Mountains, as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the wes ...

Colorado
, the
Front Range The Front Range is a mountain range of the Southern Rocky Mountains of North America located in the central portion of the U.S. Colorado, State of Colorado, and southeastern portion of the U.S. Wyoming, State of Wyoming. It is the first mountain ...
of Colorado, the
Wind River Range The Wind River Range (or "Winds" for short) is a mountain range A mountain range or hill range is a series of mountains or hills arranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain r ...
and of
Wyoming Wyoming () is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. It is bordered by Montana to the north and northwest, South Dakota and Nebraska to the east, Idaho to the west, Utah to the south ...

Wyoming
, the Absaroka- Beartooth ranges and Rocky Mountain Front of
Montana Montana () is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West List of regions of the United States#Census Bureau-designated regions and divisions, division of the Western United States. It is bordered by Idaho to the west, North ...

Montana
and the Clark Range of
Alberta Alberta ( ) is one of the thirteen provinces and territories of Canada, provinces and territories of Canada. It is part of Western Canada and is one of the three Canadian Prairies, prairie provinces. Alberta is bordered by British Columbia to t ...

Alberta
. Central ranges of the Rockies include the
La Sal Range The La Sal Mountains or La Sal Range are a mountain range located in Grand County, Utah, Grand and San Juan County, Utah, San Juan counties in the U.S. state of Utah, along the border with Colorado. The range rises above and southeast of Moab, Ut ...
along the
Utah Utah ( , ) is a state in the Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. Utah is a landlocked U.S. state bordered to its east by Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain states, Mountain West su ...

Utah
-Colorado border, the
Abajo Mountains The Abajo Mountains, sometimes referred to as the Blue Mountains, is a small mountain range west of Monticello, Utah, south of Canyonlands National Park Canyonlands National Park is an American national park located in southeastern Utah near t ...
and
Henry Mountains The Henry Mountains is a mountain range located in the southeastern portion of the U.S. state of Utah that runs in a generally north-south direction, extending over a distance of about . They were named by Almon Thompson in honor of Joseph Henry, ...
of Southeastern Utah, the
Uinta Range The Uinta Mountains ( ) are an east-west trending chain A chain is a wikt:series#Noun, serial assembly of connected pieces, called links, typically made of metal, with an overall character similar to that of a rope in that it is flexible a ...

Uinta Range
of Utah and Wyoming, and the
Teton Range The Teton Range is a mountain range of the Rocky Mountains in North America. It extends for approximately in a north–south direction through the U.S. state of Wyoming, east of the Idaho state line. It is south of Yellowstone National Park and ...

Teton Range
of Wyoming and Idaho. The western edge of the Rockies includes ranges such as the Wasatch near
Salt Lake City Salt Lake City (often shortened to Salt Lake and abbreviated as SLC) is the Capital (political), capital and List of cities and towns in Utah, most populous city of Utah, United States. It is the county seat, seat of Salt Lake County, Utah, Sal ...

Salt Lake City
, the
San Juan Mountains The San Juan Mountains is a high and rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. The area is highly mineralized (the Colorado Mineral Belt) and figured in the gold and silver mining industry ...

San Juan Mountains
of New Mexico and Colorado, the Bitterroots along the Idaho-Montana border, and the Sawtooths in central Idaho. The
Great Basin The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic basin, endorheic watersheds, those with no outlets, in North America. It spans nearly all of Nevada, much of Utah, and portions of California, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, and Baja California ...
and
Columbia River Plateau The Columbia Plateau is a geology, geologic and geography, geographic region that lies across parts of the U.S. states of Washington (state), Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. It is a wide flood basalt plateau between the Cascade Range and the Rock ...
separate these subranges from distinct ranges further to the west. In Canada, the western edge of the Rockies is formed by the huge
Rocky Mountain Trench The Rocky Mountain Trench, also known as the Valley of a Thousand Peaks or simply the Trench, is a large valley on the western side of the northern part of North America, North America's Rocky Mountains. The Trench is both visually and cartog ...
, which runs the length of
British Columbia British Columbia (commonly abbreviated as BC) is the westernmost Provinces and territories of Canada, province of Canada, situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. It has a diverse geography, with rugged landscapes that include ...

British Columbia
from its beginning as the Kechika Valley on the south bank of the
Liard River The Liard River of the Boreal forest of Canada, North American boreal forest flows through Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, Canada. Rising in the Saint Cyr Range of the Pelly Mountains in southeastern Yukon, it flows sout ...

Liard River
, to the middle
Lake Koocanusa Lake Koocanusa () is a reservoir in British Columbia (Canada) and Montana (United States) formed by the damming of the Kootenay River, Kootenai River by the Libby Dam in 1972. The Dam was formally dedicated by President Gerald Ford on August 24, 1 ...

Lake Koocanusa
valley in northwestern Montana. The Canadian Rockies are defined by Canadian geographers as everything south of the
Liard River The Liard River of the Boreal forest of Canada, North American boreal forest flows through Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, Canada. Rising in the Saint Cyr Range of the Pelly Mountains in southeastern Yukon, it flows sout ...

Liard River
and east of the
Rocky Mountain Trench The Rocky Mountain Trench, also known as the Valley of a Thousand Peaks or simply the Trench, is a large valley on the western side of the northern part of North America, North America's Rocky Mountains. The Trench is both visually and cartog ...
, and do not extend into
Yukon Yukon (; ; formerly called Yukon Territory and also referred to as the Yukon) is the smallest and westernmost of Provinces and territories of Canada#Territories, Canada's three territories. It also is the second-least populated province or terr ...

Yukon
,
Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories (abbreviated ''NT'' or ''NWT''; french: Territoires du Nord-Ouest, formerly ''North-Western Territory'' and ''North-West Territories'' and namely shortened as ''Northwest Territory'') is a federal provinces and territo ...

Northwest Territories
or central
British Columbia British Columbia (commonly abbreviated as BC) is the westernmost Provinces and territories of Canada, province of Canada, situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. It has a diverse geography, with rugged landscapes that include ...

British Columbia
. They are divided into three main groups: the
Muskwa Ranges The Muskwa Ranges are a group of mountain ranges in northern British Columbia, Canada. They are part of the Northern Rockies section of the Rocky Mountains and are bounded on their west by the Rocky Mountain Trench and on their east by the Rocky ...
, Hart Ranges (collectively called the Northern Rockies) and Continental Ranges. Other more northerly mountain ranges of the eastern Canadian Cordillera continue beyond the Liard River valley, including the Selwyn,
Mackenzie Mackenzie, Mckenzie, MacKenzie, or McKenzie may refer to: People * Mackenzie (given name), a given name (including a list of people with the name) * Mackenzie (surname), a surname (including a list of people with the name) * Clan Mackenzie, a Sco ...

Mackenzie
and
Richardson Mountains The Richardson Mountains are a mountain range located west of the mouth of the Mackenzie River in northern Yukon, Canada. They parallel the northernmost part of the boundary between Yukon and Northwest Territories. Although some sources consider ...

Richardson Mountains
in Yukon as well as the
British Mountains The British Mountains are a mountain range in Yukon Territory, Canada. They constitute some of the largest unglaciated mountain areas in Canada.https://yukon.ca/sites/yukon.ca/files/emr/emr-british-richardson-mountains.pdf References
/
Brooks Range The Brooks Range (Gwich’in language, Gwich'in: ''Gwazhał'') is a mountain range in far northern North America stretching some from west to east across northern Alaska into Canada's Yukon Territory. Reaching a peak elevation of on Mount Isto, ...

Brooks Range
in
Alaska Alaska ( ; russian: Аляска, Alyaska; ale, Alax̂sxax̂; ; ems, Alas'kaaq; Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, Yup'ik: ''Alaskaq''; tli, Anáaski) is a U.S. state, state located in the Western United States on the northwest extremity o ...

Alaska
, but those are not officially recognized as part of the Rockies by the
Geological Survey of Canada The Geological Survey of Canada (GSC; french: Commission géologique du Canada (CGC)) is a Canadian federal government agency responsible for performing geological surveys of the country, developing Canada's natural resources and protecting the e ...

Geological Survey of Canada
, although the
Geological Society of America The Geological Society of America (GSA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of the geosciences. History The society was founded in Ithaca, New York, in 1888 by Alexander Winchell, John J. Stevenson, Charles Henry Hitch ...
definition does consider them parts of the Rocky Mountains system as the "Arctic Rockies". The
Continental Divide of the Americas The Continental Divide of the Americas (also known as the Great Divide, the Western Divide or simply the Continental Divide; ) is the principal, and largely mountainous, hydrological divide of the Americas. The Continental Divide extends from th ...
is located in the Rocky Mountains and designates the line at which waters flow either to the
Atlantic The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's five oceans, with an area of about . It covers approximately 20% of Earth's surface and about 29% of its water surface area. It is known to separate the " Old World" of Africa, Europe ...

Atlantic
or Pacific Oceans. Triple Divide Peak () in Glacier National Park is so named because water falling on the mountain reaches not only the Atlantic and Pacific but
Hudson Bay Hudson Bay ( crj, text=ᐐᓂᐯᒄ, translit=Wînipekw; crl, text=ᐐᓂᐹᒄ, translit=Wînipâkw; iu, text=ᑲᖏᖅᓱᐊᓗᒃ ᐃᓗᐊ, translit=Kangiqsualuk ilua or iu, text=ᑕᓯᐅᔭᕐᔪᐊᖅ, translit=Tasiujarjuaq; french: b ...
as well. Farther north in Alberta, the and other rivers feed the basin of the , which has its outlet on the
Beaufort Sea The Beaufort Sea (; french: Mer de Beaufort, Iñupiaq language, Iñupiaq: ''Taġiuq'') is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, and west of Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Canada's A ...

Beaufort Sea
of the Arctic Ocean. Human population is not very dense in the Rockies, 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 forty-year statewide increases in population range from 35% in Montana to about 150% in Utah and Colorado. The populations of several mountain towns and communities have doubled in the forty years 1972–2012.
Jackson, Wyoming Jackson is a town in Teton County, Wyoming, United States. The population was 10,760 at the 2020 United States census, 2020 census, up from 9,577 in 2010. It is the largest town in Teton County and its county seat. Jackson is the principal town of ...
, increased 260%, from 1,244 to 4,472 residents, in those forty years.


Geology

The rocks in the Rocky Mountains were formed before the mountains were raised by tectonic forces. The oldest rock is
Precambrian The Precambrian (or Pre-Cambrian, sometimes abbreviated pꞒ, or Cryptozoic) is the earliest part of Earth's history, set before the current Phanerozoic Eon. The Precambrian is so named because it preceded the Cambrian, the first period of t ...

Precambrian
metamorphic rock Metamorphic rocks arise from the transformation of existing rock to new types of rock in a process called metamorphism. The original rock ( protolith) is subjected to temperatures greater than and, often, elevated pressure of or more, cau ...

metamorphic rock
that forms the core of the North American continent. There is also Precambrian sedimentary
argillite :''"Argillite" may also refer to Argillite, Kentucky.'' Argillite () is a fine-grained sedimentary rock composed predominantly of Friability, indurated clay particles. Argillaceous rocks are basically lithified muds and Pelagic sediment, oozes. T ...
, dating back to 1.7 billion years ago. During the
Paleozoic The Paleozoic (or Palaeozoic) Era is the earliest of three era (geology), geologic eras of the Phanerozoic Eon. The name ''Paleozoic'' ( ;) was coined by the British geologist Adam Sedgwick in 1838 by combining the Ancient Greek, Greek words ' ...
, western North America lay underneath a shallow sea, which deposited many kilometers of
limestone Limestone (calcium carbonate ) is a type of carbonate rock, carbonate sedimentary rock which is the main source of the material Lime_(material), lime. It is composed mostly of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different Polymorphis ...

limestone
and dolomite. In the southern Rockies, near present-day Colorado, these ancestral rocks were disturbed by mountain building approximately 300  Ma, during the Pennsylvanian (geology), Pennsylvanian. This mountain-building produced the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. They consisted largely of Precambrian metamorphic rock forced upward through layers of the limestone laid down in the shallow sea. The mountains eroded throughout the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic Era, Mesozoic, leaving extensive deposits of sedimentary rock. Terranes began colliding with the western edge of North America in the Mississippian age, Mississippian (approximately 350 million years ago), causing the Antler orogeny. For 270 million years, the focus of the effects of plate collisions were near the edge of the North American plate boundary, far to the west of the Rocky Mountain region. It was not until 80 Ma these effects began reaching the Rockies. The current Rocky Mountains arose in the
Laramide orogeny The Laramide orogeny was a time period of mountain building in western North America, which started in the Late Cretaceous, 70 to 80 million years ago, and ended 35 to 55 million years ago. The exact duration and ages of beginning and end of the o ...
from between 80 and 55 Ma. For the Canadian Rockies, the mountain building is analogous to pushing a rug 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, an unusual subduction may have caused the growth of the Rocky Mountains in the United States, where the Farallon plate dove at a shallow angle below the
North American plate The North American Plate is a Plate tectonics, tectonic plate covering most of North America, Cuba, the Bahamas, extreme northeastern Asia, and parts of Iceland and Azores, the Azores. With an area of , it is the Earth's second largest tectonic p ...
. This low angle moved the focus of melting and mountain building much farther inland than the normal . Scientists hypothesize that the shallow angle of the subducting plate increased the friction and other interactions with the thick continental mass above it. Tremendous Thrust fault, thrusts piled sheets of crust on top of each other, building the 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 shown along the Dakota Hogback, an early Cretaceous sandstone formation running along the eastern flank of the modern Rockies. Just after the Laramide orogeny, the Rockies were like Tibetan Plateau, Tibet: a high plateau, probably above sea level. In the last sixty 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 Glacier, glacial landforms, such as U-shaped valleys and cirques. Recent glacial episodes included the Bull Lake Glaciation, which began about 150,000 years ago, and the Pinedale Glaciation, which perhaps remained at full glaciation until 15,000–20,000 years ago. All of these geological processes exposed a complex set of rocks at the surface. For example, volcanic rock from the Paleogene and Neogene periods (66 million – 2.6 million years ago) occurs in the San Juan Mountains and in other areas. Millennia of severe erosion in the Wyoming Basin transformed intermountain basins into a relatively flat terrain. The Tetons and other north-central ranges contain folded and faulted rocks of Paleozoic and Mesozoic age draped above cores of Proterozoic and Archean igneous and metamorphic rocks ranging in age from 1.2 billion (e.g., Tetons) to more than 3.3 billion years (Beartooth Mountains).


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 , while the highest peak in the range is
Mount Elbert Mount Elbert is the List of mountain peaks of the Rocky Mountains#Highest prominent summits, highest summit of the Rocky Mountains, the highest point in the U.S. state of Colorado, and the second-highest summit in the contiguous United States (a ...

Mount Elbert
at . Precipitation ranges from per year in the southern valleys to per year locally in the northern peaks. Average January temperatures can range from in Prince George, British Columbia, to in Trinidad, Colorado. Therefore, there is not a single monolithic ecosystem for the entire Rocky Mountain Range. Instead, ecologists divide the Rockies into a number of life zones, 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 ). Alpine tundra occurs in regions above the tree-line for the Rocky Mountains, which varies from in New Mexico to at the northern end of the Rockies (near the Yukon). The U.S. Geological Survey defines ten forested zones in the Rockies. 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, Cascade range, Cascadian species (such as western hemlock), lodgepole pines/quaking aspens, or firs mixed with spruce. Near tree-line, zones can consist of white pines (such as Pinus albicaulis, 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 wolf, wolves, Rocky Mountain elk, elk, western moose, moose, mule deer, mule and white-tailed deer, pronghorn, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, American badger, badgers, American black bear, black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, Canada lynx, lynxes, North American cougar, cougars, and wolverines. North America's largest herds of moose are in the Alberta–British Columbia foothills forests. The status of most species in the Rocky Mountains is unknown, due to incomplete information. 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 U.S. portion of the mountain range, apex predators such as grizzly bears and wolf packs had been Local extinction, extirpated from their original ranges, but have partially recovered due to conservation measures and Wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone, reintroduction. Other recovering species include the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon.


History


Indigenous people

Since the last great ice age, the Rocky Mountains were home first to Indigenous peoples of the Americas, indigenous peoples including the Apache, Arapaho, Bannock (tribe), Bannock, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Coeur d'Alene people, Coeur d'Alene, Kalispel, Crow Nation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation, Flathead, Shoshone, Lakota people, Sioux, Ute Tribe, Ute, Ktunaxa Kinbasket Tribal Council, 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 with 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 indigenous people had significant effects on mammal populations by hunting and on vegetation patterns through deliberate burning.


European exploration

Recent human history of the Rocky Mountains is one of more rapid change. The Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado—with a group of soldiers and missionaries marched into the Rocky Mountain region from the south in 1540. In 1610, the Spanish founded the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Santa Fe, the oldest continuous seat of government in the United States, at the foot of the Rockies in present-day New Mexico. 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 Native Americans in the United States, American Indian tribes called the "Rockies", becoming the first Europeans to report on this uncharted mountain range. Alexander Mackenzie (explorer), 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 the Pacific coast of what is now 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 The Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the United States expedition to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country after the Louisiana Purchase. The Corps of Discovery was a select gro ...
(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 man, Mountain men, primarily French, Spanish, and British, roamed the Rocky Mountains from 1720 to 1800 seeking mineral deposits and furs. The fur-trading North West Company established Rocky Mountain House as a trading post in what is now the Rocky Mountain Foothills of present-day
Alberta Alberta ( ) is one of the thirteen provinces and territories of Canada, provinces and territories of Canada. It is part of Western Canada and is one of the three Canadian Prairies, prairie provinces. Alberta is bordered by British Columbia to t ...

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 19th century. Among the most notable are the expeditions of David Thompson (explorer), David Thompson, who followed the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. On his 1811 expedition, he camped at the junction of the Columbia River and the Snake River and erected a pole and notice claiming the area for the United Kingdom and stating the intention of the North West Company to build a fort at the site. By the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, which established the 49th parallel north as the international boundary west from Lake of the Woods to the "Stony Mountains"; the UK and the USA agreed to what has since been described as "joint occupancy" of lands further west to the Pacific Ocean. Resolution of the territorial and treaty issues, the Oregon dispute, was deferred until a later time. In 1819, Spain ceded their rights north of the 42nd Parallel to the United States, though these rights did not include possession and also included obligations to Britain and Russia concerning their claims in the same region.


Settlement

After 1802, fur traders and explorers ushered in the first widespread American presence in the Rockies south of the 49th parallel. The more famous of these include William Henry Ashley, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, John Colter, Thomas Fitzpatrick (trapper), Thomas Fitzpatrick, Andrew Henry (fur trader), Andrew Henry, and Jedediah Smith. On July 24, 1832, Benjamin Bonneville led the first wagon train across the Rocky Mountains by using South Pass (Wyoming), South Pass in the present State of Wyoming. Similarly, in the wake of Mackenzie's 1793 expedition, fur trading posts were established west of the Northern Rockies in a region of the northern Interior Plateau of British Columbia which came to be known as New Caledonia (Canada), New Caledonia, beginning with McLeod Lake, Fort McLeod (today's community of McLeod Lake) and Fort Fraser, British Columbia, Fort Fraser, but ultimately focused on Stuart Lake Post (today's Fort St. James). Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the United States over the next few decades failed to settle upon a compromise boundary and the Oregon Dispute became important in geopolitical diplomacy between the British Empire and the new American Republic. In 1841, James Sinclair (fur trapper), James Sinclair, Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, guided some 200 settlers from the Red River Colony west to bolster settlement around Fort Vancouver in an attempt to retain the Columbia District for Britain. The party crossed the Rockies into the Columbia Valley, a region of the Rocky Mountain Trench near present-day Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia, then traveled south. Despite such efforts, in 1846, Britain ceded all claim to Columbia District lands south of the 49th parallel to the United States; as resolution to the Oregon boundary dispute by the Oregon Treaty. Thousands passed through the Rocky Mountains on the Oregon Trail beginning in the 1840s. The Mormons began settling 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 Mountains' 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. The transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, and Yellowstone National Park was established as the world's first national park in 1872. Meanwhile, a transcontinental railroad in Canada was originally promised in 1871. Though political complications pushed its completion to 1885, the Canadian Pacific Railway eventually followed the Kicking Horse Pass, Kicking Horse and Rogers Pass (British Columbia), Rogers Passes to the Pacific Ocean. Canadian railway officials also convinced Parliament of Canada, Parliament to set aside vast areas of the Canadian Rockies as Jasper National Park, Jasper, Banff National Park, Banff, Yoho National Park, Yoho, and Waterton Lakes National Park, Waterton Lakes National Parks, laying the foundation for a tourism industry which thrives to this day. Glacier National Park (MT) was established with a similar relationship to tourism promotions by the Great Northern Railway (U.S.), Great Northern Railway. While settlers filled the valleys and mining towns, conservation and preservation ethics began to take hold. U.S. Benjamin Harrison, President Harrison established several forest reserves in the Rocky Mountains in 1891–1892. In 1905, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt extended the Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest, 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.


Economy


Industry and development

Economic resources of the Rocky Mountains are varied and abundant. Minerals found in the Rocky Mountains include significant deposits of copper, gold, lead, molybdenum, silver, tungsten, and zinc. The Wyoming Basin and several smaller areas contain significant reserves of coal, natural gas, oil shale, and petroleum. For example, the Climax, Colorado, Climax mine, located near Leadville, Colorado, 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, Idaho, Coeur d'Alene mine of northern Idaho produces silver, lead, and zinc. Canada's largest coal mines are near Fernie, British Columbia and Sparwood, British Columbia; additional coal mines exist near Hinton, Alberta, Hinton, Alberta, and in the Northern Rockies surrounding Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. Abandoned mines with their wakes of mine tailings and toxic wastes dot the Rocky Mountain landscape. In one major example, eighty years of zinc mining profoundly polluted the river and bank near Eagle River (Colorado), Eagle River in north-central Colorado. High concentrations of the metal carried by spring runoff harmed algae, moss, and trout populations. An economic analysis of mining effects at this site revealed declining property values, degraded water quality, and the loss of recreational opportunities. The analysis also revealed that cleanup of the river could yield $2.3 million in additional revenue from recreation. In 1983, the former owner of the zinc mine was sued by the Colorado Attorney General for the $4.8 million cleanup costs; five years later, ecological recovery was considerable. The Rocky Mountains contain several sedimentary basins that are rich in coalbed methane. Coalbed methane is natural gas that arises from coal, either through bacterial action or through exposure to high temperature. Coalbed methane supplies 7 percent of the natural gas used in the U.S. The largest coalbed methane sources in the Rocky Mountains are in the San Juan Basin in New Mexico and Colorado and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. These two basins are estimated to contain 38 trillion cubic feet of gas. Coalbed methane can be recovered by dewatering the coal bed, and separating the gas from the water; or injecting water to fracture the coal to release the gas (so-called hydraulic fracturing). Agriculture and forestry are major industries. Agriculture includes dryland and irrigated farming and livestock grazing. Livestock are frequently moved between high-elevation summer pastures and low-elevation winter pastures, a practice known as transhumance.


Tourism

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 of Canada, 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 List of ski areas and resorts in the United States#Rocky Mountains, Rocky Mountain ski areas and resorts. The adjacent Columbia Mountains in British Columbia contain major resorts such as Panorama Mountain Resort, Panorama and Kicking Horse Resort, Kicking Horse, as well as Mount Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park. There are numerous List of provincial parks in British Columbia, 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.


See also

* Al Hajar Mountains, Arabian Rocky Mountains * Wind River Range#Hazards, Hazards in the Wind River Range * List of mountain peaks of the Rocky Mountains * Little Rocky Mountains, mountain range in north-central Montana * Rocky Mountains subalpine zone * Southern Rocky Mountains


Notes


References


Further reading

* *


External links


Colorado Rockies Forests ecoregion images at bioimages.vanderbilt.edu


([http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/ecoregions/50518.htm slow modem version])
South Central Rockies Forests ecoregion images at bioimages.vanderbilt.edu

Sunset on the Top of the Rocky Mountains, CO, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
{{Authority control Rocky Mountains, History of the Rocky Mountains Mountain ranges of Alberta, Mountain ranges of British Columbia, Mountain ranges of Colorado, Mountain ranges of Idaho, Mountain ranges of Montana, Mountain ranges of New Mexico, Mountain ranges of Utah, Mountain ranges of Wyoming, Geography of the Western United States Physiographic regions of Canada Physiographic regions of the United States Great Divide of North America