Who Hasn’t Heard of The Rockies?
The Rocky Mountains are without a doubt one of the most famous mountain ranges in North America. Popularly known as the Rockies, these mountains have been made known to the rest of the old not only thanks to geography lessons but also thanks to the TV shows and movies which have often used the mountains for one purpose or another. Whether it is for their geography, ecology, or history, the Rockies are a source of knowledge, fun, and – most likely – inspiration.
The Rocky Mountains got their name from the Cree Amerindian “as-sin-wati”- a description of the mountains informing that when seen from across the prairies the mountains look like a mass of rock. The translation was made by Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, who called the range “Montagnes de Roche”
Before & Now
The Rockies may appear as an old bunch for those who are not familiarized with mountains-they began emerging 80 million years ago. That being said, they are young compared to the Laurentian Mountains (Canada, around Quebec), which are 1,1 billion years, as well as other mountains in North America and other parts of the world.
The Rockies are quite big, stretching around 3,000 miles (4800 km) from British Columbia (Canada) to New Mexico (the U.S., near California). More specifically, the mountains stretch from the Liard River of British Columbia to the Rio Grande of New Mexico. The Absaroka-Beartooth (Montana), Big Horn Mountains (Wyoming), Clark Range (Alberta), Wind River Range (Wyoming), and Sangre de Cristo Mountains (New Mexico and Colorado) are major rages in the United States. In Canada, the Rocky Mountains can be found in Alberta and British Columbia. The most important ranges are the Continental Ranges, Hart Ranges, and Muskwa Ranges.
The Rocky Mountains are very tall compared to many mountain ranges in North America and the world. For instance, the well-known Mount Elbert peak is 14,440 feet (4,401 m) above sea level. This peak is located in Colorado, not very far from the second and the third highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The second highest peak is no less than 14, 429 ft (4398 m) and for some reason is called Mount Massive. The third highest peak is Mount Harvard which has an elevation of 14,431 ft (4395 m). The highest peak in the Canadian Rockies is the also well-known Mount Robson which has an elevation of 12,972 feet (3,954 m).
The Rockies contain rocks that were formed before the rise of the mountains, including the Precambrian metamorphic rock (metamorphic rock developed from the transformations of an existing rock type; the name “Precambrian” refers to a very early part of the Earth’s history, before the Cambrian period-which corresponds to the first period of the Phanerozoic eon; the name might sound confusing and most of you would probably not guess that is the Latinized name for Wales, as the rocks formed during this period were first studied in Wales). The Rocky Mountains also include Precambrian sedimentary argillite (a fine-grained sedimentary rock) as well as limestone (a sedimentary rock that is mainly composed of fragments of marine organisms) and dolomite (a carbonate mineral).
The Rockies that we see today raised as a consequence of tectonic movements between 80 and 55 million years ago. The shape that the mountains currently have was dramatically influenced by glaciers, including the Jackson Glacier (Montana, U.S.). The oldest ice age that marked the history of the Rocky Mountains began about 1.8 million years ago while the last ice age ended about 11,000 years. Among the most notable marks of the ice age are the U-shaped cirques and valleys that can be found across the Rockies (they had a V-shape before, do you think you would prefer them that way?).
The Rocky Mountains are relatively diverse in terms of climate and ecology. This variety is mostly provided by the differences in altitude and latitude. For instance, the average temperatures in January vary from 20 °F (−7 °C) in Prince George (British Columbia, Canada) to 43 °F (6 °C) in Trinidad (Colorado, U.S.). Precipitations also vary, as it rains and snows more often in the Northern peaks. These climate differences have contributed to the development of several life zones, that is, different zones that can support the lives of specific species.
One particularly simple way of differentiating between different life zones of the Rockies is to separate them into three categories: montane, subalpine, and alpine. The montane zone can be recognized by the abundance of douglas-fir, grasses, limber pine, lodgepole pine, and white spruce. This ecoregion tends to be warmer and includes relatively long snow-free periods during the winter.
The subalpine region can be recognized by the presence of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. While the exact altitude at which this zone appears varies depending on location, it tends to start after 5,500 ft (1676 m). In most cases, the higher you go across the subalpine life zone the less likely is that you will see trees and the more likely is that you will see mostly heather and willow. The subalpine region receives abundant snow during winter and in this regard is above both the montane and the alpine regions.
The alpine region starts where heather, wildflowers, and willows begin. While most of the plants you will see in the alpine region are perennials or prostrate shrubs, they include many species that you might expect, as many as 400. Even though there is no black-and-white limit that separates the alpine from the subalpine zone, it is generally agreed that the alpine zone starts where the average annual temperature for the warmest month is no more than 50°F (10°C).
Since the Rockies are relatively diverse in terms of climate, they are a great host for many different types of wildlife. Some of the most famous beings are the badger, bighorn sheep, black bear, coyote, grizzly bear, lynx, and wolverine. Unfortunately, many people find fun in admiring these species without being concerned of their faith on the long run, something which is perhaps reflected in the fact that the status of the majority of species is unclear despite the fact that many species have been negatively impacted by human activity.
Humans in the Rocky Mountains
While many parts of the Rocky Mountains may seem unfriendly to people, the mountains have been considered home to different people for centuries ago, including the Apache, Crow Nation, Kutenai, Sioux, Shoshone, and Ute, among others. There are important reasons why early inhabitants of the Rockies did not consider the mountains to be inhospitable. The Rockies offered them bison, deer, fish, roots, and more. They likely survived the cold winters by migrating to the plains, using the mountains only during the warmer seasons.
The first known European to visit the Rocky Mountains was Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, a Spanish explorer that entered the region in 1540. Unfortunately, he was not the great type of visitor one would expect, as he brought new diseases and contributed to the eradication of the bison (or at least these are some of the things brought by those who followed him). The first European to cross the mountains was Sir Alexander MacKenzie, a Scottish explorer who reached the Pacific coast in 1793.
In time, the Rockies became an important trading post for fur, something which boosted the number of people who decided to settle in the mountains. The first wagon train across the mountains was led by Benjamin Bonneville, who used the South Pass (Wyoming), Other famous explorers and traders of the era include Andrew Henry, Jim Bridger, John Colter, and William Henry Ashley. Later, starting in 1859, the discovery of gold in British Columbia, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana brought additional miners and prospectors that sought to explore the mountains and become wealthy. The gold rushes marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the Rocky Mountains.
The second half of the 19th century marked several important events that made the Rocky Mountains famous today. The Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1871-it was arguably the first national park in the world. In Canada, Banff, Jasper, Yoho, And Waterton Lakes National Parks were established. As many valleys in the Rocky Mountains came to host a significant human population, the Rockies’ ecosystem has not remained intact. The exploitation of resources such as coal, copper, gold, natural gas, silver, petroleum, and zinc, among others, has played a major role in altering the ecosystem of the mountains. While economic developments-including tourism- has not had a positive impact on the mountains, the emergence of national parks and forest reserves marked the emergence of preservation movements.
Rocky Legends & Historical Mysteries
The Rocky Mountains are without a doubt known for their legends of bandits, scouts, and even skinwalkers. Because most of the history of the Rocky Mountains has not been recorded in writing, there are also many mysteries surrounding some of its people.
We have all heard of werewolves but perhaps fewer of us have heard of Skinwalkers (Note: Skinwalkers not White Walkers). These creatures are said to live on a Native reservation called the Navajo Nation, which includes a significant part of northeastern Arizona and a few sections of New Mexico and Utah. Skinwalkers, just like werewolves, have both human and animal forms and, unlike werewolves, they also pose the ability to take possession of another’s person body as long as that person looks directly into the Skinwalker’s eyes for a sufficient amount of time (it is not clear exactly how long you should stare at a Skinwalker; most likely you shouldn’t, especially since they can also read your thoughts while you are staring). Finally, an important difference between Skinwalkers and werewolves is that Skinwalkers are not bitten to become werewolves but rather desire this power and perform rites in order to achieve it.
Skinwalkers are thought to be agile and do not tend to wear any clothes. They may enter into people’s homes (or cabins) and attack them, or at least attack their cars with the goal of causing damage. You may wonder why Skinwalkers spend their time messing with people. Well, apparently they tend to be outcasts and as a consequence have a hate-driven existence.
On a more serious note, it is important to understand that the legend of Skinwalkers is not fully understood outside the Navajo community. For this reason, it is possible that only someone from the Navajo community can provide an accurate account of the legend.
While legends account for them as pure evil, we shouldn’t be surprised if it actually turns out that this is not the full story. What do you think? Are you afraid of them?
Where Did The Anasazi Go?
The Anasazi Native Americans lived in the Southwest of the modern U.S. from about 750 to 1150 CE. This society had a good understanding of pottery and astronomy, and also developed complex systems of irrigation. Before its disappearance, the Anasazi had cities and a substantial population. Despite these accomplishments, their society suddenly disappeared. This occurred as a result of a massive exodus where people left for no apparent reason.
One theory is that people left their homes because of a small-scale ice age, where the earth experienced a significant cooling and life became difficult for people living at high altitudes. However, a recent theory suggests that the Anasazi left their home due to warfare caused by the arrival of new Indian tribes such as the Athabaskan (Apache, Navajo). Yet another theory suggests that the Anasazi actually left due to the religious influence of other civilizations such as the ones in Mesoamerica. Two natural phenomena that occurred around the same period-the explosion of a supernova and the passing of Halley’s comet-might have also had an influence. It may take a long time until the full history of these people will be known
Would you like to accidentally discover an artifact that would elucidate this mystery?
Time to discuss the most important areas that the average tourist wants to visit. As you probably know, the Rockies offer all sorts of entertainment opportunities. You can camp, hike, ski, and more (it’s up to you !). The list of the most famous national parks in the Rockies includes:
The Rocky Mountains include many ski resorts. Some of the most popular are the following:
- Aspen/Snowmass (U.S.)
- Canada Olympic Park (Canada, duh)
- Deer Valley Resort (U.S.)
- Fairmont Hot Springs (Canada)
- Fernie (Canada)
- Grand Targhee Resort (U.S.)
- Jackson Hole (U.S.)
- Lake Louis Ski Resort (Canada)
- Loveland (U.S.)
- Nakiska (Canada)
- Wolf Mountain/Nordic Valley Resort (U.S.)
- Pajarito Mountain Ski Area (U.S.)
- Showdown Montana (U.S.)
- Ski Apache (U.S.)
- Sunshine Village (Canada)
- Winter Park Resort (U.S.)