Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission. © Kaitlyn Guenther

The Rocky Mountains are my favourite place in the entire world! I grew up only an hours drive away from the magnificent peaks and valleys, and every summer I spent weeks hiking the mountains and paddling the rivers. There are so many different activities during the summer and the winter; the Rockies are great for family bonding and friendly adventures. Some of my best stories and memories come from the Rocky Mountains!

Location: 
The Rocky Mountaians cover approximately 3,000 miles and stretch all the way along western North America—from Alaska all the way down to New Mexico. The Rocky Mountains extend into eight states, two provinces, and two territories. Interestingly, the Rocky Mountains encompass over 100 separate mountain ranges rather than one range.

Map of the Rocky Mountains

The Rocky Mountains form the Great Divide; since the peaks reach so high, water runs towards the Pacific Ocean on the western side of the Rockies and towards the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans on the eastern side.

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission. © Kaitlyn Guenther
Many different parks and reservations are found in the Rocky Mountains, such as the Banff, Jasper, and Kootney National Parks in Canada and the Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone National Parks—to list a few. These parks make the Rocky Mountains a great place to explore and adventure!

 

Landscape and Topography
Since the Rocky Mountain region is so large and runs through so many different areas it is often split into five sections. From top to bottom the sections are: Brooks Range, the Rocky Mountain System of Canada, Northern Rockies, Middle Rockies, and finally Southern Rockies. The inclusion of the Brooks Range in the Rocky Mountains is often debated, however, we have chosen to include it in our information despite it's differences from the other sections of the Rockies.

 

Brooks Range:

The Brooks Range can be found in Alaska and is the northernmost section of the Rocky Mountains. Interestingly, it is also the highest mountain range in the Arctic Circle.

The tallest peak—Mt Chamberlain—in the Brooks Range is 2,749 meters above sea-level. The Brooks range creates a sort of border between the arctic region and interior region of Alaska.

The Kobuk River runs through part of the Brooks Range for about 280 miles across the mountains and plateuas of the mountain range. The Kobuk River drains into Bering Straight, meaning that it flows to the western side of the Great Divide.

 

The Rocky Mountain System of Canada:

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission, © Kaitlyn Guenther
Geologically the Canadian Rocky Mountain System does not include the Columbia Mountains (west of the Rocky Mountian Trench) or the Mackenzie and Sewlyn Mountains of the Yukon and North West Territories. Regardless, many people still include these mountain ranges in the overall Canadian Rockies.

Mount Robson is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rocky Mountain system, reaching 3,954 meters above sea level. There are several other impressive mountains in this section, like the first glacier-hung peak north of the U.S. border—Mount Joffre. Snow Dome, although it isn't incredibly tall based on Rocky Mountain standards, is really cool. This particular mountain has water flowing in three different directions from it's peak, into the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans.

The Rocky Mountain Trench seperates the main geological body of the Canadian Rockies and the additional Columbia Mountain group. The Rocky Mountain Trench drains into several of the main rivers, such as the Peace River, Kootney River, Fraser River, and Columbia River. Other notable rivers in the Rocky Mountains of Canada are the Bow, the Athabaska, and the North Saskatchewan rivers.

 

Northern Rockies: 

Rocky Mountains
Evan DeHamer, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The elevated mountain peaks and low river valleys and trenches of the Northern Rockies stretch from Yellowstone National park up to the Canadian border. They reach as far as Northwest Washington in the west and Northwest Wyoming in the east. In between, this section of the Rockies passes through parts of Montana, Oregon and Idaho.

Of all the segments of the Rocky Mountains the peaks in the Northern Rockies tend to be shorter; the tallest peaks—Borah Peak (3,857 meters) and Leatherman peak (3,728 meters)—can be found in the Lost River Range.

Interestingly, it is from this segment of the Rocky Mountains that two of the regions most well known trenches originate. The Rocky Mountain Trench develops from Flathead Lake and the Purcell Trench extends from Coeur d'Alene Lake.

 

Middle Rockies: 

Rocky Mountains
Kurt Repanshek, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Middle Rockies are located mainly in Idaho and Wyoming, but tend to be less continuous with areas like the Yellowstone plateau and small lakes and valleys interspersing the different mountain ranges. Some of the most distinct ranges found in the Middle Rockies are the Absaroka, Wasatch, Wind River, and Teton ranges.

The mountains of the Middle Rockies appear quite abruptly in the plateuas of Idaho and Wyoming; there are no foothills to build up to the steep mountain crests. The tallest peaks found in the Middle Rockies are Gannett Peak (4,202 meters) and Grand Teton (4,196 meters).

 

Southern Rockies: 

Rocky Mountains
Tim Lumley, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Stretching from the southern tip of Wyoming, through Colorado, and into New Mexico, the Southern Rockies have some of the tallest mountain peaks in the Rocky Mountains. When people hear about the Rocky Mountains they usually think of peaks; however, this section of the Rockies is also filled with canyons, waterfalls, streams, rivers, glaciers, and more!

The highest peak in this section of the Rockies is Colorado's Mt. Ebert, which reaches 4,399 meters above sea level. Mt. Ebert is only the 31st tallest mountain in the world and the peak can be reached without significant mountaineering skills, even by bicycle. Mt. Ebert also happens to be the tallest peak in all five segments of the Rocky Mountains.

 

Climate:
In the Brooks Range the average summer temperature is 3°C and the average winter temperature is -26°C. In the summer months there is plenty of sun, which allows for lots of vegetation growth. Due to the tilt of the earth, there is approximately 80 days during summer months, where the sun never dips below the horizon. All of this sun still doesn't allow the ground to thaw more than a few feet. Precipitation falls mainly in the form of snow, especially in the eastern stretches of the range and, of course, at the higher elevations and mountain peaks. The Brooks Range recieves between 75 and 130 centimeters of snow annually, which is significantly lower than the other mountain ranges in Alaska.

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission. © Darren Guenther

The Rocky Mountains of Canada experience extreme weather. Temperatures and climates change based on elevation as well. For approximately every 1,000 meters of elevation there is an approximate drop of 5°C. It is also interesting that the Rocky Mountains split the coastal climate of British Columbia and the dry climate of Alberta. The coldest winter month is January, which can commonly reach temperatures of -30°C; although, usually the winter temperatures fall around -10°C. The region tends to get consistent snow from November to March; however, there is occasional snowfall from August to May as well. The summer months, although short, are very warm. Each summer month typically has the most precipitation in the form of rain, recieving around 50mm of rainfall in each month. The hottest month is July where temperatures can reach higher than 30°C. Many find that the hot temperatures are made more bearable by the dry climate.

 

Rocky Mountains
Bo Insagna, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Extending into the American segments of the Rocky Mountains, the northern most parts of the Rockies experience similar temperature and precipitation patterns as the Canadian Rockies. As you move south from the border there is less precipitation; for example, Colorado and New Mexico tend to be drier and more arid. Some areas are even desert-mountain reasons and contain rain-shadow valleys, which limit the amount of precipitation even further. Thunderstorms in the summer months are very common throughout the Rocky Mountains, but especially moving into the Middle and Southern Rockies. It is also very interesting that in the Southern Rockies around 75% of the precipitation falls on the west side of the continental divide, this is similar to the pattern in the Canadian Rockies. The annual temperature in the Southern and Middle Rockies falls around 2°C to 7°C, but of course this is also affected by the elevation and the seasonal changes, meaning it will be colder in the winter and higher up.

 

Plants and Animals:
The Rocky Mountains can be a difficult region to inhabit, with the climate and the elevation, but regardless there are lots of animals—large or small, mammals or birds, herbivores or carnivores.

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission. © Darren Guenther

On a hike it is common to see some smaller animals like squirrels and chipmunks. However, on a quieter routes or during specific times of year there is also a good chance you might come across a black bear. Spotting a grizzly bear is less likely, but still possible especially if you're roaming a less densely forested area. Cougars (also known as Mountain Lions) are very rare predators to see and probably one of the most dangerous in the Rockies.

 

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission. © Darren Guenther
Coming across a large herbivore is also a magnificent sight. The Brooks Range lies in the migratory path of several large herds of Caribou, including the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which has the largest migratory route of any other mammal. Elk are quite common in Banff National Park. Deer are the most common and can be found even in large cities and towns near the rockies. Spotting a moose is shocking; they are so large and can be very territorial, so be sure to respect their space.

 

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission. © Darren Guenther
If you look up and scan the sky you may be able to spot a Bald Eagle; their nests are also very cool so look out for lumps of twigs in the tall trees. At night you may not be able to see an owl, but listen carefully and you may be able to hear a great horned owl or a great grey owl hooting.

 

In the spring and early summer seasons the Rockies are full of wonderful wildflowers. The wild rose (also Alberta's provincial flower) is abundant in the mountain ranges. The crimson paintbrush has brilliant red petals filled with a sweet nectar, that even humans can get to. Bluebells, Canadian goldenrods, oregon grapes, and western wood lilies also add splashes of color to the trails of the Rocky Mountains.

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission. © Darren Guenther

 

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission. © Darren Guenther
Since the Rocky Mountain region is so expansive, the vegetation that grows is different based on the latitude. In the Brooks Range the trees stop growing—except in stunted form—at approximately 762 meters. Interestingly, the Brooks Range—due to it's location—is also the cut off for many tree species. Black and white spruces grow on the mountain slopes, but finding a white spruce north of the range is quite rare.

 

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission. © Darren Guenther
At the Canadian–USA border the tree line rests are 1,830 meters. Trees in the Canadian Rockies are mainly coniferous, with lots of Douglas firs and lodgepole pines. Finding patches of trembling aspen or birch trees is also common.

 

At the southern point of the rockies the tree line is at it's highest elevation of 3,660 meters. However, due to the presence of more basins and plateaus in the mountain ranges of the USA Rockies, there tend to be less trees except around streams.

 

Human Presence:
Human establishment in the Rockies has exhisted far back into history. Indigenous groups of the Rockies have managed to inhabit the harsh climate and steep elevation of the Rockies for years. The Stoney or Nakoda tribe in the Canadian Rockies is a very well known tribe with rich culture. The Nakoda tribe even helped to establish outdoor camps so that children could experience the Rockies in a natural sense. The "Great Basin" indigenous peoples of the Southern and Middle Rockies are a very distinct culture of Aborginal Peoples.

 

Rocky Mountains
Ken Lund, flickr creative commons, CC BY-SA 2.0
There are many explorers that have passed through the ranges of the Rocky Mountains. Some of the more famous explorers that passed through American ranges of the Rocky Mountains were Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke from 1804-1806, Benjamin Bonneville from 1832-1835, and Ferdinand Hayden in 1871. Sir Alexander Mackenie passed through the Canadian regions from 1792-1793 followed by exploreres like David Thompson and Simon Fraser. These explorers set the foundation for pioneers to develop towns and settlements in the Rockies. In areas around the Rcoky Mountains there is evidence of pioneers and indigenous groups in cave paintings and rock carvings.

 

Rocky Mountains
Mark Goebel, flickr creative commons, CC BY 2.0
Mining towns were very popular in the early years of settlers. The Rocky Mountains had an abundance of mining opportunities, so towns popped up all across the region. In Alaska the miners focused on petroleum where as in Canada copper, lead, and zinc drew miners to British Columbia and coal drew miners to Alberta. Travelling south there was an abudnance of silver, iron, and more copper. In the Middle and Southern Rockies more petroleum could be found along with natural gas and coal. Oil shales in Wyoming are also very valuable and drew a large portion of the miners.

 

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission, © Kaitlyn Guenther

Nowadays there are several towns and a few small cities through out the mountain ranges. For instance, Banff is actually the highest elevated town in Canada, resting at an elevation of 1,383 meters above sea level. Some of the small cities in Canada also include Kelowna, Kamloops, and Prince George. The areas of the Rockies that reside in Montana are abundant with the cities Missoula, Helena, and Butte. There are also cities in New Mexico (Sante Fe) and Wyoming (Casper).

 

Rocky Mountains
Wearn, flickr creative commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Rocky Mountains are abundant with tourist attractions because of the incredible wilderness experience and outdoor activities. In the winter skiers and snowboarder from all over the world make the Rocky Mountains their destination. People looking for more obscure winter sports can try snowshoeing or even dog sledding. Winter camping is an option for those who aren't afraid of the cold and well prepared, yet summer camping is incredibly common in the Rockies. Some people choose to backpack to their campsite while others drive and set up tents or motor homes. Water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing are very popular and their are many rental and tour companies that take people on excursions. Hiking is also very common and a very active way to explore the mountains.

 

Rocky Mountains
Jitze Couperus, flickr creative commons, CC BY 2.0
As you drive along the highway through the Rocky Mountains you can see overpasses that appear to be covered with nature—grass, shrubs, and trees. These overpasses are areas where animals can cross over the highway; since the human influence in the Rocky Mountains is so great, habitats of wildlife are strongly impacted.

 

Rocky Mountains
Used with permission, © Kaitlyn Guenther
There are many different parks in the Rocky Mountains that do a lot to protect the wildlife and nature and ensure that tourist attractions are maintained and outdoor adventures are safe. The parks in the Canadian segment of the Rocky Mountains include Banff, Jasper, Kootney, and Yoho National Parks and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks. Just south of the Canadian border there is Waterton Glacier Peace International Park. Yellowstone National Park is located mainly in the Absaroka Mountain Range in the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

 

 

Worksheets and Other Activities:

 





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