15 Interesting Facts About The Rocky Mountains

One of the most prominent Mountain Ranges in North America can be found in the western parts of the United States and Canada.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of interesting facts about the Rocky Mountains.

1. They are part of the North American Cordillera

The Rocky Mountains are one of the most famous mountain ranges in the world. It’s part of the North American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges that run all across the western part of North America.

The massive mountain range lies further to the east than some other famous mountain ranges including the Sierra Nevada in California and the even bigger Cascade Range or “Cascades.”

Rocky Mountains facts

2. It’s a very long mountain range

The Rockies extend all the way from the Liard River in British Columbia in Canada in the north, to the area of the Rio Grande in New Mexico in the south. They don’t extend into the Yukon or Alaska in the north.

That’s still quite a distance which means they have a total length of 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) and vary in width from 70 to 300 miles (110 to 480 kilometers).

Rocky Mountains map
Rocky Mountains map / VectorizeEverything / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

3. They got their name from a translated Native American saying

One of the most intriguing facts about the Rocky Mountains is that they were named after a Native American saying related to the Algonquian language. They referred to the mountains as: “When seen from across the prairies, they looked like a rocky mass.”

The first Europeans to name the mountains were the French who referred to it as “Montagnes de Roche,” which literally translates to “Rocky Mountains.”

Rocky Mountains in Wyoming
Rockies in Wyoming / Michael Gäbler / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

4. Most of the highest peaks can be found in Colorado

The Rocky Mountains are home to some of the highest peaks in North America. 78 of the top 100 highest peaks can be found in the U.S. State of Colorado, and this includes the top 30 highest as well.

The other highest peaks are located in Wyoming (10), New Mexico (6), Montana (3), and Utah (1).

The highest peak is called Mount Elbert and has a height of 14,440 feet (4,401.2 meters), followed by Mount Massive with a height of 14,428 feet (4,398 meters).

The highest peak in the Canadian Rockies is called Mount Robson and is with a height of 12,989 feet (3,959 meters) the 67th highest peak in the Rocky Mountains.

Mount Elbert
Mount Elbert / Hogs555 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

5. They form a prominent part of the so-called Great Divide

The Great Divide, also referred to as the “Continental Divide of the Americas” or the “Western Divide,” is the chain of mountains that divide the Americas. This divide runs all across the western part of North America from the Bering Strait in the north to the Strait of Magellan in the south.

This isn’t the only divide in the Americas, though, but the Continental Divide is considered to be the most prominent as it follows the same line as the divide in South America formed by the high peaks of the Andes. The Rocky Mountains are the most prominent mountain range in the Continental Divide.

Continental Divide
Continental Divide / Wiki Commons

6. The Rockies were formed between 80 and 55 million years ago

The process of rock creation which would eventually form the Rocky Mountains started about 1.7 billion years ago. Even though the process of mountain formation in the western part of North America started about 350 million years ago, but didn’t reach the area of the Rockies until 270 million years later.

Between 80 and 55 million years ago, in a period referred to as the “Laramide orogeny,” the tectonic plates pushing against the North American plate finally reached the area which would become the Rockies.

This process can be described with an analogy such as pushing a rug onto a hardwood floor.

Rocky Mountains interesting facts
The mountains / Photobug1974 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

7. Shortly after they were formed, the Rockies resembled Tibet

One of the most fascinating facts about the Rocky Mountains is that the Rockies didn’t look as they do today when this process was completed about 55 million years ago. The area would have looked similar to the Tibetan Plateau, a flat area located about 6,000 meters (20,000 feet) above sea level.

The process of forming the Rockies the way they look today took another 55 million years! Erosion cleared all the high rocks and revealed the oldest rock beneath them.

The Ice Ages between 1.8 million and 11,000 years ago further carved up the mountains and valleys resulting in the way they look today.

Rocky Mountains aerial
Aerial view / U.S. Geological Survey / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

8. The Rocky Mountains are divided into several biotic zones

The climate in the Rocky Mountains varies a lot because of the fact that it’s such an extended mountain range. The average temperature in the winter is around −7 °C (20 °F) in the northern part of the range while it’s about 6 °C (43 °F) in the southern part.

Therefore, a number of biotic zones are assigned to determine the particular climate in a certain area.

9. Two zones in the Rockies aren’t able to support trees

While there are about 10 forested zones that support a variety of different species of trees, there are 2 zones that don’t support trees at all. These are the Great Plains to the east of the Rockies and the Alpine Tundra located above the treeline.

The treeline of the Rockies varies between 760 meters (2,500 feet) near the Yukon in the north to 3,700 meters (12,000 feet) in New Mexico in the south.

Rocky Mountains treeline
Trees in the Rockies / Pixabay

10. The Rockies are home to a large number of wild animals

Some of the most fascinating, yet most dangerous wild animals live in the Rocky Mountains. These include but are not limited to wolves, elk, moose, mule and white-tailed deer, pronghorn, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, badgers, black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, lynxes, cougars, and wolverines.

Because many of these animals live in areas that humans can’s reach, the number of individual animals roaming around in this magnificent landscape is unknown.

Black bears Rocky Mountains
Black bears in the Rocky Mountains / Pixabay

11. The mountains have been inhabited since the last Ice Age

One of the most interesting facts about the Rocky Mountains is that Native Americans have lived in the mountain range for thousands of years, at least since the last great Ice Age.

They used to hunt mammoths and ancient bison, both animals which are now extinct and it’s believed that their hunting habits have contributed to the extinction of both large mammals.

Amazing rocky mountains

12. The Spanish founded a special city at the foot of the Rockies in 1610

The first Spanish explorer to march through the Rockies was Francisco Vázquez de Coronado in the year 1540. In the next century, in 1610, the Spanish founded Santa Fe, the capital of the U.S. State of New Mexico and the oldest continuous seat of government in the United States!

This turned out to become the start of the downfall of Native Americans living in the area as disease and warfare forced them to move elsewhere.

Santa Fe seen from space
Santa Fe from Space / Wiki Commons

13. A famous British explorer was the first to cross the mountains in 1793

The first European to actually cross the Rockies was a British explorer named Sir Alexander MacKenzie (1764-1820). He did so in 1793 and reached the Pacific coast in modern-day Canada on July 20 of that year.

This was an important event because it’s considered the first recorded transcontinental crossing north of the Mexican border.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition between 1804 and 1806 was the first scientific expedition of the Rocky Mountains in the early 19th century and laid the foundation for the numerous scientific expeditions that followed.

Sir Alexander Mackenzie
Sir Alexander Mackenzie / WIki Commons

14. It’s home to the first National Park in the United States

One of the most famous National Parks in the United States is located in the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It’s called the Yellowstone National Park and was founded on March 1, 1872.

This doesn’t just make it the oldest national park in the United States but it’s also assumed that it’s the oldest national park in the world!

The park covers an area of 2,219,791 acres (8,983.18 square kilometers) and is visited by well over 4 million people every year. It consists of a wide variety of lakes, canyons, waterfalls, rivers, and mountain ranges, as well as numerous geysers such as the “Old Faithful geyser” and “Castle Geyser.”

Castle Geyser
Castle Geyser / Brocken Inaglory / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

15. Is this the most wonderful location in the Rocky Mountains?

The Yellowstone National Park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Rocky Mountains, but the range is also very popular for skiing. There are nearly 100 popular ski resorts including the world-famous Aspen in Colorado.

Perhaps the most awesome attraction of the Rockies is an area referred to as the “Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.” As the name implies, the park features a large sand dune reaching a height of up to 750 feet (229 meters) with the magnificent mountains covered with Golden Aspen flowers in the background.

The Rockies feature multiple picturesque locations, but this one is right on top of the list!

Great Sand Dunes
Great Sand Dunes / Senapa / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en