Rocky Mountains

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Rocky Mountains basking in the setting sun, overlooking the Yellowstone River in Montana.
© iStockPhoto / Niko Vujevic

The backbone of North America

What and where?
The Rocky Mountains extend 5,000 km from New Mexico to Canada. The elevations range from about 1,500 m along the plains to 4,399 m, and the widths range from 120 to 650 km. These mountains are composed of many mountain ranges with unique ecological features. For example, 20 ranges make up the Rocky Mountains in and adjacent to Wyoming.

The Rocky Mountains have unpredictable weather which can change rapidly. As with other highland climates, the climate changes with increasing altitude. In general, the Rockies have mild summers, cold winters and a lot of precipitation.

Water in its many forms sculpted the present Rocky Mountain landscape. Runoff and snowmelt from the peaks feed the Rocky Mountain’s rivers and lakes with the water supply for a quarter of the United States.

The charismatic megafauna of the Rocky Mountains includes elk, moose, mule and white-tailed deer, pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, lynxes, and wolverines. Equally important contributors to the region's biological diversity include small mammals, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, hundreds of bird species, and tens of thousands of species of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates and soil organisms.

Why?
The Rocky Mountains are known world over for their beautiful scenery. The natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and fresh water have attracted human inhabitants for the last 10,000-12,000 years. People visit the Rockies for many recreational activities, including hiking, camping, skiing and many other sports.

Every year the scenic areas and recreational opportunities 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 Native American languages.

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