The Rocky Mountains, commonly known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than 3,000 miles (4,830 km) from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States. Within the North American Cordillera, the Rockies are somewhat distinct from the Pacific Coast Ranges and the Cascade Range and Sierra Nevada which all lie farther to the west.
The Rocky Mountains were initially formed from 80 million to 55 million years ago during the Laramide orogeny, in which a number of plates began to slide underneath the North American plate. The angle of 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 started to inhabit the mountain range. After Europeans, such as Sir Alexander Mackenzie and Americans, such as the Lewis and Clark expedition, started to explore the range, minerals and furs drove the initial economic exploitation of the mountains, although the range itself never became densely populated.
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 mine, located near Leadville, Colorado, was the largest producer of molybdenum in the world.
After 1802, American fur traders and explorers ushered in the first widespread Caucasian presence in the Rockies south of the 49th parallel. The more famous of these include Americans William Henry Ashley, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, John Colter, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Andrew Henry, and Jedediah Smith. On July 24, 1832, Benjamin Bonneville led the first wagon train across the Rocky Mountains by using South Pass in the present State of Wyoming.
Since the last great ice age, the Rocky Mountains were home first to indigenous peoples including the Apache, Arapaho, Bannock, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow Nation, Flathead, Shoshone, Sioux, Ute, 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.
Currently, much of the mountain range is protected by public parks and forest lands, and is a popular tourist destination, especially for hiking, camping, mountaineering, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, skiing, and snowboarding.