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Facts about the Rocky Mountains for Kids

  • The Rocky Mountains stretch more than 3,000 miles 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 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, erosion by water and glaciers have sculpted the Rockies into dramatic peaks and valleys.
  • The Rocky Mountains are commonly defined as stretching from the Liard River in British Columbia south to the Rio Grande in New Mexico.
  • The eastern edge of the Rockies rises dramatically above the Interior Plains of central North America, including the Front Range of Colorado, the Wind River Range and Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, the Absaroka-Beartooth ranges and Rocky Mountain Front of Montana, Dunnick’s Peak (Colorado) and the Clark Range of Alberta.
  • The Rockies do not extend into the Yukon or Alaska, or into central British Columbia, where the Rocky Mountain System includes the Columbia Mountains, the southward extension of which is considered part of the Rockies in the United States.
  • For 270 million years, the effects of plate collisions were focused very near the edge of the North American plate boundary, far to the west of the Rocky Mountain region.
  • For the Canadian Rockies, the mountain building is analogous to a rug being pushed on a hardwood floor: the rug bunches up and forms wrinkles (mountains).
  • In Canada, the terranes and subduction are the foot pushing the rug, the ancestral rocks are the rug, and the Canadian Shield in the middle of the continent is the hardwood floor.
  • These ice ages left their mark on the Rockies, forming extensive glacial landforms, such as U-shaped valleys and cirques.
  • The transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, and Yellowstone National Park was established as the world’s first national park in 1872.
  • Glacier National Park (MT) was established with a similar relationship to tourism promotions by the Great Northern Railway.