Hundreds of thousands of skiers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts visit the Rocky Mountains and national park every year. The mountain range stretches over 3000 miles and divides the North American continent with the aptly named Continental Divide. Here are ten facts about the Rocky Mountains that you probably didn’t know.
The Rockies are Home to a Supervolcano
Did you know the Rocky Mountains contain a supervolcano? The volcano is known as the Yellowstone Caldera and is located in Yellowstone National Park. This is one of the reasons for the presence of geysers in Yellowstone, as well as the strong odor of phosphor in the air throughout the park.
We are unlikely to see the Yellowstone volcano erupt in our lifetime because eruptions occur millions of years apart, but never say never! Other signs of volcanic activity can be found throughout the Rocky Mountains, such as at the Grand County hot springs.
Bighorn Sheep Rule these mountains
If you see a sheep with thick, large horns on its head in the RM, don’t be alarmed. The unofficial mascot of the Rocky Mountains is the Bighorn Sheep.
There are approximately 400 of these large sheep roaming Rocky Mountain National Park, and they are known to be gentle and kind. From May to June, you have the best chance of seeing them.
The Rocky Mountains have nine national parks.
Because the RM ( Rocky Mountains ) span 3000 miles, six states, and two countries, there is plenty of space for beautiful and expansive national parks in the Rocky Mountains.
The Rockies have nine national parks, the most well-known of which are Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks. The Rocky Mountain National Parks in the United States are as follows:
- Badlands National Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Wind Cave National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
The Athabasca Glacier is North America’s most visited glacier.
The Athabasca Glacier, located in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, is North America’s most visited glacier. The glacier is approximately 4 miles long, with ice depths ranging from 100 to 1000 feet.
The Athabasca Glacier is also a major symbol of climate change. The glacier has receded 1 mile due to climate change in the last 125 years.
The glacier is currently receding at a rate of 10 feet per year. It is not advisable to walk the glacier without a guide due to the glacier cracks, which are extremely dangerous. In the past, tourists have fallen through the cracks, eventually succumbing to hypothermia and death.
The Rockies still have a large indigenous population.
Many indigenous people still live in the RM’ high peaks and plains. There are reserves for the Bannock, Sioux, Blackfoot, Cow People, Apache, Kutenai, and many other tribes.
Some national parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park, have attempted to expand their representation of Native Americans in the park in recent years. They are doing so in collaboration with the University of Colorado’s Indigenous-focused groups and representatives.
The RM range in age from 80 million to 55 million years.
The Laramide orogeny formed the RM 80 million to 55 million years ago. The Laramide orogeny is the period during which many of North America’s mountains evolved into the mountains we see today.
The Kula and Farallon plates slid beneath the North American Plate during this time. Because magma was forming in the east, The Ricky Mountains could form. The Laramie Mountains and the Black Mountains in Wyoming were also formed during this time period.
Mount Elbert is the highest peak.
Mount Elbert is the highest point in the Rocky Mountains. Mount Elbert is a mountain in Colorado that stands 4401 meters tall, or 14,440 feet.
This is also why Mount Elbert is referred to as a “fourteener.” Because it is relatively easy to climb, the Colorado mountain is a popular destination for climbers, hikers, and other adventurers.
Mount Elbert was named after a Colorado state senator. Samuel Hitt Elbert was involved in the formation of the state of Colorado and served as governor from 1873 to 1874.
In 1874, Henry Stuckle became the first person to record climbing Mount Elbert. The mountain is known as the “Gentle Giant” because it is a class 1 to 2 mountain, making it ideal for beginning mountaineers.
The Rocky Mountains separate the continent of North America.
Did you know that all rivers on the western side of the RM flow into the Pacific Ocean, while all rivers on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains flow into the Atlantic?
Because the RM literally divide North America, they are known as the Continental Divide.
North America’s continental divide stretches from the Bering Strait to the Maghallan Strait.
The first explorer was Francisco Vásquez de Coronado.
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, a Spanish explorer, was the first to walk into the RM. In 1540, he led his army into the mountain range from the south. He was on the hunt for the Seven Cities of Gold.
These ‘golden cities’ were supposed to be found in New Mexico’s Rockies. El Dorado, Paititi, City of Caesars, Lake Parime at Manoa, Antilia, Quivira, and Cibola were the gold cities.
The stories of these cities were most likely based on Portuguese legends about gold cities on the island of Antillia in the 8th century and the capture of Merida in Spain by the Moors.
Massive Sand Dunes Can Be Found in the Rocky Mountains
The highest sand dunes in North America can be found in the RM. Great Sand Dunes National Park allows you to climb beautiful sand dunes that are flanked by the Rocky Mountains’ high, white peaks. Some of the sand dunes tower over 750 feet!
The valley was filled with lakes that eventually dried up. The lakes left sand, which was then blown into sand dunes by the valley’s southwest winds over tens of thousands of years.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is a little out of the way, but if you can add an extra day to your trip from Colorado to California, it’s well worth the detour!