Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Rockies

Now I've been fortunate enough to see two mountain ranges in person. The Atlas Mountains of Morocco and most recently the Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada. 

When seeing parts of the American Rockies I realized I didn't know much about them. 

Until now. 

The Rockies formed about 80 to 55 million years ago when a number of plates began to slide under the North American plate. The result was a broad belt of mountains running down North America. Further tectonic movement and erosion by glaciers have formed the Rockies into dramatic  peaks and valleys. 

After explorers such as Sir Alexander Mackenzie and Lewis and Clark got to know the range, fir and mineral trade drove exploitation of the mountains. The mountains themselves have never been hugely populated.
View from the top of Pikes Peak, the Rockies' second highest elevation

The Rockies cover 3,000 miles in distance, but are themselves 100 separate mountain ranges. It's highest peak reaches 14, 300 feet high, which is Mount Elbert, near Leadville, Colorado. 

The second largest peak in the range is Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs. I went up Pikes Peak on my recent trip to Colorado. It is the second most visited mountain peak in the world. It's one of the only mountain peaks that is fully accessible by paved road. Until recently, October 2011, the road was only paved up to the halfway point. 

As we started on the way up we saw lots of trees and beautiful rolling hills. The three kids in the back kept commenting when they were on the "safe side" of the car and then the "scary side" and we rounded the switch backs. 

Near the beginning my cousin Toby commented that we hadn't seen anything yet. He was right. The higher and higher we got the trees got smaller and smaller when soon they were going completely. Our roads got steeper and steeper and our turns got sharper and sharper. 

Near the top it started to feel like a mix between driving through the car wash and riding up a roller coaster. It gave that spooky feeling that you seem to get in each of those places. 

We all dressed warmly and brought coats. As soon as we got to the top and prepared to get out I noted how warm I thought it was. I didn't believe Toby that we needed the coats. Turned out, it was only warm in the car, where five bodies had just been stuffed. Sure enough it was a cool 38 degrees with an even lower wind chill. Yep, we needed the coats. 

Other fast facts:
  • The mountains form the Continental Divide, which separates rivers draining to the Pacific Ocean from ones draining to the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. 
  • The Rockies house 14 rivers which eventually drain to three different oceans. 
  • Colorado itself has 55 fourteeners, as they are affectionately known, peaks that are at least 14,000 feet or higher.