The Rockies

The Rocky Mountains (or ‘Rockies’ as they are often affectionately called by the locals) are one of North America’s most impressive natural structures. This 3,000-mile-long mountain range stretches from British Columbia in western Canada, all the way down to New Mexico in the centre of the United States. The other states that the Rocky Mountains pass through are Alberta, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. At their widest, the Rockies stretch out as wide as 300 miles, whilst their tallest peak (Mount Elbert in Colorado USA), stands an impressive 14,400 feet in height. The Rocky Mountains first formed some 80 million years ago when dinosaurs still roamed America. So massive were the Rockies that even the dinosaurs couldn’t cross them, with different species being isolated east and west of the great mountain range! Nowadays though, the Rockies have become a whole lot more accessible and have seen the rise of an exciting adventure tourism industry, with Rocky Mountain holidays becoming one of the destinations of choice among thrill-seekers.

The stunning and varied landscapes of this region, sometimes referred to as “America’s Spine”, has a lot to offer those of us who enjoy taking a walk on the wild side, including massive sand dunes, fast flowing rivers, rugged canyons, awe-inspiring cliff faces, impressive geysers and even flowing lava at certain times of the year. Of course, it’s not just the Rocky Mountain landscape which is wild. Much of the region is still considered wilderness and remains relatively unspoiled by human interference. As such, there are plenty of spectacular animals inhabiting the region including two kinds of bear, the iconic bighorn sheep, mighty moose, beautiful elk and the legendary gray wolf. For those interested in nature, there are few places in America which are more naturally beautiful and teeming with wildlife than the American Rockies.

Awesome. It’s a word you hear a lot in America. But it’s only when you travel through the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho that you get a sense of what the word really means. A thousand miles from the lush forests on the Canadian border to the dry, desertscapes of New Mexico, America’s spinal chord is home to bears, moose and wolves still roaming the open wilderness.

Different terrain – geysers, lava flows, rugged canyons, unruly rivers and enormous sand dunes – each with their own dramatic setting against the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Rockies. Each state too has its own unique vibe. Ski paradise Colorado, with peaks over 14,000ft, is the most populated. Just as popular, though less touristy, is Montana. Its “Big Sky” attracts hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders to enjoy the lush landscape and the intimacy of the smaller towns.

In need of serenity? Wyoming is the least populated of the mid-western states and will calm the minds of the stressed and the frazzled. There, you’ll find Yellowstone National Park, the neighbouring Grand Teton National Park and the Bighorn Mountains. Idaho is ranked number one for whitewater adventures. Sounds extreme, but families too can enjoy a 5-day camping river rafting trip through the deepest canyon in the country. After all that fresh air, it’s time to reward yourself with a soak in natural hot springs. Under the glittering night sky, you can sip a cold beer and wonder at how good it is to be alive.

While there are numerous quality skiing and snowboarding opportunities littered throughout America’s Rocky Mountains, Colorado is seen as the number one destination for snow sports in all of the USA. The Aspen and Snowmass winter village and complex with its gorgeous villas is arguably the most famous ski resort in the States. Consisting of four main peaks, each of which has its own world class skiing and boarding facilities, Aspen / Snowmass is world renowned as it has hosted the Winter X Games every year since 2002. This event brings together many of the world’s greatest extreme sports athletes and musicians who put together an exciting performance extravaganza like no other. Aspen in particular is also renowned among film fans as key scenes of the hit comedy movie Dumb & Dumber were filmed there.

While Aspen / Snowmass rules the roost in terms of skiing in the USA, Alberta and British Columbia are the places to go as far as Canada is concerned. Alberta has numerous Olympian standard winter sports venues, having hosted the Winter Olympics in 1998. These include Canada Olympic Park, Canmore Nordic Centre and Nakiska Ski Resort. These are famous for their gigantic ski jump platforms which are certainly not for the faint of heart! British Columbia’s premiere ski resorts include the relatively small, 10 run, Bear Mountain Ski Hill near Dawson Creek (which is the perfect choice for beginners) and the much larger, 67 run, Apex Mountain Resort which should provide more of a challenge for seasoned skiers and snowboarders.

Away from winter and snow sports, the Rocky Mountains have plenty to offer visitors throughout the summer months. Montana is one American state which offers a bit of everything for your inner adventurer. During the summer, a whole host of recreational opportunities emerge. Hiking, camping and cycling are hugely popular activities amongst the Montanan hills, while the desert gives tourists a chance to partake in horseback riding, dune buggy excursions and even hands on fossil hunting tours from professional palaeontologists – imagine what it would be like to find a Tyrannosaurus while on holiday!

If you’re in search of water-based activities, then Idaho is seen as the place to go. The state is famous for its intense white water rafting opportunities for those who seek high octane thrills, while the more laid back among you will find the region’s renowned fly fishing opportunities the perfect tonic of relaxation.

Of course, no serious discussion of the American Rocky Mountains would be complete without a mention of the iconic Yellowstone National Park. While the majority of the park’s 2.2 million acres are in the state of Wyoming, parts of it also stretch out into the neighboring states of Idaho and Montana. Signed off as a National Park by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, Yellowstone is officially recognised as America’s first National Park and widely believed to be the first official National Park in the world.

While there is much to see and do in Yellowstone National Park, the most popular and unique attraction of this vast nature reserve is its abundance of strange geological features, including the gigantic Yellowstone Caldera, a massive ‘supervolcano’ which has a magma chamber believed to be 6 kilometres long, and the beautifully coloured Grand Prismatic Spring. More iconic still are Yellowstone’s geysers. There are believed to be well over a thousand of them, over 400 of which are currently active. The most famous and spectacular of Yellowstone Park’s geysers must be Old Faithful, which erupts every hour and a half or so. It is a sight quite unlike anything else on Earth!