MONTANA: GEOGRAPHY OF MANTANA

FLAG OF MONTANA
MAP
Missouri Breaks region in central Montana
Montana's state quarter, released in 2007
SEAL
Pompeys Pillar National Monument
Quake Lake was created by a landslide during the 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake
St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park
The Grinnell Glacier gets 105 inches (2,700 mm) of precipitation per year
MAP OF MNTANA
Montana is a state in the Western United States. The western third of the state contains numerous mountain ranges; other 'island' ranges are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges of the Rocky Mountains. This geographical fact is reflected in the state's name, derived from the Spanish word montaña (mountain). The state nickname is the "Treasure State." Other nicknames include "Land of Shining Mountains," "Big Sky Country," and the slogan "The Last Best Place." The state ranks fourth in area, but 44th in population, and therefore has the third lowest population density in the United States. The economy is primarily based on ranching, wheat farming, oil and coal in the east; lumber, tourism, and hard rock mining in the west. Millions of tourists annually visit Glacier National Park, the Battle of Little Bighorn site, and three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park.

Geography
With a land area of 145,552 square miles (376,980 km2) the state of Montana is the fourth largest in the United States (after Alaska, Texas, and California). To the north, Montana and Canada share a 545 miles (877 km) border. The state borders the three Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, more than any other state. To the east, the state borders North Dakota and South Dakota. To the south lies Wyoming and to the west and southwest is Idaho.

The topography of the state is diverse, and roughly defined by the Continental Divide which runs on an approximate diagonal line through the state from northwest to south-central, splitting it into two distinct eastern and western regions. Montana is well known for its mountainous western region, most of which are geologically and geographically part of the Northern Rocky Mountains. The Absaroka and Beartooth ranges in the south are technically part of the Central Rocky Mountains; however, about 60% of the state is prairie, part of the northern Great Plains. Nonetheless, even east of the Continental Divide and the Rocky Mountain Front, there are a number of isolated "island ranges" that dot the prairie landscape. This island range region covers most of the central third of the state. The Bitterroot Mountains—one of the longest continuous ranges in the entire Rocky Mountain chain from Alaska to Mexico—divide the state from Idaho to the west, with the southern third of the range blending into the Continental Divide. Mountain ranges between the Bitterroots and the top of the Continental Divide include the Cabinet Mountains, the Missions, the Garnet, Sapphire, Flint Creek, and Pintlar ranges.

The northern section of the Divide, where the mountains give way rapidly to prairie, is known collectively as the Rocky Mountain Front and is most pronounced in the Lewis Range, located primarily in Glacier National Park. Due to the configuration of mountain ranges in Glacier National Park, the Northern Divide (which begins in Alaska's Seward Peninsula) crosses this region and turns east in Montana at Triple Divide Peak. Thus, the Waterton, Belly, and Saint Mary rivers flow north into Alberta, joining the Saskatchewan River, which ultimately empties into Hudson Bay. East of the divide, several parallel ranges march across the southern half of the state, including the Gravelly Range; the Tobacco Roots; the Madison Range; Gallatin Range; Big Belt Mountains; Bridger Mountains; Absaroka Mountains; and the Beartooth Mountains. The Beartooth Plateau is the largest continuous land mass over 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in the continental United States and contains the highest point in the state, Granite Peak, 12,799 feet (3,901 m) high.

Between the mountain ranges are many scenic valleys, rich in agricultural resources and rivers, and possessing multiple opportunities for tourism and recreation. Among the best-known areas are the Flathead Valley, Bitterroot Valley, Big Hole Valley, and Gallatin Valley. East and north of this transition zone are expansive, sparsely populated Northern Plains, with rolling tableland prairies, "island" mountain ranges, and scenic badlands extending into the Dakotas, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Wyoming. The isolated island ranges east of the Divide include the Castle Mountains, Crazy Mountains, Little Belt Mountains, Snowy Mountains, Sweet Grass Hills, Bull Mountains, the Pryor Mountains south of Billings and—in the southeastern corner of the state near Ekalaka—the Long Pines and Short Pines.

The area east of the divide in the north-central portion of the state is known for the Missouri Breaks and other significant rock formations. Three stately buttes south of Great Falls are familiar landmarks. These buttes, Square Butte, Shaw Butte, and Crown Butte, are made of igneous rock, which is dense and has withstood weathering for many years. The underlying surface consists of shale. Many areas around these buttes are covered with clay surface soils. These soils have been derived from the weathering of the Colorado Formation. Farther east, areas such as Makoshika State Park near Glendive, and Medicine Rocks State Park near Ekalaka also highlight some of the most scenic badlands regions in the state.

Montana also contains a number of rivers, many of which are known for "blue-ribbon" trout fishing, while also providing most of the water needed by residents of the state, as well as being a source of hydropower. Montana is one of few geographic areas in the world whose rivers form parts of three major watersheds (i.e. where two continental divides intersect): The Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay which are divided atop Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park.

West of the divide, the Clark Fork of the Columbia (not to be confused with the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River) rises in the Rocky Mountains near Butte and flows northwest to Missoula, where it is joined by the Blackfoot River and Bitterroot River and further downstream by the Flathead River before entering Idaho near Lake Pend Oreille, becoming part of the Columbia River, which flows to the Pacific Ocean. The Clark Fork discharges the greatest volume of water of any river exiting the state. The Flathead River and Kootenai River also drain major portions of the western half of the state.

East of the divide, the Missouri River—formed by the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin rivers—crosses the central part of the state, flows through the Missouri breaks and enters North Dakota. The Yellowstone River rises in Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, flows north to Livingston, Montana, where it then turns east and flows through Billings, continuing across the state until it joins the Missouri River a few miles east of the North Dakota boundary. The Yellowstone River is the longest undammed, free-flowing river in North America. Other major Montana tributaries of the Missouri include the Milk, Marias, Tongue, and Musselshell Rivers. Montana also claims the disputed title of possessing the "world's shortest river," the Roe River, just outside Great Falls, Montana. These rivers ultimately join the Mississippi River and flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition to its rivers, the state is home to Flathead Lake, the largest natural fresh-water lake in the western United States. Man-made reservoirs dot Montana's rivers, the largest of which is Fort Peck Reservoir, on the Missouri river, contained by the largest earthen dam in the world. Vegetation of the state includes lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine; douglas fir, larch, spruce; aspen, birch, red cedar, hemlock, ash, alder; rocky mountain maple and cottonwood trees. Forests cover approximately 25% of the state. Flowers native to Montana include asters, bitterroots, daisies, lupins, poppies, primroses, columbine, lilies, orchids and dryads. Several species of sagebrush and cactus and many species of grasses are common. Many species of mushrooms and lichens are also found in the state.

Montana contains Glacier National Park, 'The Crown of the Continent,' and portions of Yellowstone National Park, including three of the Park's five entrances. Other federally recognized sites include the Little Bighorn National Monument; Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area; Big Hole National Battlefield; Lewis and Clark Caverns; and the National Bison Range. Montana has ten National Forests and more than 20 National Wildlife Refuges. The Federal government administers 36,000,000 acres (150,000 km2). 275,000 acres (1,110 km2) are administered as state parks and forests.

Areas managed by the National Park Service include:

• Big Hole National Battlefield near Wisdom
• Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area near Fort Smith
• Glacier National Park
• Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site at Deer Lodge, Montana
• Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
• Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Crow Agency
• Nez Perce National Historical Park
• Yellowstone National Park

Several Indian reservations are located in Montana: Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Crow Indian Reservation, Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Luciano Mende

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