The Rocky Mountain Province is generally sunny,

dry, cool, and windy with long, sweeping vistas.

In addition, the broad valleys, parks, and high

plateaus of the mountains feature prairie-like

qualities, such as flat land, grasslands instead

of forests, and long views.

Geology is varied. It changes from exposed

sedimentary sandstone in the foothills to granite

outcrops in alpine glacier fields. Buildings may be

enclosed by vegetation and landforms, with more

limited vistas than in other provinces. Vegetation

is more abundant and large scaled, including

coniferous and deciduous forests with juniper,

pinon, fir, spruce, lodgepole pine, willows, aspens,

scrub oak, and cottonwoods.


The Rocky Mountain Province can be divided into

foothills, broad mountain valleys, narrow valleys

and canyons, alpine, and high plateaus.

The glaciated terrain of northern Idaho, western

Montana, and eastern Washington encompasses

some 38,100 square miles which includes rugged

mountains, steppes, coniferous forests, and

alpine meadows. Winters are harsh and skies are

more gray than blue. Greater precipitation

(compared to the rest of the province) makes

possible stands of trees, such as giant western

red cedar.


The middle and southern Rocky Mountains

encompass a 102,300-square-mile area.

Vegetation occurs in zones from the foothills

(where grasslands and ponderosa pine dominate),

to the subalpine spruce-fir forests, to the tundra

of alpine areas above 14,000 feet. The mountains

are punctuated by broad, flat valleys called “parks.”


The coniferous Black Hills area in South Dakota,

Nebraska, and Wyoming, springs from a core of

Precambrian rock rising between 1,000 and 5,000

feet from the Plains Province. Trees range from

white spruce, to eastern broadleaf species, such

as ash and oak, to ponderosa pine and aspen.

There are no alpine zones in these low mountains.



This province contains some of the oldest

structures in the United States, dating to the

cliff dwellings and pueblo villages constructed by

the Anasazi peoples. Yet we consider it a “new”

province in America’s history because it was

settled by Europeans well after the East Coast

or the Southwest.


Cultural influences include:


Farming and Ranching: Isolated in windswept,

sun-beaten settings, the traditional farms and

ranches of the Rocky Mountain Province provide

excellent examples of architectural response to

climate. They were built from materials available

nearby. Their orientation and rooflines were

carefully planned to withstand snow loads, high

winds, and hot sun. They were often clustered in

sheltering, village-like complexes making them

flexible for changing uses and adaptations.


Mining: Mining structures, such as headframes,

are among the province’s industrial landmarks.

They are unadorned, muscular structures,

frequently built on the steepest and most

sensitive natural landscapes. Although the

mining legacy is sometimes that of environmental

destruction, the simple and powerful structural

forms continue to inspire new designs. Mining

towns were built quickly with log cabins and

shacks. After the railroads arrived, the more

prosperous towns evolved, grew, and created

sophisticated urban architecture derived from

the towns and cities of the East. Cities such

as Aspen, Colorado, and Park City, Utah, built

fine hotels and opera houses that endure today

as landmarks.


Railroads: They not only shaped the landscape

and influenced settlement patterns, they also

allowed building materials and prefabricated

building parts, such as cast-iron façades, to

be shipped from other provinces.


Immigration: The first European settlers imported

their own building traditions, styles, and techniques.

The mountain town of Crested Butte,

Colorado, contains numerous examples of wooden

Gothic buildings that Croatian carpenters

constructed using Central European styles.

Other important influences include Spanish,

Mexican, and Mormon styles.


Rustic Style: In the first half of this century,

the National Park Service and the Forest Service

adapted the rustic style, which had been developed

from models such as Swiss chalets and 19th

century Adirondack lodges. Influential examples

include the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone (1904)

and the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood (1937).

Rustic-style buildings, often built by the CCC,

are highly crafted structures featuring native

stone and unhewn logs. The scale of details can

be massive, even in the cases of kiosks or cabins.

The rustic style was popularized in the 1900

to 1940 era by resort developers like Averill

Harriman, who called Sun Valley, Idaho, the

St. Moritz of America. In the Rocky Mountain

Province, the public associates images of rustic style

lodges with recreation.


Solar-oriented and Sustainable Design: For three

decades, the Rocky Mountain Province has been

a leader in this area. This is in part because ever-present

sunshine can be harnessed for heat and

power. Institutions such as the Rocky Mountain

Institute in Snowmass, Colorado, have provided

leadership in “green” building and design.




Chapter 4.6 Table of Contents

Reader’s Guide