Although most of Montana belongs to the Great Plains, it is mountains that give the state its extraordinary beauty. More than 50 majestic ranges — among them the colorfully named Beaverhead, Big Belt, Crazy, Flathead, and Tobacco Root — make up Montana’s share of the Rocky Mountains, strung down the western third of the state. Some were formed long ago by violent up-thrust and volcanic eruption, others in more recent geologic time by glacial activity Faults continue to grind away in western Montana today, carrying on the age-long work of creating new mountains and demolishing old ones.
The mountains also helped give Montana its Wild West image, for this was the territory of rough-and-ready prospectors and opulent copper barons. A gold strike in 1862 at Grasshopper Creek first drew the miners, who eventually found silver, coal, and copper as well — and called Butte, the town they founded on one of the world’s largest copper deposits, “the richest hill on earth.”