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Has Rocky Mountains' Population Density Reached a Peak?

For more and more Americans, the good life means owning a piece, or at least a view, of the majestic Rocky Mountains. Who wouldn't be drawn to a land of snow-capped peaks, abundant wildlife, and breathtaking hiking trails and ski slopes?

Did we say breathtaking? Perhaps that's because of the smog.

You see, big cities in America's high country -- like Denver and Colorado Springs and Salt Lake City -- have grown so fast that on many days, noxious haze obscures the mountains. Morning and evening -- and on weekends -- around many mountain towns, you can watch an endless string of sport-utility vehicle lights snake through what used to be unspoiled hills and ravines.

Gigantic housing tracts are cropping up among those ponderosa pines that chain saws and bulldozers have not already cleared. People are building fancy houses and mountain retreats so deep into wild places that city fire services tell them they're on their own come the next forest fire. Other folks are snapping up ranchettes, as they're called -- meadow parcels with a mountain view. So rampant is Denver's suburbanization that Northern Colorado ranchers are selling out to developers and moving operations up into Wyoming.

While water -- which is scarce in parts of the West -- seems abundant among frigid Rocky Mountain streams, subdivisions and shopping malls are draining aquifers on the prairies beneath the peaks. And human sprawl is steadily constricting the habitats of eagles, elk, and bears as well. All because of the western version of Americans' search for a simpler life, close to nature.

The magnificent Rocky Mountains have inspired songs like "Springtime in the Rockies", "Swing-time in the Rockies", and "Rockin' in the Rockies".

Coming next? "Ruinin' the Rockies"?