November 27, 2012 1:31 pm

The Alps make up the largest mountain system in Europe. They are world-famous for their scenic beauty. The Alps are a region of majestic, snow-capped peaks, deep valleys, narrow , and wide glaciers.
The Alps reach across south-central Europe in a broad arc. They stretch all the way from southern France, in the west, to eastern Austria. Along the way, the mountains cross Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. The Alps form a chain that extends about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers).
The highest mountain in the Alps is Mont Blanc. It lies on the border between France and Italy and rises to a height of 15,782 feet (4,810 meters). But perhaps the most famous mountain in the Alps is the spectacular Matterhorn. This jagged, horn-shaped peak stands in southwestern Switzerland, near the border with Italy.
Snow and ice cover the high slopes of the Alps year round. Glaciers move very slowly down from the high peaks. Over thousands of years, as the glaciers move downhill, they carve out steep, U-shaped valleys.
Melting snow from the glaciers feeds many streams and rivers. Some of Europe’s most important rivers, such as the Rhine, the Rhône, and the Po, start in the Alps.
For centuries, the Alps formed a barrier between northern and southern Europe. In the past, travel over the Alps was difficult, especially in winter. That’s because snow blocks many of the passes (routes) between the high peaks.
In recent times, people have built bridges across valleys and dug tunnels through the mountains. These include the Saint Gotthard Road Tunnel. At 10.1 miles (16.3 kilometers) long, it’s the world’s longest automobile tunnel. Today, you can cross the Alps all year round.
Forests cover many of the foothills of the Alps. Between the woods are mountain meadows. Cattle of Swiss and Austrian farmers graze in these meadows in summer. When the first snows cover the pastures, the farmers bring their animals down to their villages for the winter.
The Alps attract many hikers and climbers in summer. Skiers and snowboarders flock to the Alps in winter. Lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of a wild goat, such as an alpine ibex or a chamois. These sure-footed animals live high on rocky slopes in the Alps.
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