Grand Teton National Park

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Oxbow Bend along the Snake River against the Teton Range. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Just south of Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming is one of the most exquisitely beautiful locations in the entire United States. Here serene waters, thick forests, and lush meadows provide a haven for a vast amount of wildlife, all set against the dramatic and jagged peaks of the Teton Range. Although the peaks themselves were first protected in 1929 as Grand Teton National Park, a long series of political battles went on for another thirty years before the pristine surroundings were added to the park.

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South Teton, Middle Teton, Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot Mountain from Antelope Flats. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

The Tetons are the centerpiece here, dominated by Grand Teton at 13,700 feet (4197 m). The surrounding peaks of South Teton, Middle Teton, and Mount Owen all approach 13,000 feet (3962 m) as well. They rise dramatically from the low, wide plain of Jackson Hole, a valley 7,000 feet (2134 m) below.

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The Teton Range from Antelope Flats. Please note that is not a volcano, and that is not a puff of smoke. It’s just a cloud that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

About 100 million years ago this region appeared very different. At that time a vast inland sea inundated a relatively flat area, and over millions of years thousands of feet of marine sediments accumulated over thick igneous and metamorphic basement rocks. Beginning around 70 million years ago tectonic collision slowly uplifted this region. Then around 10 million years ago a different type of tectonic force began to pull the crust apart. As the crust stretched, thinned, and cracked, massive faults began to form in the rock. The Teton Fault is the most significant here, and as the crust pulled apart the floor of Jackson Hole gradually fell in relation to the higher Teton Range. As the rocks separated along the fault, the sides of the mountains exposed the parallel sedimentary beds that had accumulated tens of millions of years earlier.

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Parallel bedding exposed near the south end of the Teton Range. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Over the last two million years alpine glaciers have slowly carved the Tetons into their present shape. Although climate change has reduced their area, they still continue to chip away at the rocks of the Tetons.

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Alpine glacier on the flank of Middle Teton. There’s also a black diabase dike running up the middle of this peak. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

To the east of these impressive mountains are an equally impressive variety of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Formed predominantly from the snow melt from the surrounding peaks, these waters nurture dense forests, lush meadows, abundant wildlife, recreation opportunities, and gorgeous scenery.

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Glaciated Mount Moran and Owbow Bend along the Snake River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

At nearly 40 square miles (104 square km) in surface area, the largest body of water is Jackson Lake. Boating and fishing are popular activities both here and on Jenny Lake to the south.

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The Tetons and Jackson Lake from near the Jackson Lake Overlook. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

The main waterway through the park is the Snake River. In many places it’s lined with sand and gravel bars as well as thick conifers. Beneath the surface the river is teeming with a variety of fish.

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The Snake River near Moran Junction. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

These waters are world-renowned for trout fishing. Cutthroat trout (Salmoniformes: Salmonidae: Oncorhynchus clarkii), brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), and lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) draw a number of anglers to the park every year.

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The Snake River near Moran Junction. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

The waters of Grand Teton provide habitats for larger animals as well. A number of waterfowl can often be found around Oxbow Bend on the Snake River. Most notable are perhaps Trumpeter Swans (Anseriformes: Anatidae: Cygnus buccinator), the largest waterfowl in North America.

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Trumpeter Swans on Owbow Bend along the Snake River. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Near the north end of Moose-Wilson Road is a modest pond that moose (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Alces alces) seem to like. The small crowds of onlookers suggest moose gather here on a regular basis.

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Moose in a pond along Moose-Wilson Road. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Farther away from the water, the open meadows provide a home for herds of American bison (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Bison bison).

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American bison along Antelope Flats. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Among these grasslands there are also a fair number of pronghorn (Artiodactyla: Antilocapridae: Antilocapra americana). As the fastest land mammals in North America, these animals need the space to run from predators.

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Pronghorn near the Taggart Lake Trailhead. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

More forested areas harbor a large number of elk (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Cervus canadensis). In late summer and autumn mature males can be heard bugling. These mating calls serve to warn competing males and attract females.

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Bull elk near the Taggart Lake Trailhead. Photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Both grizzly bears and American black bears (Carnivora: Ursidae: Ursus americanus) can be found hidden among the thick foliage:

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Large black bear along Moose-Wilson Road. Photographed 09/04/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Smaller mammals like chipmunks (Rodentia: Sciuridae: Tamias spp.) also seem to be everywhere.

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Chipmunk at the Signal Mountain Lodge. Photographed 09/04/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

After each day exploring the geology, scenery, and wildlife of this diverse national park, the Tetons and accompanying lakes stand ready to frame some fabulous sunsets.

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Sunset over the Tetons and Jackson Lake from the Signal Mountain Lodge. Photographed 09/04/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

It seems odd that Yellowstone National Park just to the north receives about 3.6 million visitors per year, while Grand Teton sees only about 2.6 million. That seems to suggest about one million people per year miss out on the grandeur of Grand Teton in spite of being right next door. It’s sort of a shame since Grand Teton National Park is one of America’s best.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Geology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Grand Teton National Park

  1. Marli Miller says:

    Wonderful site! I’ll look forward to reading more of your work!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jet Eliot says:

    Great post — informative, interesting, and great photos. Based on your photograph dates, I was at GT NP at the same time you were. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jeremy Sell says:

    Thank you for your compliments. I wish I could have stayed longer, but was glad to see as much as I did. See any bears?

    Like

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