The Grand Tetons rise 13,770 feet into the sky from Jackson Hole, in northwest Wyoming. Another eight peaks in the range are over 12,000 feet themselves. It’s a massive, awe-inspiring section of the Rocky Mountains, but the Tetons are only part of the wonder of the park, a place that any lover of the outdoors will want to visit before they die.
12,000 years ago Native American hunting parties camped along the shore of Jackson Lake, and the area become a neutral site where trade and travel routes crisscrossed the area. The Snake River and the Teton Pass both provided shortcuts to the Pacific Northwest, while a southern route opened up the Colorado plateau and Great Basin regions.
How the region got its name is up for debate. Some claim the mountains are named after one of the tribes in the Sioux Nation. Others claim the name was given to the range by French trappers, who thought the peaks reminded them of something, well, feminine (“Tetons” means nipples in French.)
The east face of the Teton Range is around 2,500 million years old. It’s made up primarily of limestones, metamorphosed sandstone, shales, and volcanic deposits. Around 70 million years ago a mountain building “episode” called the Laramide orogeny began to lift up much of western North America, eventually forming the Rocky Mountains. Highlands rose along a fault system that was created during this period, while the uplifted areas sent eroded sediment down into basins like Jackson Hole as reverse faults were creating the first part of the Teton Range. During the Eocene age, massive volcanoes erupted in North America, in the Yellowstone area. This happened again during the Pleistocene era, leaving deep volcanic deposits in the basins of the Teton range.
Around nine million years ago the Teton Range began to grow. It grew along a north-south fault system that lie next to Jackson Hole. Glaciers moved into the area, some of them melding together, carrying away all the soil in Jackson Hole. Ice ages came again and reversed the effect of this original glacial movement, depositing moraines (soil and rock) and till (glacial sediment).
Today Grand Teton National Park, spread out in the middle of the Greater Yellowstone ecoystem, is one of the largest intact temperate ecosystems left on the plane. Teton consists of sagebrush flats, forests, riparian corridors, wetlands and alpine areas that host thousands of species of flora and fauna. Teton has over a 1,000 species of plants, such as Douglas Firs, Blue Spruces, aspens, alders, willows and cottonwoods. Fauna such as pine martens, red squirrels, grizzly and black bears rummage in the forests. Moose, elk, and wolves cool off in the shade of the forest and feed in the sagebrush and meadows of the park. Coyotes and badgers make homes in the loesses available in the park, wind-blown silt, sand and clay. Mountain lions roam the range. Bison and mule deer graze the bottomlands. Reptiles like the wandering garter snake and the rubber boa slither through the brush. There are tiger salamanders, northern leopard frogs, six species of bats, and over 300 species of birds in the region. Birds such as bald eagles, Calliope hummingbirds, ospreys, swans and western tanagers call the park home. Scurrying from the birds of prey are the yellow-bellied marmot, least chipmunk, muskrat, and uinta ground squirrel to name a few.
This outdoor paradise has gone through many permutations over its epic lifespan. An argument could be made that right now, Grand Teton National Park has reached its peak.