Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is located in northwestern Wyoming, only ten miles away from Yellowstone National Park, and holds about 310,000 acres of protected land. It is surrounded by several National Forests. These three areas encompass 18,000,000 million acres of pristine temperate ecosystem. The park holds Teton Range, a range of mountains that stretches over forty miles, and Jackson Hole, a valley that comprises most of the parks northernmost land.

Early inhabitants of the Grand Teton area included Paleo-Indians, like those associated with the Clovis culture. Tools, fire pits, and other objects were found along the coasts of Jackson Lake. These Paleo-Indians lived in separate areas during the winter and summer seasons, migrating to Teton Range to reside in valleys during the winter months. In the early 19th century, European explorers encountered the Shoshone Native American tribe in the Teton Range area. These Native Americans migrated in a similar pattern to their ancestors and had a close spiritual connection to the mountains.

The establishment of Grand Teton National park began after the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872. By the end of the 19th century, conservationists were interested in expanding Yellowstone to include the Teton Range and other areas, but residents of the Jackson Hole area were opposed to the idea of expansion. However, the residents were supportive of the idea of establishing the Teton Range and neighboring areas as a national park. In 1929, after Congress passed the bill, Calvin Coolidge signed the bill that established the 96,000 Grand Teton National Park.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. owned much of the Jackson Hole area by the 1930’s, after he and his wife expressed much interest in adding the land to Grand Teton National Park. Although residents opposed this idea, Rockefeller urged the government to expand the park in 1942. President Franklin Roosevelt established 221,000 acres in the Jackson Hole area as a National Monument the following year, including some land from the Teton National Forest. The Jackson Hole National Monument was managed by the National Park Service along with Grand Teton National Park. In 1950, with mixed feelings on the part of national and local citizens, the monument and the park were merged together, and another extension adding 24,000 acres was conducted in honor of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Grand Teton National park is bordered by the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway in the north and by a highway with the same name in the south. The park holds most of the mountain peaks of the Teton Range, the Gros Ventre Wilderness in Bridger-Teton National Forest, and the Teton Wilderness. The Teton mountain range extends from north to south along a rough line, beginning abruptly in the Jackson Hole area. The highest peak in the range, known as Grand Teton, is 13,775 feet high, while nine other peaks have a height of about 12,000 feet. The park also contains Jackson Hole, a 55-mile valley, and many glacial lakes. The largest of these lakes, known as Jackson Lake, is 15 miles long. The Snake River runs through the park and collects drainage water from most of the major lakes in the park, or their tributaries.

The climate of Grand Teton National park is typically semi-arid, but during the months of November to January, the park can accumulate a large amount of snowfall and some rainfall. Temperatures in January average 26 °F during the day, while in July, the daily temperature reaches an average of 80 °F. It is common for the park to experience thunderstorms during summer months, especially near the mountains. Although Grand Teton national Park is nearly 100 miles away from any populous city and local residents do not affect the area greatly, toxin levels in the air of the park have risen slightly, possibly due to rain that has traveled from other areas.

Grand Teton national park supports over 1,000 species of vascular plants due to the large number of habitats it holds. The plants include large spruce-fir forests, deciduous and conifer forests, sagebrush fields, and trees like alder, willow, cottonwood, and alpine. Where trees are not present, plants like moss, wildflowers, lichen, and grasses are able to thrive. Despite this wide variety of abundant plant life, the lodgepole pine and whitebark pine, which is a keystone species to many animals, are thought to be at risk.

There are 61 species of animal in Grand Teton National Park, including the re-introduced gray wolf, the grizzly bear, the coyote, and the American black bear. Many small animals reside in the park as well, including the badger, pika, beaver, porcupine, and six bat species. Larger, non-carnivorous animals include elk, pronghorn, and bison. Bighorn sheep are also present in the park, but these only number between 100 and 125. Bird species within the park include trumpeter swans, the largest birds in North America, and calliope hummingbirds, the smallest birds in North America. Other animals that appear in the park include fish, like the mountain whitefish, reptiles like wandering garter snakes, and amphibians like tiger salamanders.

Grand Teton National park offers a number of activities to visitors including regulated hunting of elk, rock and mountain climbing, hiking, camping, boating, fishing, and cross-country skiing. The park receives nearly 2.5 million visitors each year that can stay in many lodgings throughout the park, including the Jackson Lake Lodge, which has 385 rooms. There are several visitor centers in the park, where visitors can see museums and other indoor attractions.

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Image Caption: Bison grazing in front the Grand Tetons. Credit: Jkinsocal/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)