Located in northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park protects stunning mountain scenery and a diverse array of wildlife. Rising more than 7,000 feet above the valley of Jackson Hole, the Teton Range dominates the park’s skyline. Natural processes continue to shape the ecosystem against this impressive and iconic backdrop.

The elevation of the park ranges from 6,400 feet on the sagebrush-dominated valley floor to 13,770 feet on the windswept granite summit of the Grand Teton. Between the summit and plain, forests carpet the mountainsides. During summer, wildflowers paint meadows in vivid colors. Crystalline alpine lakes fill glacial cirques, and noisy streams cascade down rocky canyons to larger lakes at the foot of the range. These lakes, impounded by glacial debris, mirror the mountains on calm days. Running north to south, the Snake River winds its way down the valley and across this amazing scene.

Long, snowy, and bitterly cold winters make the climate of Jackson Hole unforgiving. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Grand Teton National Park was –63°F, and snow often blankets the landscape from early November to late April. Brief, relatively warm summers provide a respite from the rigors of winter and a time of renewal and rebirth. In cooperation or competition, the plants and animals adapt to this harsh climate and dramatic elevation change as each finds ways to survive.

On a sunny day the Tetons seem ageless and constant. Stand by a river during the spring run-off and listen to the clack as one stone tumbles over another. Hike a mountain trail in the summer and see the tops of sub-alpine fir broken by an avalanche the previous winter. Watch the clouds build along the crest as you race a thunderstorm down from Paintbrush Divide on a summer afternoon. Witness the re-growth of grasses, wildflowers, and sapling lodgepole pines following a fire. Soon you begin to realize that the park is constantly changing.

Some of these forces are incredibly powerful and their impact is easily and readily observed. Some, however, work on a time-scale that is imperceptible, but change the landscape in no less dramatic a fashion. Some changes are the result of natural processes and some are the result of human actions. It is certain, however, that change is a constant in the Teton Range.

Nature:  Artists create a mosaic by setting small colored pieces of tile into mortar to create a decorative design or picture. While each piece of tile is unique and colorful in its own right, the artist creates something greater than the individual parts by carefully combining and arranging each small piece.

While the Teton Range dominates the landscape, it is the interplay of mountains, faults, glaciers, forests, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and geologic features that create the overal grandeur of Grand Teton National Park. Taken individually, each feature is fascinating and worthy of protection, but when combined as they are in Grand Teton, they create a mosaic that is inspiring beyond compare.

Glaciers: A quilt of snow blankets Grand Teton National Park in the winter. As spring approaches that white blanket dwindles in size; however, even in the heat of summer, snow and ice are present in the form of glaciers and snowfields. An average of 176.5 inches of snow falls in the Tetons each year, slowly feeding the glaciers and snowfields each winter, while the warm temperatures of the summer season eat away at this surplus of snow.

Glaciers carry rocks, soil, sand, and other debris from higher to lower elevations. This material can be carried on the surface, inside, or even frozen to the bottom of the glacier. All glaciers flow and are lubricated by the accumulation of meltwater under their base, a process called basal slippage.

One major feature you may see on a glacier is a crevasse. Crevasses are deep, V-shaped structures found in the uppermost layer of the glacier. To visualize what happens to a glacier as it moves, imagine bending a Snickers bar into an arch, the surface of the bar will crack, while the base (nougat) remains flexible. This is how a glacier moves, the surface is rigid and cracks as the glacier moves over uneven terrain or around a corner, while the base is more plastic and will remain whole. 

Glaciers have had a weighty impact on the Teton Range. Ice, over 3,000 feet thick, moved across the valley floor. Today the mottled beauty of the mountains is punctuated by a contrast of dark and light. Exposed rock lies adjacent to snow or ice. Currently there are numerous snowfields and twelve glaciers in the park. These masses of moving ice have names like Schoolroom, Teton, Middle Teton, Triple, and Skillet Glacier.

For a good view of a glacier, drive four miles north from Moose along the inside park road to the Teton Glacier turnout. You will find an interpretive sign that will illustrate where the glacier can be found on the range.

Fossils: When one views the Teton Range, visions of vast, ancient seas do not usually come to mind. The peaks seem so powerful and imposing, that it may be difficult to imagine this area covered by a sea. Both of these scenes, however, describe chapters in the geologic history of Grand Teton National Park. Fossils are the mineralized remains or impressions of plants or animals from past geologic ages, and provide geologists with clues to unravel the past history of the area.

Fossils are typically found in sedimentary rock. Many sedimentary rocks form as material such as gravel, sand, or mud settles from water into horizontal layers. With time, these layers become buried, compressed, and lithify (harden to rock). Organic material such as plant and animal remains settles along with the sediment and is buried within the layers. As the waters recede, sedimentary rocks are exposed to erosive forces such as wind, rain, ice, and gravity. These forces break down the rocks exposing each successive underlying layer. Eventually, the fossil remains of a creature once buried under thousands of feet of sediment are exposed at the earth’s surface.

In the northern, southern, and, most dramatically, in the western portions of Grand Teton National Park are extensive exposures of sedimentary formations, some over a thousand feet thick dating back to roughly 500 million years ago. Many of these formations contain the fossil remains of marine organisms. The presence of these fossils allows geologists to conclude that where the Teton Range now stands was once the floor of an ancient sea inhabited by algae, coral, brachiopods (clam-like shells), and trilobites—early ancestors of the crayfish.

Fossils do more than provide us with a fascinating look at prehistoric life forms. They are useful tools to date geologic features, analyze past climates, and trace evolutionary processes. If you are fortunate enough to find a fossil during a visit to a national park, please look but do not take. Leave the fossils to be rediscovered by other visitors and scientists in the future.

Lakes and Ponds: Most of the lakes in the park were created thousands of years ago. As the glaciers moved they pushed aside soil and dug into the ground. When the glaciers melted they left behind an indentation in the ground that filled with water from the melting glacial ice. These became the lakes that we see today. Jackson Lake, the park’s largest lake, is a natural lake that has been altered by a human-made dam.

Ponds can be formed like lakes but may also be the result of part of a river being blocked, beavers building a dam, natural sinkholes in the ground, or even human activity. The plant and animal life in a pond area is very diverse and productive.

Ponds and lakes provide a variety of habitat in and around them. From cutthroat trout to crawfish, from great blue herons to moose, almost all wildlife in the park derive some benefit from lakes and ponds. Ponds and lakes also provide recreational opportunities for visitors. Some of the easiest and most popular hikes are around lakes and ponds. All of the lakes are open to swimming and non-motorized boating. Jackson Lake also allows motorized boats for recreational use.

Flood Plains: It is normal for river levels to fluctuate throughout the year. The flood plain is the area around a river that experiences flooding while water levels are high. In the park you can see the Snake River meander through its flood plain, creating a braided effect.

Wetlands and marshes can be found in the flood plain and provide vital plant and animal habitat. A great place to view wildlife in the flood plain is Schwabacher’s Landing, where you can observe an active beaver colony.

Flooding brings nutrients to the flood plain because rivers carry rich sediments and material that serves as fertilizer. Efforts to control natural flooding often leads to worse flooding in other areas. Wild rivers without levees or dams are becoming increasingly hard to find.

Animals: It seems that wildlife is never far away in Grand Teton National Park. High in the mountains, a yellow-bellied marmot whistles a warning as a golden eagle soars above. Searching for insect larvae, a black bear rips into a rotten lodgepole pine log. On the valley floor, a herd of bison graze as a coyote trots among the sagebrush, looking for a meal. Along the Snake River, an osprey dives into the water with talons extended, rising with a cutthroat trout. In a nearby meadow, a moose browses the tender buds of willows that grow in this water-rich environment.

Animals relate to and shape the environment in which they survive; they are also interconnected. Some of these relationships are obvious, while others are much less so. These relationships and connections cross park boundaries. Grand Teton National Park’s 310,000 acres lie at the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem encompasses over eleven million acres and is considered one of the few remaining, nearly intact, temperate ecosystems on earth. The animals that inhabit Grand Teton National Park depend on this vast area for survival, residing in and migrating to different areas depending on the season.
Plants: Over 1000 species of vascular plants grow in Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding area. Soil conditions, availability of moisture, slope, aspect, and elevation all determine where plants grow. Plants that require similar conditions are often found growing in the same area. These associations form various plant communities. It is useful to divide the plants of Grand Teton National Park into the following communities: sagebrush flats, riparian corridors and wetlands, forests, and alpine areas.

The valley floor of Jackson Hole is comprised of loose rocky soil through which water percolates easily. In these conditions the silvery-green big leaf sagebrush is conspicuous. Although at first glance it appears that only sage grows on the flats, this area is remarkably diverse.

Moisture-loving plants find suitable growing conditions along the Snake River, its tributaries, and other wetland areas. Narrow leaf cottonwood and willows, both of which thrive in wet areas, grow along the watercourses, creating ribbons of light green across the landscape. Wet meadows provide the conditions suited to grasses, sedges, and wildflowers.

The canyons, mountainsides, and hills created by glacial debris, called moraines, contain deeper soils that are capable of holding moisture. These conditions support the growth of trees. Conifers dominate these areas, coloring the slopes a dark green.

Although they appear gray and lifeless, the high alpine reaches of the park support plants specially adapted to the harsh growing conditions found there. Wind, snow, lack of soil, increased ultraviolet radiation, rapid and dramatic shifts in temperature, and a short growing season all challenge the hardy plants that survive here. Most plants adapt by growing close to the ground in mats like the alpine forget-me-not.
Below is some of the pictures we took during our rescent vacation in Yellowstone.

Teton Road Lake Colter bay

Willow flat Signal Mountain Signal mountain

Signal Mountain  Teton view Jackson dam view

Teton view 2 Mt Moran Mt Moran 2

Jenny lake view Hidden creek Hidden Falls

Hidden Falls  Inspiration point Inspiration point 2 

Inspiration point 3  Glacier Sculpt Snake river view

Teton Skyline


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