The Grand Tetons were what drew me to Wyoming for a photography trip, the Jackson Hole Ski Resort and Yellowstone National Park made me stay. Like Yellowstone, Grand Teton Park is deserving of a bucket load of superlatives also and many will soon follow. As a long time guide I am often asked which park I like best, and my reply is, I like them equally for different reasons, Grand Teton Park is more beautiful and Yellowstone has cooler stuff in it.
The Sagebrush plain and aspen grove accent the grandure of the Grand Tetons in Grand Teton National Park.
The grandeur of Grand Teton Park has made it one of the most photographed places in the world. The opportunity to harness multiple juxtapositional elements has drawn photographers for over a century. The flats of the valley contrasted with the magnificent escarpment that jumps out of the ground at the tectonic juncture of valley and mountain. The contrast of the sagebrush valley that morphs with altitude to the boreal forest then to the sub alpine terrain that accents the granite spires that tower over the Snake River’s valley. Many movies have been made there because of the suburb backdrop as well as a steady stream of commercials.
Grand Teton National Park it truly one of the National Park systems crown jewels. It is located in northwestern Wyoming and preserves a spectacular landscape rich with majestic and famous mountains, pristine lakes, and extraordinary wildlife. The abrupt vertical rise of the jagged Grand Teton Mountain Range contrasts with the sage-covered valley bottom and glacial lakes at their base, creating world-renowned scenery that attracts nearly four million visitors per year.
Rising more than 7,000 feet above the valley of Jackson Hole, the Grand Teton Range serrate Grand Teton Park’s skyline in a very dramatic way. The mighty Snake River winds its way down the valley providing stunning views of the mountains around every bend. The elevation of the park ranges from 6,400 feet on the sagebrush covered valley floor to 13,770 feet on the windswept granite summit of the Grand Teton. Natural processes, wind, snow, ice, and rain, continue to shape Grand Tetons Mountains and valleys. Numerous trails provide access into the remote backcountry of the park.
During summer, blankets of wildflowers such as lupine, columbine, balsamroot, and Indian paintbrush paint meadows in vivid colors. Stunningly beautiful alpine lakes fill glacial cirques once occupied by ice, and noisy streams cascade down rocky canyons to larger lakes at the foot of the range. These lakes, impounded by natural dams of glacial moraine, mirror the mountains on calm days and are often captured forever by the thousands of photographers that show up every year to do just that.
Winter sunrise at the Snake River Overlook in Grand Teton National Park.
Long, snowy, and bitterly cold winters make the climate of Grand Teton Park unforgiving for the timid. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the Park was –63°F, and snow blankets the landscape from early November till April. Brief, relatively warm summers provide a respite from the rigors of winter and a time of renewal and rebirth. Somehow the plants and animals adapt to this harsh climate and dramatic elevation change as each finds ways to survive. Fall often brings a bit of snow punctuated with lots of Indian summer.
Grand Teton National Park, like Yellowstone is world-renowned for its wildlife viewing opportunities. A panoply of the most sought-after animals that can be found inside the park include: moose, black and grizzly bears, pronghorn, elk, bald eagles, gray wolves, coyotes, and bison and often this plethora of wildlife reminiscent of a time gone by provide excellent accents to an already-stunning landscape.
A string of glacial lakes grace the feet of the mountains like a necklace of pearls the most popular being Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake. Jackson Lake is more than 16 miles long, has a shoreline of about 80 miles and covers almost 26,000 acres. Its elevation is 6,770 feet and it is up to 445 feet deep, filling a depression scooped out by a great Ice age glacier. The mountains rise dramatically along the west shore and soar 7,000 feet above the lake. The second largest lake in the park, Jenny Lake has an elevation of 6,783 feet and a maximum depth of 256 feet. It was named for a Shoshone Indian woman who was the wife of an early day trapper and guide, Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh, for whom Leigh Lake was named.
Grizzly #399 and cubs, Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone may be famous for its geysers, but Grand Teton National Park is infamous for the endless amount of outdoor activities. There is so much to do that even the locals have a hard time getting it all in each season. Best of all, there is something for everyone, from the most extreme outdoor sports to leisure activities such as wildlife viewing or simply soaking in the surrounding natural beauty.
Native American hunting parties from the northern Rocky Mountains camped along the Shore of Jackson Lake around 12,000 years ago while following game. For thousands of years, Jackson Hole was used as a neutral crossroad for trade and travel routes in the area. One route followed the Snake River to its source in the Yellowstone area where abundant obsidian could be found. Another major route traversed the Teton Pass at the southern end of the range, providing a shortcut to the Pacific Northwest region of what is now the United States. Also, a southern route led to the Colorado Plateaus region and the Great Basin.
The Grand Tetons were named by French explorers who called the three highest peaks of the range Les Trois Tetons (the three breasts). In the 18th and 19th centuries, fur trappers, and fur traders called deep valleys rimmed by high mountains “holes.” One such fur trapper was named David Jackson, and his favorite place to ‘hole-up’ was named after him in 1829.
John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, is the first white American known to have visited the area now known as Jackson Hole as early as 1805-1806. Geologist F.V. Hayden visited the area in 1860 as part of the Raynolds expedition. In the summer of 1871 he led the first government-sponsored scientific survey of the Yellowstone area just to the north. One part of that survey, led by geologist James Stevenson, traveled into Jackson Hole via the Teton Pass before meeting up with the other half of the expedition in Yellowstone. While passing through, the team, which included Yellowstone’s first superintendent N.P. Longford, photographer William Henry Jackson, and artist William Henry Holmes, among others, mapped the area and surveyed its geology and biology. This data was later included in the Hayden Survey reports.
Derilict log cabin, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole
Homesteaders moved into Jackson Hole in the 1880’s, but the short growing season along with weeks of being snowed-in each winter kept all but the hardiest individuals away. One of those settlers, a rancher named Pierce Cunningham, circulated a petition to have Jackson Hole saved for the “education and enjoyment of the Nation as a whole.” Pierce Cunningham’s cabin built in 1885 is an often photographed relic of Jackson Hole’s past and serves a double purpose as a historic treasure but also a window into the life of the pioneer. The cabin faces straight towards the Grand Tetons that reflects the regard Cunningham had for the mountains. Pioneers often overlooked such things.
One of Jackson Hole’s first residents was Nick Wilson. There was a movie made about him running away from his family in Utah to live with the Shoshone Indians in the Wind River Valley. The Move is called Win River and is well worth seeing. Nick Wilson Returned to his family but soon moved to Jackson Hole, a place he passed through to the Wind River Valley. Jackson Hole trapped him as it does us all.
Grand Teton National Park was established in 1929; Jackson Hole National Monument was created in 1943. The two units were combined to become present-day Grand Teton National Park in 1950. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway was established in 1972 to commemorate the philanthropic activities of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his generous donations of lands to the National Park System. The Parkway is managed as a recreation area under the administration of Grand Teton National Park.
Before I moved to Jackson Hole in 1987 I never let any moss grow to the bottom of my feet, I was a restless traveler that moved at the drop of a hat. Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone trapped me and won’t let me go.