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Interesting Facts About Grand Teton National Park

All of our national parks are amazing, and each offers a way to shed the constraints of being indoors and in front of screens and get out into the fresh air.

But Grand Teton National Park is unique in many ways, and definitely deserves a spot on your outdoors bucket list.

You won’t be alone; Grand Teton is one of the 10 most visited national parks in America. 

Here are some interesting facts about Grand Teton National Park. 

Grand Teton National Park is Controversial

When the park was officially established by Calvin Cooidge in 1929, many Americans opposed setting aside nearly 96,000 acres as a protected park.

Shortly afterward, John D. Rockerfeller Jr. visited the region, and immediately understood that the surrounding lands should also be protected.

He quietly began buying property around Jackson Hole Valley, eventually amassing 221,000 acres.

When he handed those lands over to the federal government in 1943 the move was not popular among the locals.

Franklin Roosevelt immediately used the Antiquities Act to protect the land, naming it Jackson Hole National Monument.

This sparked a protest by area cattle ranchers, who weren’t pleased about the prospect of having the government step into conservation or the potential of future restrictions on land use.

As a response they led a protest drive of more than 500 cattle across the land that would become Jackson Hole National Monument.

The drive was led by none other than Academy Award winner Wallace Beery, who was the highest paid actor at the time. 

After significant infighting among senators, Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole National Monument were merged in 1950, creating a 310,000 acre park that remains in place today.   

Grand Teton is the Only National Park with a Commercial Airport

Not every traveller who takes off or lands at Jackson Hole Airport is aware that the runways are located within Grand Teton National Park.

The airport was built in the 1930s, and was deemed part of Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943.

When the monument became part of Grand Teton National Park in 1950, the airport was part of the deal.

grand tetons
I, Michael Gäbler, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are Glaciers in Grand Teton National Park

The park has a long and continuing history of glacial activity.

Multiple ice ages occurring nearly 200,000 years ago created huge valley glaciers.

Some were thousands of feet thick, and these large chunks of ice cut away at the rock as they slowly moved down the mountain peaks and into the canyons. 

Today, smaller glaciers can be found on the north and northeastern slopes within the central Teton mountain range.

Although far less powerful than the valley glaciers, these smaller glaciers do cut away at the rock as gravity moves them downhill.

It’s estimated that they will soon stop moving, thereby losing their glacial status.  

Grand Teton is an Oasis for Birds

More than 300 species of birds call Grand Teton home.

Visitors can spot an astounding array of birds, including the largest waterfowl found in North America (the trumpeter swan) and the smallest known North American bird species, the calliope hummingbird. 

If you visit Grand Teton National Park you might also be lucky enough to spot a bald eagle or golden eagle, or birds of prey like the red-tailed hawk, osprey, or American kestrel.

Some visitors even report sightings of peregrine falcons!

This makes Grand Teton National Park a top destination for birdwatchers.

The area also supports a dizzying array of wildlife, including high speed species like the pronghorn, which is one of the fastest mammals in this part of the world.

Grand Teton National Park is Both Very Old and Very New

The geological history of Grand Teton and the surrounding region is fascinating, even for those who don’t normally consider themselves rockhounds.

Depending on how you view the matter, Grand Teton is both one of the oldest and one of the newest national parks, geologically speaking. 

Some of the rocks found within the park are among the oldest ever identified in any of America’s national parks.

Geologists have dated some rocks to more than 2.7 billion years ago, and many believe the park holds rocks that are even older than that.

This metamorphic rock type is called gneiss, and were formed when sediments from an ancient sea floor and volcanic debris were buried and compressed around 18 miles deep as two tectonic plates collided.  

On the other hand, the Teton mountain ranges are among the youngest in the nation.

The mountain blocks that make up this range are lifted when earthquakes lift them upward, which also creates the valleys between the peaks.

This lifting process has only been going on for a mere 10 million years, while ranges like the Rockies have been lifting for 50-80 million years. 

Humans Have Been Present Here for 11,000 Years

Researchers believe humans have been present in the land now known as Grand Teton National Park for more than 11,000 years.

It appears that nomadic paleo-Indians began entering the Jackson Hole Valley area after the Pleistocene Ice Age glaciers retreated. 

Evidence for this early human presence includes archeological sites with tipis, fire rings, and even stone tools.

It’s believed these early humans came through during the summers to fish, hunt, and gather.

When the weather began to cool, the nomadic tribes likely followed the prey out of the valleys and into more temperate areas. 

Euro-American explorers to the region date back to the Lewis and Clark expeditions, when an explorer named John Colter broke away from the established route and made his way through the Grand Teton area.

Fur trappers worked the area in the early 1940s until over-trapping led to a decline in the more popular species, like beaver. 

See Grand Teton National Park for Yourself  

When you’re ready to hit the open road and see some of America’s gorgeous national parks, Grand Teton National Park deserves a spot near the top of that list.

The interesting facts listed here are just a glimpse into what makes this park such a special place. 

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