Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park, whose WDPA Code is: 983 is a protected area located in the state of Wyoming, in the United States of America.
This park has an area of ​​1,254 km².
The Grand Teton National Park is famous for its mountainous landscapes dominated by the Grand Teton Mountain, which rises up to 4,199 m of altitude, whose formation of over two billion years, is among the oldest on the planet, although the current relief is of recent formation, dating back to about ten million years.
Human settlements in this area date back over 10,000 years, when Paleo-American hunter-gatherer populations migrated to the region during the summer months, in search of food and supplies. Over the centuries, these nomadic peoples refined their techniques and technologies, until the arrival of the first European explorers.
Unfortunately, the Shoshone, native peoples of this area, were driven out by the new settlers, who began to settle in the park area at the end of the 19th century.
The Grand Teton National Park was established on February 26, 1929. This park was established to protect the pristine state of the major peaks of the Teton Range.
The valley at the foot of the peaks, Jackson Hole, remained the property of local people until the 1930s, when conservationists, led by John Davison Rockefeller jr, a wealthy businessman, began to buy land, despite strong opposition from part of the local populations . In 1950 its acreage was extended, in part thanks to Rockefeller’s land donation.
Given its proximity to Yellowstone National Park and other protected areas, this park is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, an immense territory where bison (Bison bison bison), grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis) and numerous other species can live in one of the last large intact ecosystems of North America.

Geography –
Grand Teton National Park is located in the northwest of the State of Wyoming, in a mountainous region dominated by the Teton Range massif part of the Rocky Mountains, about a dozen kilometers south of the immense Yellowstone National Park. Between the two protected areas is the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, a park established to form a continuous ecosystem between the two main parks. Grand Teton Park is bordered to the west by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and to the east by Bridger-Teton National Forest. Over 400km to the south is the city of Salt Lake City and 150km to the west is the city of Idaho Falls. The small town of Jackson is located at the southern entrance to the park.
The topography of the park is essentially characterized by the mountain massifs of the Teton Range. With a length of about 65 km and a width between 10 and 15 km, the massif covers the entire western and eastern part, including the Jackson Hole valley, within which the Snake River flows. The highest peak in the park, the Grand Teton, is located at an altitude of 4,197 m a.s.l. and is located over 2,000 meters higher than the underlying watercourse.
Mount Owen, with an elevation of 3,940 meters, is the second highest peak and another dozen mountains exceed 3,600 meters.
The Jackson Hole valley, which develops at about 2,000 m a.s.l., extends for 89 km in a north-south direction, with an average width of 21 km. This valley is bordered to the east by the Gros Ventre Range massif, which culminates at an altitude of 3,572 m a.s.l., and by the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
There are many lakes in Grand Teton National Park, most of which are of glacial origin and formed several thousand years ago.
The largest lake in the park is Jackson Lake which has been enlarged thanks to the construction of a dam which has extended the area previously occupied by a smaller lake.
Jackson Lake has an area of ​​103.4 km², with a maximum depth of 134 meters. The other important lakes in the park are the Jenny, the Leigh and the Emma Matilda. Located north-east of the park, Two Ocean Lake, literally “lake of two oceans”, owes its name to an ancient belief that the Continental Divide passes right in the middle of the lake. Geographers have proved this to be a mistake, but the name has remained.
There are also numerous glaciers in this area; remember: the Schoolroom, the Teton, the Middle Teton and the Skillet. In some cases the ice can reach a kilometer thick.
Also interesting is the hydrography of this park which is located west of the Continental Divide, the watershed line that separates the catchment area of ​​the waterways that flow into the Pacific Ocean from those that flow into the Atlantic Ocean. The Snake River, the longest in the park, has its source in the north, in Yellowstone Park. It is also the largest tributary of the Columbia River, which flows into the Pacific Ocean and is 1,673 km long. This waterway enters the boundaries of the protected area at Jackson Lake level, before channeling into the Jackson Hole Valley, east of the Grand Teton massif.

Geology –
The rocks of the mountains in this area have a dating between 2.5 and 2.7 billion years of age; these are made up of granite and gneiss. The park’s gneiss is a mixture of sands and volcanic ash accumulated on the bottom of an ancient ocean before turning into rock under the effect of the pressure and temperature of the subsoil. Granite, a more resistant magmatic rock, was formed following the cooling of the lava which took place in depth.
From geological reconstructions it is believed that for a period of about 500 million years the sedimentary deposits overlapped on the bottom of the inland sea, covering the ancient layers of volcanic rocks. Fossils of marine animals, shells, algae and trilobites are often found in these sedimentary rocks.
Subsequently, about 70 million years ago, the sea retreated and the tectonic plates collided west of the North American continent, starting the formation of the Rocky Mountains.
The massif of the Teton Range was formed between 10 and 13 million years ago and its appearance was consequent to the formation of hot spots in the north of the region; hot spots that perforated and deformed the earth’s crust creating a fault; these points are located northwest of the park and in the Yellowstone region, where numerous geysers still exist today.
The western side of the fault rose to form the Grand Teton massif while the eastern side sank, forming the Jackson Hole valley. The orogeny brought the ancient granite rocks back to the surface. During that time the region experienced numerous violent earthquakes, up to a magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale. Two million years ago the Earth’s climate cooled, creating the conditions for the formation of huge glaciers that covered the Yellowstone Plateau among others and eroded the Jackson Hole Valley. The small glaciers of the mountains of the Grand Teton massif joined the great valley glacier causing the formation of moraine deposits.

Climate –
From the surveys of fossil pollen it was understood that, 10,000 years ago the climate of the park area was colder than the climate of the 21st century, that the glaciers were located at lower altitudes and that the dominant flora was of the type alpine.
However, today the national park has an Alpine or H-type climate according to the Köppen climate classification.
Precipitation amounts to between 600 and 700 mm of rain, with the minimum in the summer months, a relatively low amount for mountains as high as those of the Teton Range: this phenomenon is due to the remoteness of the park from the oceans.
Grand Teton National Park is an almost untouched ecosystem and the same species of flora and fauna that existed since prehistoric times are still present. There are over 1,000 species of vascular plants, dozens of mammal species, 300 bird species, over a dozen species of fish and some species of reptiles and amphibians. Due to various changes in the ecosystem, some of which have been induced by humans, efforts have been made to provide improved protection for some native fish species and the increasingly threatened white pine.

Flora –
The flora of the Grand Teton National Park is greatly affected by the difference in altitude and exposure of its slopes. In general, a shrub area and a riparian area can be recognized.
The shrub area is characterized by low humidity and the presence of rocks, among which the desert sage (Artemisia tridentata) grows. The wetlands, located near the Snake River and its tributaries, are colonized by poplars and various species of willows. The forest, essentially coniferous, is located away from the wetlands but on a type of soil of better quality than that of the shrubland. Finally, the alpine zone extends in altitude, beyond the tree line. Small plants grow there, resistant to the rigorous conditions of the high mountains such as wind, snow, ultraviolet radiation and poor soil.
Conifers are very abundant in this park.
The dune pine (Pinus contorta) prefers areas frequently hit by fires. Its strobili are serotinic and only open when they have been lapped by the flames. The white-barked pine (Pinus albicaulis) produces numerous seeds that are highly prized by birds, small mammals and grizzlies. Other species that make up the forest are Engelmann’s spruce (Picea engelmannii), rock fir (Abies lasiocarpa), coastal duglasia (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Colorado spruce (Picea pungens). The first two species can vegetate at altitudes close to 3,000 meters while the other two are adapted to the climate of the valleys. The deciduous species are instead found near the banks of rivers: the narrow-leaved poplar (Populus angustifolia) and the aspen (Populus tremuloides) have leaves that are tinged with colors ranging from yellow to orange during autumn.
The ecological role of shrubs is also important, especially for their berries useful for feeding many animals, such as birds and bears, which can store the food reserves that will allow them to survive the harsh winter. Among these shrubs are elderberry (Sambucus nigra), honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) and common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus).
In the Grand Teton National Park, flowering generally occurs from May to September and the frost-free period is very short and, in the Jackson Hole valley, lasts about 60 days; this fact requires rapid flowering. The shrub area of ​​the valleys is colored by the flowers of Indian paintbrush (Castilleja) and scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata). The camenèrio (Epilobium angustifolium), the aconites (Aconitum sp.) And the Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) colonize the wetlands near the forest. The alpine forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris), the cushion-type silene (Silene acaulis) and the sky pilot (Polemonium viscosum) are instead present in the alpine areas.
Very present, due to the humid areas, are the ferns. The most common genus in the park is Pteridium, whose green leaves turn orange in autumn. The female fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is also a species present in woodland areas. On the contrary, the crisp fern (Cryptogramma crispa) grows in the most arid rocky areas.
Among the herbaceous vegetation, we recall that over 100 species of grasses grow in the park, very important plants for their ecological role in feeding and reproducing many species of animals.
Among the most common species there are the alpine cod (Phleum alpinum), the bluegrass (Poa pratensis), the Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis), the pampas grass (Calamagrostis rubescens), the ticklegrass (Agrostis scabra) and the timber oatgrass Danthonia intermedia.
Lichens also play an essential role. These organisms secrete an acid that deteriorates the rocks to which they are attached until they are completely broken up, forming new soil of excellent quality for subsequent colonization by other plant species. Lichens are very resistant and are also found in high altitude Alpine areas, and represent an important constituent of the diet of some mammals such as the wild sheep of America (Ovis canadensis), as well as being used by birds for the covering of their nests. They very easily absorb the pollutants present in the atmosphere and, for this reason, they are a perfect environmental indicator of air quality.
In the park there are also numerous species of mosses, sphagnums and liverworts. They mainly vegetate in humid environments and, contrary to what happens for other higher plant species, which feed through the roots, taking water and nutrients directly from the tissues. Their very small root system has the purpose of anchoring them to the substrate. These are pioneer species that colonize the new environments preparing the substrate for the future settlement by higher plant species.
Finally, the swamps and ponds are covered with water lilies and their banks are the ideal ground for the fishbone. These small water basins are sometimes of natural origin while other times they originate from the construction of small dams by beavers (Castor canadensis). The vegetation that characterizes these ecosystems, in addition to representing a water filtering system, is also a part of the elk’s diet (Alces alces).

Fauna –
About sixty species of mammals live in the Grand Teton National Park. Herbivores are represented by moose (Alces alces), bison (Bison bison), wapiti (Cervus canadensis), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), wild sheep of America (Ovis canadensis) and antilocapra (Antilocapra American). Each winter, approximately 7,500 wapiti and 1,000 bison [58] from Yellowstone and Grand Teton migrate south over distances of more than 100 km in order to spend the cold season at the National Elk Refuge.
Among the predators we remember the grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis), the baribal (Ursus americanus), the puma (Felis concolor), the lynx (Felis lynx), the wolverine (Gulo gulo), the wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis) and the coyote (Canis latrans). Small mammals are represented by the American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), the lesser squirrel (Tamias minimus), the yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) and the American beaver (Castor canadensis). Six species of bats are present in the park, including the brown vespertilio (Myotis lucifugus) and the gray vespertilio (Lasiurus cinereus).
Inside the park, most of the birds are migratory and therefore do not spend the three harsh winter months in the park. Although some species are adapted to different types of habitats, the majority prefer only one of the park’s biotopes. The alpine environment is home to the Clark’s nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana), the rosy gray-headed finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis) and the white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). The aquatic environments and the riparian vegetation zone are home to the Canadian goose (Branta canadensis), the Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), the Lincoln’s sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) and the MacGillivray’s parula (Oporornis tolmiei). In the shrub area there are the sage rooster (Centrocercus urophasianus), the vespers sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus), Brewer’s sparrow (Spizella breweri) and the sage mime (Oreoscoptes montanus). The coniferous forest attracts the olive-flanked flycatcher (Contopus cooperi), the yellow-rumped dendroica (Dendroica coronata), the American ruler (Regulus calendula), the Rocky mountain tit (Poecile gambeli), the chirping sparrow (Spizella passerina) and the junco dark-eyes (Junco hyemalis). The Calliope hummingbird (Stellula calliope), which flies among the flowers of Ipomopsis aggregata, is the smallest bird in North America; the trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator), whose pairs remain faithful throughout their life, is instead the largest bird on the North American continent.
Amphibians are pecilothermic animals that cannot physiologically regulate their body temperature as mammals do. The low temperatures, linked to the climate, therefore limit the number of species present in the park region. The spotted frog (Rana luteiventris), the boreal tree frog (Pseudacris maculata), the boreal toad (Bufo boreas), the tiger salamander (Ambystoma mavortium), the leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) and the ox frog (Lithobates catesbeianus) have been identified but, according to sources from the park management service, the leopard frog has disappeared from the region. Amphibians inhabit most of the lakes found in the valley, where they feed on insects and are, in turn, a source of food for some birds.
The reptiles are less numerous and are represented by non-venomous snakes, including the western snake (Thamnophis elegans), the garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi) and the rubber boa (Charina bottae). The only common lizard in the park is the thorny snake (Sceloporus graciosus).
Finally we remember the ichthyofauna that populates the bodies of water, here we find nine species of local fish, such as the Yellowstone brown trout (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri), the speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus), the Utah sucker (Catostomus ardens), the longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae), the mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni), the mountain sucker (Catostomus platyrhynchus), the mottled sculpins (Cottus bairdii) and the paiute sculpin (Cottus beldingii). Seven species of fish have been introduced, including rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), common trout (Salmo trutta), American lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), Utah chub ( Gila atraria) and the bluehead sucker (Catostomus discobolus). The mountain whitefish feeds on algae while the Yellowstone brown trout feeds on insects. The Utah chub prefers the calm, warm waters of the lakes set in the valley while the mountain whitefish prefers the cold waters of mountain streams. Fish are the basis of the diet of many birds and mammals.

Guido Bissanti

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