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Special Characteristic: Spectacular Teton Mountains, An Uplift of Unusual Grandeur

Grand Teton National Park
The Grand Teton Range—Grand Teton National Park

THE Grand Teton National Park, only 11 miles south of the Yellowstone, embraces the most scenic portion of the Teton Range. The great array of peaks which constitute the scenic climax of this national park is one of the noblest mountain massings in the world; it is alpine in the truest sense.

Southwest of Jenny Lake rises the culminating group of lofty peaks whose dominating figure is the Grand Teton itself, the famous mountain after which the range and park take their name. This group with its clustered, tapering spires towering aloft thousands of feet, hung with never-melting snow fields, resembles a vast cathedral.

Eleven peaks in the group are of such boldness and prominence that they rank as major peaks, the highest, the Grand Teton, rising 13,766 feet above the sea. Then there is an even greater number of lesser peaks that rise to elevations of more than 10,000 feet.

Added to these mighty peaks is a host of nameless pinnacles and crags which serve still further to make the Teton sky line the most jagged of any on the continent.

Most of the range is lifted above timber line into the realm of perpetual snow. The grandeur of the beetling gray crags, sheer precipices, and perennial snow fields is greatly enhanced by the total absence of foothills and by contrast with the relatively flat floor of Jackson Hole.

The larger lakes of the park, Leigh, Spring, Jenny, Bradley, Taggart, and Phelps, all lie close to the foot of the range and like beads are linked together by the sparkling, tumbling waters of Cottonwood Creek and neighboring streams. Nestled in dense forests outside the mouths of canyons, these lakes mirror in their quiet depths nearby peaks whose pointed summits rise with sheer slopes a mile or more above their level.

In this park, as in Glacier, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, and others, the glaciers of the Ice Age played the leading role in developing the extraordinary scenic features. Just as the streams now converge toward Jackson Hole, so in ages past glaciers moved down toward, and in many instances into, the basin from the highlands to the east, north, and west. Where Jackson Lake now is there undoubtedly lay a great sluggish field of ice, probably fed largely from the northern end of the Teton Range, but possibly having connections with a much larger ice mass in the Yellowstone Park region.

Grand Teton National Park
Overlooking Jackson Lake and the Tetons—Grand Teton National Park

Jackson Lake, once perhaps the most charming and beautiful of all the lakes of this glorious wilderness region, lost much of its beauty through the raising of the water when it was dammed for reservoir purposes. Now, through the efforts of enrollees of the Civilian Conservation Corps working under National Park Service direction, the vast quantities of dead trees and stumps that marred the beauty of its shores have been removed.

This lovely lake is not included in the present park boundaries, but its inclusion has been proposed by the National Park Service, since it inevitably is a part of the picture of the Grand Tetons, whether technically in the park or not.


Many of our national parks have been carved from wilderness areas previously little known to man and but seldom visited. The Tetons, on the contrary, are remarkably rich in historic associations. The Grand Teton itself has been referred to by an eminent historian as "the most noted historic summit of the West."

Up to the beginning of the last century Indians held undisputed sway over the country dominated by the Three Tetons. Then as now Jackson Hole was literally a happy hunting ground, and while the severe winters precluded permanent habitation, during the milder seasons bands of Indians frequently came into the basin on hunting or warring expeditions.

The Tetons first became known to white men in 1807-8, when the intrepid John Colter crossed the range presumably near Teton Pass on the memorable journey which also made him discoverer of the Yellowstone country. In 1811 the Astorians, under Wilson Price Hunt, entered Jackson Hole by the Hoback Canyon, and, failing in an attempt to navigate the Snake River, likewise crossed the Teton Range in the vicinity of Teton Pass, continuing thence to the mouth of the Columbia where the trading post, Astoria, was founded. The Tetons also figure in the adventures of the returning Astorians in 1812. In Washington Irving's classic account of the Astorian expedition (Astoria, published in 1836) the name "Tetons," French for "breasts," first appears in literature.

In the following decade known as "Fur Era" the Tetons became the center of remarkable activities on the part of fur trappers representing both British and American interests, the former by the Northwest and Hudson's Bay Co.'s, the latter by a succession of companies operating out of St. Louis, Mo. Could these ancient monuments speak they would make known some of the most interesting events in the annals of the fur trade.

The picturesque name "Jackson Hole" dates back to 1828, in which year Capt. William Sublette so named it after his fellow trapper, David Jackson, who was especially partial to this beautiful valley. The term "Hole" was used by the trappers of that period in much the same sense as is the word "basin" today, being applied to any mountain-girt valley.

To readers of western fiction, the Teton region, particularly Jackson Hole adjoining the park on the east, is best known as the locale of Owen Wister's famous story The Virginian. One of the great peaks of the Tetons now is known as Mount Wister.


Last Modified: Fri, Sep 1 2000 07:08:48 pm PDT

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