What's So Grand About the Tetons?

June 24, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Face-to-FaceFace-to-FaceAerial view of the Grand from the west (Teton Range, Wyoming)
I've been trying to convince a long-time friend and classmate from high school days to visit the area, having offered to serve as Grand Teton National Park tour guide. He quipped that, were he to do so, he'd discover the answer to the age-old question: "What's so grand about the Tetons?"

Though that comment was obviously tongue in cheek, I thought about it while working late last week in both the park and neighboring Bridger-Teton National Forest. I remembered my reaction when I first saw the Tetons some 25 years ago, and considered how they elicit much the same feeling even now. What's so grand about them? In a word, everything. I wonder if "grand" is a grand enough descriptor.

It was love at first sight when I ventured into Grand Teton National Park on that long-ago initial visit, and the feeling has only intensified over the years as I've had the opportunity to spend much time there and become closely acquainted with the place. Though I left New Hampshire reluctantly and with a heavy heart, there are worse things in life than living so close to this magical slice of Northwest Wyoming. 

There's nothing subtle or demure about the Teton Range - and it's about as far from the landscape of my youth (the mostly flat American Midwest) as one can get. Geologically speaking, the Tetons are quite young; as a result their profile is jagged and dramatic. With no foothills on their eastern side, they rise abruptly and tower over the valley. This unique absence of visual obstructions makes the massive peaks even more commanding and awe-inspiring. Everything about the Tetons is grand. Imposing. Palatial. Formidable.

While my beloved White Mountains of New Hampshire sing, the Tetons shout out. Both are worthy of admiration but tug at the heart in different ways.

Though the rugged mountains are undoubtedly the park's signature sight, its many lakes are also superb - including 15-mile long Jackson Lake, Jenny Lake nestled at the base of Teewinot Mountain, and Taggart Lake situated at the terminus of Avalanche Canyon. The Snake River, which originates in neighboring Yellowstone, also winds its way through the park and supports a wide variety of wildlife including moose, beavers, otters and ospreys. 

And though the view from the western slope is quite different (there are foothills on that side), the peaks are no less magnificent when experienced and savored from places like Alta, Wyoming or Tetonia, Idaho or Ashton, Idaho. 

(Note to landscape photographers: you may find the western side more appealing as it's far less-often photographed.)

It never ceases to amaze me when people pass through Grand Teton National Park without much more than a cursory view; Yellowstone being their main objective, they speed by on the main highway. To each his own - but they're missing out on something special.

Grand.

Do the Tetons live up to the name? Absolutely. And then some. 

 


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