The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with Yellowstone at its core, is one of the largest nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth.
~National Park Service
Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 primarily to protect the unique geological features of the region including almost half of the world’s active geysers. At that time, natural areas and wildlife habitat were abundant throughout the West. That is no longer the case, and the region protected by the park and adjacent federal, state, private, and tribal lands constitutes one of the largest and most important wildlife habitats in the world. Known as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), it encompasses about 22 million acres and provides critical habitat for the largest free-roaming Bison herd and one of the largest Elk herds in North America, as well as one of the most important Grizzly Bear habitats in the contiguous United States.
On this trip, we spent an afternoon and morning in the other national park within the GYE, Grand Teton National Park. It had been several years since I visited this scenic jewel, but as the Teton Range came into view, I remembered why many consider this to be one of our most spectacular park landscapes.
One thing that makes the Tetons so dramatic is their abrupt rise thousands of feet above a relatively flat valley floor. This is due in large part to a series of massive earthquakes along the Teton Fault that started an estimated 10 million years ago. These quakes caused dramatic shifts in the landscape along the fault with the mountain block lifting skyward and the valley block dropping. The average elevation of the valley floor is 6500 feet. The surrounding peaks of the Teton Range include elevations of 12,605 for the impressive Mount Moran, and up to 13,770 for Grand Teton.
Spending such a short amount of time here is tough….where to go, what to see, and where to spend a sunrise or sunset. One of my favorite places is the famed Oxbow Bend with a view of the mountain peaks reflected in the calm waters. It is probably better as a sunrise viewing point, but any time of day can be spectacular.
But I had one special destination in mind for this visit, something I had heard about from someone else that had visited it – the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve (LSR Preserve) in the southern portion of the park. It is a beautiful area of about 3000 acres, donated by Laurence S. Rockefeller, with the expressed intent of providing a unique setting for people to connect with nature. The LEED-certified building is beautiful and is a place filled with sensory exhibits – the sights and sounds of nature to be found on the trails within the preserve. The parking lot is intentionally small (50 cars) to limit the number of visitors at any one time, providing for a more personal experience with nature. The spirit and words of Laurence S. Rockefeller and other conservationists and naturalists adorn the interior walls. Here is one of my favorites…
In the midst of the complexities of modern life, with all its pressures, the spirit of man m=needs to refresh itself by communion with unspoiled nature. In such surroundings – occasional as our visits may be – we can achieve that kind of physical and spiritual renewal that comes alone from the wonder of the natural world.
~Laurence S. Rockefeller
I must say, the brief experience in the Tetons was a bit of a relief from the huge crowds found in the more developed areas of Yellowstone like Old Faithful and Canyon. This reminded me more of my beloved Lamar Valley in its simplicity and pace. Although it made for a long drive back to our lodging in Silver Gate, it was time well spent in a phenomenally stunning setting. And I came away appreciating the dedication and foresight of the people that helped make this park possible, especially the values of Laurence S. Rockefeller. I’ll leave you with one additional quote from the LSR Preserve that I hope our society will embrace…
How we treat our land, how we build upon it, how we act toward our air and water, will in the long run tell what kind of people we really are.
~Laurence S. Rockefeller