American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

A fluffy squirrel crawling along a pine tree branch

American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

The American red squirrel is the only native tree squirrel in Wyoming, and they are quite abundant in mountainous coniferous forests across the United States. Their favorite activity of caching and dispersing seeds and nuts eludes to the first part of their scientific name, which means ‘treasurer squirrel.’ Besides seeds, they also eat fruit, mushrooms, insects, young rabbits, birds, and mice. These guys have red-grey fur with white fur on their bellies and around their eyes. Adult female squirrels usually have about five pups in a litter during the spring and have been found to raise their young in areas where aspen trees are common. Fully grown squirrels are about a foot long and weigh 7 oz.

Red squirrels benefit their ecosystem in many ways. They are vital to the reproduction of many plant species because when they store and bury seeds, the seeds often end up eventually sprouting. Grizzly bears depend on squirrels because they find the squirrels’ larger winter foodbanks and eat the fatty, protein-rich whitebark or limber pine nuts. The red squirrel is a keystone prey species for many animals including bears, weasels, hawks, owls, wolves and coyotes. They make a good chase because they are fast, nimble climbers, and they also have a loud warning chirp to protect their territory from other squirrels or predators. In Wyoming, a small game license is required to hunt the red squirrel. However, they feed on coniferous pine cones so much that these small squirrels are known to taste like turpentine to people.

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Anne Guzzo

Northern Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus graciosus)

A closeup of a dark brown lizard, sunbathing on a rock

Northern Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus graciosus)

The northern sagebrush lizard is the only known lizard species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) and was discovered in 1922 in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). These reptiles grow to be 5 inches long, are grey or brown with dark stripes all the way from their heads to their tails, and have light colored bellies. Males have a longer tail than females and have some blue coloring on their underside and throat. They live in dry rocky environments up to 8,500 ft in elevation and like sagebrush ecosystems. These lizards also live in places with geothermal activity—hence living in Yellowstone National Park in addition to non-geothermal GTNP. Since they are cold-blooded, lizards are most active during the day so they can eat insects and bugs and bask in the sunlight. They take shelter mostly near the ground in old burrows, logs, plants, and rocks, but are sometimes found up in trees. The northern sagebrush lizard makes a tasty meal for snakes and birds of the GYE, so they have adapted to shed their tail to survive an attack.

Females lay about 4 leathery eggs in early summer that are 12 by 6 millimeters in size. Eggs are buried under loose soil by their shelter sites. Females usually lay eggs twice a year, but they can start reproduction at just 22 months. Baby lizards are only 2 centimeters long, and some hatchlings are even food for adult lizards. The northern sagebrush lizard lives for about 6 years and has a 50% chance of survival once they are hatched. You can see these lizards in GTNP at the Snake River Floodplain, Pilgrim Creek, Bar BC Ranch, and Colter Bay.

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Angie Shyrigh on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/5x2uRV

Antelope Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentate)

A branch of a dense, hardy bush with skinny light green leaves

Antelope Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentate)

The antelope bitterbrush is a native plant species appearing throughout the western United States, including Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), at elevations between 4,000 ft and 8,500 ft. Because of its low water use, this plant has high drought tolerance and it does well in sandy soils. The semi-evergreen trident-shaped leaves are greyish-green—a lighter color that reflects lots of sunlight—and they curl up when there is little water. It typically grows to be 5 ft tall and 8 ft wide but can grow up to 10 ft tall in ideal conditions. Since this plant is quite large, small birds and mammals take shelter in their shade, like the sage grouse for example.

Antelope bitterbrush are well integrated into the GTNP ecosystem. They provide a great source of protein for moose and big game animals, including livestock. Even the seeds have lots of benefits for little animals such as small rodents, who plant the seeds by caching them and forgetting about their cache. Bitterbrush is insect pollinated and must be managed from overgrazing by reserving about 50% of annual growth from being eaten. Animals will usually travel to feed on the leaves in fall before everything becomes snow-covered in winter, and then return again in early spring before summer brings high heat. The best time for us humans to enjoy antelope bitterbrush, though, is in late spring to early summer when they blossom with beautiful little white or yellow flowers. However, the plant is quite harsh to us; the Northern Paiute natives used antelope bitterbrush to clear the contents of an aching stomach by drying and then boiling the leaves into an emetic and laxative tea. Other uses for the plant are erosion control, living snow fences, xeriscaping, and reclamation in mining areas.

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Thayne Tuason on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/eEVq9M

Teton Uplift

Clouds blowing across the top of the Grand Teton

Teton Uplift

The main Teton range is categorized as a fault block mountain range and is part of the Teton fault. The fault line is difficult to spot because it is covered in debris from erosion and glaciers. You can see the Teton fault in the steep and straight mountain faces, no foothills, and the lack of symmetry within the Teton mountain range. The rock layers at the top of Mount Moran are the same as those that can be found 24,000 feet under Jackson Hole—a full 30,000 feet of separation.

The Teton fault is classified as a normal fault, which means the crust is pulling apart; some crust goes up and some crust slides down. The Tetons are considered young on a geologic timescale; they are about 9 million years old. The range is made up mostly of gneiss with some granite and dikes of diabase with limestone and sandstone rock on top—besides the sedimentary rock, those hard rocks take a lot of time to weather away. In fact, the Tetons are uplifting faster than they can erode! Over the course of their lifetime, they grew an average of one foot every 350 years, but in the last 150,000 years they grew one foot every 100 years. The Tetons are still getting larger and earthquakes are common even though they are typically small. Even though Jackson Hole and the Tetons seem still and content, they are still under stress and in motion.

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Anne Guzzo

Mountain Lion (Felis concolor)

A mountain lion peers between the branches of a pine tree that it's perched in

Mountain Lion (Felis concolor)

Known colloquially as a cougar, puma, panther, or catamount, the mountain lion (Felis concolor) is basically a smaller jaguar without spots. It is unlikely that you will ever see a mountain lion in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) because they are nocturnal and typically avoid anything besides prey, but it is smart to be informed about predators when visiting. Beware of these indications that you are in mountain lion territory: long scratches on trees, remains of a carcass, piles of dirt or leaves/debris scraped up by back feet, large amounts of scat containing hair or bones, and round paw prints with no claw marks. These signs are often found in areas the mountain lion may return to, especially the carcass.

Mountain lions do not have a set mating season, but they will typically have up to 6 cubs every two years. Newborn cubs weigh just under a pound and have dark spots all over their fur that they outgrow as adults, giving way to pale brown fur with white highlights on their underside and head. Cubs will stay with their mom for about a year and a half or until they can fend for themselves. While hunting, a male mountain lion can travel 25 miles in a day. In the winter, mountain lions might follow other animals (aka their food) and move down to lower elevations. Mountain lions have a lot to eat in GYE including deer, bighorn sheep, birds, porcupines, fish, insects, rodents—sometimes pets and livestock, too.

By the 1920s, predator control in GYE took the lives of thousands of mountain lions until there were less than 15 left. Today, there are about 120 cougars in GYE that are being researched as part of the Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project to learn more about the population, interactions, and habitat of this secretive stalker. They are skilled athletes and can land a jump from 60 ft high even though they weigh about the same as a human—200 lbs. This is one fascinating animal you might be okay missing in GYE!

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Yellowstone National Park on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2fKKuFu

Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata)

A group of strikingly red flowers in the sunlight with the Tetons blurred in the background

Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata)

First documented in the early 1800s, Lewis and Clark discovered scarlet gilia in the mountains of Idaho (USFS). Their northern range reaches throughout parts of British Columbia and they are found as far south as Texas. These trumpet shaped flowers are also found throughout Grand Teton National Park in sagebrush flats and forests.

Scarlet gilia has several other common names including “skyrocket”, “fairy trumpet”, and a less appealing “skunk flower” due to its less attractive smell. Scarlet gilia does have different color variants, but the red variant is more common in the park. These flowers can be found on the Blacktail Butte trail and are easily distinguished by their foliage. Their leaves are feathery-like and grow at the base of the stem (USDA). Like other long tube-shaped flowers, hummingbirds, moths, and long-tongued insects are popular pollinators of this plant.

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis)

A small, downcast brown and yellow speckled flower

Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis)

The Chocolate Lily, also known as a Checker Lily, is a perennial plant that can grow up to two feet tall. These flowers can be found during the months of April through May. They have six petals that are typically mottled yellow and brown, but can also be found in different color variants such as yellow and green mottled with purple. The foliage includes several whorls, a set of leaves encircling the stem, with 5-11 lance-shaped leaves.

The bulbs of this flowering plant are edible and were used by different groups of people, including the Salish people and some Native American groups. Both groups would scavenge for these bulbs either before or after their flowering season and then cook them right away to be eaten. They were often eaten with oil but were also used in soups (USDA).

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Oxbow Bend

Alpenglow on Mount Moran with the snake beneath

Oxbow Bend

At the Oxbow Bend Turnout located on Highway 191 near the Jackson Lake Junction, you can see stunning views of Mount Moran. Formed by erosion and changing soil deposits, this outlook can be crowded, especially during the months when the park is the most crowded. Depending on the weather and time, you can photograph beautiful reflection shots of the mountains on the Snake River. Photographers not only appreciate this turnout for the scenic view of the mountains, but also because it is home to wildlife, such as birds, moose, otters, and the occasional bear sighting!

Mount Moran, the dominant peak in view, was named after Thomas Moran, who was a prominent landscape artist known for his paintings at Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and Grand Canyon National Park (GRCA). Moran was invited to be a part of the USGS team to explore the unmapped land out west.

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Mormon Row

A large barn beneath the Tetons

Mormon Row

Mormon Row is located on Highway 191. Heading north, just past Moose Junction, you will turn right onto Antelope Flats Road. You may see bison and moose roaming in the flat fields, as well as the occasional pronghorn.

The story begins with followers of the Church of Latter-day Saints wanting to expand their population outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Established in the 1890s, Mormon Row has become one of the most popular historic sites in the park. The Moulton Barn on the property has become the most photographed barn in the United States. The owner, John Moulton, settled in the area where he spent thirty years perfecting his barn.

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman

Jackson Lake

The old AMK dock with snow-covered Tetons reflecting on the serene lake beyond it

Jackson Lake

Jackson Lake was enlarged by the construction of the Jackson Lake Dam, located on Teton Park Road. The dam was first constructed in 1906, but later enforced in 1911 but again enlarged in 1916 (USBR). The final reconstruction extended the lake thirty feet higher and the northern shoreline by six miles. The dam at Jackson Lake was intended to control lake levels for irrigation to farmlands in Idaho and was a part of the Minidoka Project, one of the oldest Bureau of Reclamation projects that would control the water flow from Snake River to the farmers in Idaho.

Those who have visited or stayed at the AMK Ranch know the wonders of Jackson Lake and all if has to offer. The lake is over 400 feet deep and approximately 7 miles wide. Jackson Lake is perfect for spending a day out on the water, watching for wildlife, and fishing for trout. With several different islands present in Jackson Lake, Cow Island and Moose Island are easily accessible from the AMK Ranch by kayak or canoe, but please always make sure to wear a life vest!

Written by Anna Cressman
PC: Anna Cressman