Lesson Plan

Geology Lesson 1. The present is the key to the past.

The Capitan formation

The Capitan formation

NPS photo (Buehler)

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Grade Level:
Ninth Grade-Eleventh Grade
Earth Science, Geology, Paleontology, Tectonics
Labs (60 min/each) or 1 field trip (about 3 hours)
Group Size:
Up to 24
National/State Standards:
The CCSS 6-12 applied are RST item 10 and WHST items 1, 2 and 9. The TEKS applied are in the Subchapter C (High School) for Earth and Space Science (112.36.) item c) 1, 2 and 3.
reef, geology, 9-12 grades, fossils, topographic maps


During the Permian period a sea covered the area and a reef started to form in this marine environment. The actual fossils you can find hiking the Permian trail at Guadalupe are remnants of this ancient feature. This lesson will help high school students to infer what happened in the area using important geological tools like rocks, fossils and satellite images.


The learner will: 
• Make field or lab observations of Permian marine fossils. 
• Use inquiry and geologic clues to infer paleoenvironment from comparisons with modern analogs. • Learn about the geology of the Delaware Basin and Guadalupe Mountains during the Permian Period. 
• Get to know satellite images and bathymetric maps. 
• Use topographic and geologic maps.


The Delaware Basin and Guadalupe Mountains region of southeastern New Mexico and Western Texas is rich with unique geologic features. Once covered by a sea approximately 250 million years ago during the Permian Period, many of the preserved rocks, fossils, and geologic formations are the best examples of these ancient marine environments in the world.

The Capitan Formation, a resistant limestone bluff that creates the peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains, represents an ancient reef in this sea. Different from modern reefs, which are composed of large branching corals and other flora, the Capitan reef was primarily composed of sponge and algae, containing only a few types of small corals. The Capitan also possessed ample brachiopods, cephalopods, crinoids, and bryozoans. These ancient fauna are preserved in the rocks as fossils resistant to erosion after the fossilization process. Also preserved in the area are the backreef lagoon deposits (the Seven Rivers, Yates, and Tansill Formations), the forereef deposits composed of cemented reef material that slid into the basin, and basin evaporites that were deposited as the sea retreated and evaporated. 

Geologists have studied and made interpretations about the area and its ancient deposits since the early 1900s. Further understanding of this ancient landscape, which may be viewed at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, has been accomplished through comparisons of the preserved Permian deposits and fossils to those found in modern reef systems. The comparison and contrast of fossils and ancient deposits with modern analogs is an iterative process that enables geologists to understand the past history of a region. In this lesson students will infer the Permian paleoenvironment of the region through investigations of geomorphology and faunal observations of ancient and modern marine environments. p;& 


The materials for this lesson include a slide show presentation, fossil samples, fossil guides, Views of The National Parks web page and maps.
 • Photographs of the Guadalupe Mountains and Delaware Basin (slides #1-7) 
• Photographs of modern reefs (slides #35-37) 
• Topographic map of Carlsbad Caverns National Park (slide #80) 
• Topographic map of Guadalupe mountains (slide # ) 
• Bathymetric image of a carbonate shelf (slide #30) 
• Comparative image of Delaware Basin and Bahamas (slide #31)
• Diagram of Delaware Basin (slide #33) 
• Science notebooks 
• Schematic of the local stratigraphy (slide #19) 
• Geologic time chart (slide #8 or 9) 
• Guide to Permian marine fossils (slides #104 -109) 
• Major Permian marine fossils (either in the rocks on the fieldtrip or invertebrate fossil hand samples for the lab). 
• http://www.nature.nps.gov/views/layouts/main.html#/GUMO/reef/ 
• Listening to the rocks. A young person´s guide to the Permian Reef Trail. CCGMA. 2006 
• Identification guide to the fossils. Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Mary Carol Coleman & Cameron Coleman. CCGMA, SIPES Foundation and the members of the Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists. 2010 
• Guadalupe Mountains National Park Trails Illustrated map. National geographic.    



• Field notes
• Student worksheet 
• Lab or field trip report 
• Topographic profile 

Park Connections

The park itself is the perfect resource for this lesson plan, not only because of the chance of being able to see part of an ancient reef but also because students can easily recognize fossils and rocks characteristic of this geological feature. Instead of showing the fossils in the lab, the best way to learn geology is to experience it in real life. In addition to this, the park has available brochures and fossil guides to help understand the secrets of Guadalupe Mountains.


• Topographic maps, additional research and class presentations on reefs, the Permian period, Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, disciplines in geology or the geographical region
• Additional exercises with topographic maps 
• Make a poster about the fossils found in Guadalupe Mountains 

Additional Resources

• Beaubouef, R.T., Rossen, C. Zelt, F.B, Sullivan, M.D., Mohrig D.C. and D.C. Jeanette. 1999. “Deep-Water Sandstones, Brushy Canyon Formation, West Texas.” AAPG Field Guide #40. 
• Bebout, D.G. and C. Kerans. 1993. Guide to the Permian Reef Geology Trail, McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, West Texas. Guidebook 26. Austin, TX: Bureau of Economic Geology.
 • Hill, C.A. 1996. “Geology of the Delaware Basin Guadalupe, Apache, and Glass Mountains New Mexico and West Texas.” Permian Basin Section – SEPM. Pub. No. 96-39. 
• Marshak, S. 2001. Earth Portrait of a Planet. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 

Additional reading and other resources 
• New Mexico School of Technology virtual fieldtrip of the Guadalupe Mountains: http://geoinfo.nmt.edu/staff/scholle/guadalupe.html • USGS web page on fossils: http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/fossils/contents.html 
• Texas A&M Oceanography class’ web resource list: http://oceanworld.tamu.edu/ocean401/ocng401_hotlinks.html • Berkeley’s Geology homepage (Permian Period): http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/permian/permian.html 
• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) web page on coral reefs: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/PR/coralhome.html  


Permian Period, geology, geologist, reef, forereef, backreef, lagoon, paleontology, sponge, algae, brachiopods, cephalopods, crinoids, bryozoans, flora, fauna, fossil, fossilization process, deposits, cement, cemented, evaporites, interpretations, iterative process, bathymetric map, bathymetry, aerial photograph, evaporite, landscape, analog, geomorphology, marine environment, paleoenvironment, stratigraphy, geologic formation, geologic cross-section, topographic map, topography, topographic profile, Delaware Basin, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, limestone, bluff, corals