Photo Credit - Dustin Nelson
Guadalupe Mountains National Park could easily be described as one of America's best-kept secrets. As if “hidden in plain view," travelers often overlook the park as they drive by. To many, the massive rock face of El Capitan is impressive and forbidding as it stands steadfast in a sea of harsh, barren desert. What else could possibly be here? Or live here?
It is easy to mistake the desert’s magic for emptiness, and towering rocks and jagged peaks as treacherous, not worthy of further exploration. But beyond one's first glimpse is an important geological story captured in the rocks and fossils.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park preserves one of the finest examples of an ancient, marine fossil reef on Earth. During the Permian period, about 265 million years ago, a vast tropical sea covered much of the region. Within this sea, calcareous sponges, algae, and other lime-secreting marine organisms, along with lime precipitated from the seawater, built up and formed a reef that paralleled the shoreline for 400 miles. After this sea evaporated, the reef was buried in thick blankets of sediment and mineral salts, and was entombed for millions of years until uplift exposed massive portions of it. Today, geologists and scientists come from around the world to study this phenomenal example of a fossilized reef.
The mountains are also home to thousands of fossils from marine animal and plant life living millions of years ago. Please have a look at our fossil guide for examples and explanations of the fossil types.