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 isn't impressive, but 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 its 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 Age, about 250 million years ago, a vast tropical ocean covered much of the region. Within this sea, calcareous sponges, algae, and other lime-secreting marine organisms, along with lime precipitated from the seawater, build up and formed the reef that paralleled the shoreline for 400 miles. After the ocean evaporated, the reef was buried in thick blankets of sediments 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 natural resource.
Millions of years of geological transformation has formed the skeleton of the Guadalupes, while timeless persistence of powerful winds and the equally powerful forces of water has carved its intricate character. This is a rugged mountain range, with deep, sheer-sided canyons, steep slopes, high ridges, and limited but dependable seeps and springs. The complexity of the geography allows unique life zones to shelter a staggering number of plants and animals. One needs only to walk a short distance into the park to recognize that the diversity is outstanding. Thousands of species, well equipped to tolerate the extremes of climate and topography, not only survive, but thrive in near perfect harmonious balance.