SALT FLAT, Texas – Within driving distance of El Paso, Texas, and Carlsbad, N.M., the land, with its golden undertones and shades of brown, rises into what looks like the ramparts of a mythological fortress: the limestone bulk of El Capitan. This geologic formation, true to its name, resembles a ranking officer who has mustered his “troops” – the other natural wonders of Guadalupe Mountains National Park – for inspection. The scenery includes not only mountains but also sandy lowlands, cacti, a variety of trees, a canyon and a small waterfall. Ponderosa pine trees, Douglas firs and maples all grow in the park, which harbors the Guadalupe violet – a species of plant found nowhere else in the world – as well as animals such as peregrine falcons, horned lizards and black bears.
Visitors can also encounter the marine organisms that lived in the area during its days as an ocean roughly 250 million years ago. Evidence of these organisms has survived in the Permian Period fossil reef that is exposed in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The park’s visitor center exhibits some fossils, while others remain unexcavated. “It’s fascinating to glimpse what Earth was like so long ago,” comments David Barna, chief of public affairs for the National Park Service and former geologist. “Parts of the American Southwest existing as an ocean. That sounds like something that could happen only in a painting by Salvador Dali, but it was reality – not ‘surreal-ity’ – millennia ago.” Like geologists, hikers of all abilities are drawn to Guadalupe Mountains. Head up Guadalupe Peak for a stunning view or take in the long-lasting autumn colors in McKittrick Canyon. A trip on the wheelchair-accessible Pinery trail acquaints you with vegetation of the Chihuahuan desert, in which the park forms an enclave of botanical and animal life. The park’s features – animal, vegetable and mineral – form an impressive battalion. National Park Service News Release