A Trip in Time: Dinosaurs and Sea Creatures in Texas!
Everyone loves great stories. Few things captivate us like an intriguing plot with lots of well-written characters, and reading such stories is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But there are other stories all around us, stories written in the earth itself, that have taken place slowly but inexorably over millions of years. These stories tell the tale of great dinosaurs and sea creatures in Texas, of all places!
My curiosity was piqued recently during a road trip through West Texas. The landscape is an exciting change of scenery from where my wife and I live near Austin. It was so much more than an enjoyable drive; it was a complete reset of our personal perspective on time and place.
I am no geologist, but I want to share some of the fascinating aspects of the story I was able to learn about and see.
To begin with, Texas once was home to dinosaurs! From Big Bend to Canyon Lake, to Glen Rose, and as far north as the Texas Panhandle, fossils and footprints tell a story of at least twenty-one different species of dinosaurs. What a fun project it would be for families to acquaint themselves, either in person or remotely, with the history of these sites, and imagine what Texas would have looked and sounded like during these ancient times. No one knows precisely how long these powerful life-forms trod the earth, but at some point they vanished. What comes next in the geological story of Texas is remarkable and surprising.
In the next chapter of our story, western Texas, Northern Mexico, and parts of southeastern New Mexico were covered by an ocean. In fact, the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, is actually a shelf of a coral reef. This reef built itself up around the 1,000-foot-deep Permian Basin! What we know as Guadalupe Peak was at one time under more than 100 feet of water. The peak is over 8,700 feet high. Imagine how long the skeletons of the life forms that created this reef would have had to stack up on one another to reach this massive size? It makes the span of a human’s life seem like a blink in time by comparison.
There is an excellent virtual Field Trip of this historic region here. https://geoinfo.nmt.edu/tour/federal/parks/PermianReef/home.html
We drove for hours to cross this part of Texas! It is mind boggling to think that for an unimaginable length of time all that space wasn’t even dry land! We’re talking over 86,000 square miles, or an area roughly 250 miles wide and 300 miles long. For a frame of reference, that’s more than two-and-a-half times larger than Lake Superior, the world’s largest lake as measured by surface area.
Another way to understand the massive size of this ancient body of water is that it was larger than the entire state of Minnesota, or more than twice the size of Pennsylvania. And was it ever teeming with life! Over 500 different forms of fossil life are found in the area. There were even so-called “living rocks,” stromatolites, that contributed oxygen to the atmosphere.
The National Parks Service has published a guide to the geological clues of the Guadalupe Peak area here: https://www.nps.gov/gumo/planyourvisit/upload/Permian-Reef-Trail-Brochure_FINAL.pdf
As if that weren’t enough excitement, our geological thriller has another major chapter: volcanoes! Believe it or not, the state of Texas has abundant stories to tell us through the geological lens of a violent time of upheaval and tectonic shifts that took place long after the waters of the Permian Basin were nothing but a dusty memory.
But you’ll have to wait for the next installment of this blog to learn about the volcanic activity of this fascinating part of the world. It’s a real cliff-hanger!
Further Information about Dinosaurs and Sea Creatures in Texas, listed in order of reference:
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