Friday, May 13, 2011

El Capitan of Karst

The three pillars of sustainability are environment, equity, and economic development.  Today, I want to write about the environment.  Specifically, I want to write about the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas and Southern New Mexico. 

El Capitan in the Guadalupe Mountains.
(photo by Robert Brinkmann, 5/13/11)
I’ve travelled through these mountains for years.  I remember driving from Florida to coastal Sonoma County, California in the early 1990’s and making small forays off the main road to see some of the beautiful landscapes of this region.  There is a stark beauty to the mountains.  In some respects, they remind me of the valleys of southern Egypt or the dry mountainous areas of the southern Arabian Peninsula.  Regardless, they are an inspiration to me.

As a geologist, it is fascinating to recognize that some of the rocks that make up the mountains were once tropical reefs not all that different from today’s Bahamas.  Made up of fossiliferous limestone, the range today is home to hundreds of caves.  The most famous of these are Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla Cave.

Carlsbad Caverns and El Capitan represented in a mural
on a building near downtown Carlsbad, NM
(photo by Robert Brinkmann, 5/13/11)
These iconic landforms have greatly influenced the region.  Tomorrow, in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the National Cave and Karst Research Institute opens its doors to the public to promote research and education on caves and associated landscapes.  I will be on hand to cheer on their efforts.  Karst landscapes, or landscapes of soluble rocks, are among the least understood on the planet.  Most know about alpine, fluvial, coastal, or glacial terrains.  But, few know about or understand the significance of karst.  NCKRI provides a great service to the United States and the Carlsbad region by promoting a better understanding of this unique landscape. 

To learn more about karst landscapes, please watch this.

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