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The Triassic paleontology of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

A brief overview of the Triassic vertebrate fossils from Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.

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Abstract

Triassic fossils were scientifically recognized in northern New Mexico just a century ago when Edward Drinker Cope, the famous paleontologist and zoologist from Philadelphia, passed through this region in 1874 on a journey from Santa Fe to Tierra Amarilla. On this trip Cope picked up a few fossil reptilian bones in the vicinity of Gallina, where Upper Triassic sediments are exposed at the base of Cerro Blanco. In the hundred years since Cope's chance discovery various paleontologists have collected and studied Triassic fossils from northern New Mexico, to reveal a tetrapod assemblage of true significance for students dedicated to the study of organic evolution and the succession of vertebrate faunas during Mesozoic time. Much has been learned as a result of work during the past century on the Triassic vertebrates of the Southwest in general, and of New Mexico in particular. Much remains to be learned.


Three areas in northern New Mexico have yielded Triassic fossils: namely the slopes at the base of Cerro Blanco (already mentioned) a hogback immediately to the west of Capulin Mesa, as well as around the Mesa; the badlands at Ghost Ranch, and particularily the basal portions of the colorful cliffs which rise in spectacular splendor behind the ranch; and exposures in the vicinity of Lamy, to the south of Santa Fe. Our interest is in the first two of the areas listed, and especially the sediments at Ghost Ranch.