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Desert Diary
Fossils/Old Man


In early May 2003, the Old Man of the Mountains, a rocky face high up in New Hampshire's Franconia Notch, viewed by millions, collapsed. You may wonder what this has to do with the Chihuahuan Desert—and the answer simply is that it stands as an illustration of the forces that occur in all places, including our desert.

One of the most important principles accepted by science in the 19th century was that of uniformitarianism. This merely holds that the world we see around us was shaped in past years by the same types of natural happenings that are going on today. Thus the forces that ultimately destroyed the Old Man of the Mountain are currently at work on our desert mountains and, as happened in New Hampshire, will slowly but surely destroy the landmarks we take for granted. And in the long run, anything that we can do will but delay the moment of truth. Cables and epoxy glue attempted to hold the Old Man together, but the force of time nonetheless brought him down.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Old Man of the Mountain

The Old Man of the Mountain. Photograph from a glass-plate negative, taken between 1890 and 1901, courtesy of the Library of Congress.



Web Resources

The Old Man