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Desert Diary
History/Roscoe P. Conkling


Amateurs have often been of tremendous help to the scientists who study the Chihuahuan Desert. Many of the caves producing ice-age fossils that reveal a Southwestern scene rivaling that of the present-day African savannah were first explored and brought to the attention of scientists by men without a scientific background. The unleashed imagination of an amateur, though, may be a bit of a loose cannon.

Consider the words of Roscoe P. Conkling in his 1932 account of the ice age based on findings from Conkling's Cavern. "Migrant groups of primitive people, panic-stricken, tried to describe by sound and gesture to those along the way, the awesome sight of this death-dealing ice pack encroaching from the north." He goes on to say, "Herds of fear-stricken animals, elephants, bison, tigers, lions, wolves, horses, elk, and deer, swarms of tiny rodents surged on, never resting, trampling under foot the weaker in the mad flight. Inexorable law favored the strongest and fleetest." Vivid writing? Sure, but perhaps the description's a smidgen overdone for a process that would have been barely discernible over generations.
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest. rule

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.



Conkling, R. P. 1932. Conkling Cavern: The discoveries in the bone cave at Bishops Cap, New Mexico. West Texas Hist. Sci. Soc. Bull. 44:39-41.