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New Mexico Earth Symbols

New Mexico State Mineral

New Mexico shares its official gem, turquoise, with Arizona and Nevada.

Each of the other Southwestern states has at least three official mineral symbols. But New Mexicans appear to be satisfied with this beautiful icon of the Southwest. Turquoise nicely balances the hot colors on New Mexico’s flag.

Fossil ˆ

New Mexico: State FossilA figure of a man illustrates the approximate size of New Mexico’s state fossil. In the background is the skyline of New Mexico’s famous Ghost Ranch, where so many Coelophysis fossils have been discovered.

New Mexico is one of several states that have an official dinosaur. But New Mexico’s dinosaur is different.

Coelophysis is one of the smallest state dinosaurs. It’s also the oldest.

Most state dinosaurs lived during the Cretaceous Period or the earlier Jurassic Period. But Coelophysis lived during the Triassic Period, which lasted from about 250-200 million years ago. Arizona’s state fossil, Arizona petrified wood, is another Triassic souvenir. So is Nevada’s marine ichthyosaur.

Coelophysis was a bipedal carnivore that grew to a length of almost nine feet and was three feet high at the hips. Apparently built for speed, it may have weighed around 50 pounds. Studies suggest its vision might have been comparable to that of modern birds of prey.

There were no flowers or grasses when Coelophysis lived. The only familiar trees were conifers (like Arizona’s state fossil). At the beginning of the Triassic, all the continents were joined together into one super-continent that was probably covered with vast deserts. It was an alien world.

The first Coelophysis fossil was found in 1881. In 1947, a large graveyard was found at the Ghost Ranch in Rio Arriba County, not far from the original find. (Ghost Ranch is popularly associated with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe.) The mass burial may be evidence of a flash flood.

Coelophysis was the second dinosaur in space, following Montana’s state dinosaur, Maiasaura. Exactly why dinosaur fossils were taken into outer space is a bit of a mystery.

Soil ˆ

New Mexico: State SoilA range rider moves cattle along a fenceline within the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

New Mexico’s unofficial soil is Penistaja. Formed from sediments deposited by wind or water, Penistaja soils are valued as livestock and wildlife habitat.

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