In the Robledo Mountains of southern New Mexico, an international team of scientists spent the past week toiling under the desert sun, searching for clues to help them better understand what life was like along a prehistoric shoreline.
Layer after layer, the mudstone at Prehistoric Trackways National Monument has offered up the tracks of reptiles and jumping insects and even the imprints of jellyfish. There are fossil logs and plants that predate the dinosaur age by tens of millions of years.
"We see this as a window to a lost world," said Jerry MacDonald, who was a student at New Mexico State University when he stumbled upon the trackways in 1987.
The monument contains some of the most scientifically significant early Permian trackways in the world. It's one of dozens of units within the National Landscape Conservation System that scientists are using as a vast outdoor laboratory.
The National Landscape Conservation System, or NLCS, is celebrating its 10th anniversary...
Kevin Mack, of The Wilderness Society, said the system's simple mission statement focuses on conservation, protection and restoration of significant landscapes. The key, he said, is that it recognizes lands that have scientific value.
"What we know about the world is much different now than it was 100 years ago. These places give us a chance to continue to do that research and take a glimpse back and see the world maybe as it was and maybe learn some new things," he said.