Elephant Teeth and Camel Tracks
At 6,000 Ft. Above Sea Level

Tepexi de Rodriguez, Puebla

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Mysterious Footprints of a Camel
Prehistory in Mexico:
I am not a paleontologist because my interests in life have been in other areas, and I haven´t had time to devote to this complex subject.

I can barely hold my own on subjects like the Olmecs, Aztecs, and Totonaco Indian civilizations.

At the same time, I am fascinated by mysteries. Not far from Veracruz, about a 3 and a half hour drive from the port of Veracruz is something that has captivated my interest over the years, and several times I have been back to the little museum at Tepexi de Rodriguez, Puebla.

It is the mystery about how ocean life got lifted to 6,000 ft above sea level.

The other interesting thing is this area is vast and scientific exploration of the area has begun only in the last 25 years or so. The area is so undeveloped that you are free to roam around and look for your own answers to the riddle.
Hoof Print of a Camel
These prehistoric camel tracks are just out there, and nobody in the area pays much attention to them. I guess it´s because they have always been there, even before the days of the Aztecs.

I don´t think they have found all the answers yet either and it´s a fun place to explore on your own because there are no tour guides.

At this point, you have to do your own homework. In the process you become one of serveral historical detectives and your opinion is just about as good as anyone else´s because there is still so much left to discover.

How to Get There
The Hunt for Arrowheads
About three years ago there was a program on the Discovery channel about prehistoric man, and Clovis and Folsom arrowhead points which were dated at 11,000 years ago, the closing years of the Ice Age.

From school I remembered that there were only a couple of places in New Mexico where these arrowheads had been found.

Recently these arrowheads have been found all over the USA, even as far away as Ohio and Illinois.
The Mountain Pass Above Orizaba
The interesting fact was they had found a several arrowheads stuck between the ribs of petrified bison bones.

The Valley of the Mammoths
Then I began to wonder if anything like that had been found here in Mexico.

A friend of mine in Puebla told me bones of a mammoth had been found in an area called the "Valley of the Mammoths".

However, it was so long ago that she didn't remember exactly where it was.
El Pico de Orizaba
There wasn´t much information but they mentioned in Pie de Vaca, Puebla. That was about all I could find.

After the Christmas and New Year's holidays I decided to take a trip up to Puebla and take a look around.

A Friend from Tepeaca, Puebla
A friend here in Veracruz heard about my planned trip to Puebla and asked me if I could give his daughter, and son in law, Alejandro, and their kids a ride to Tepeaca, Puebla.

He said that his son in law was a taxi driver and personally knew about 80% of the state Puebla and maybe he could help me in my quest for dinosaur bones.

The Plains of Puebla
We left Veracruz about noon. The climb up the toll road from the Acultzingo escarpment to the high mountain Plains of Puebla was spectacular.

The weather cooled off in a hurry.
Hut with Pico de Orizaba
Tepeji de Rodriguez
During the trip we talked about where to start our search. About 3 PM we arrived in Tepeaca, Puebla and dropped his family off.

Alejandro suggested that we try Tepexi de Rodríguez first.

He said he used to make the drive daily from Tepeaca when his wife was hospitalized at the Regional Hospital in Tepexi.

He had heard stories about discoveries of ancient bones, and also knew where Pie de Vaca was. It sounded like a good place to start.

Groves of Tall Cactus
Cacti are Everywhere
We dropped Alejandro´s wife and kids off at their house in Tepeaca.

They were happy to be home again.

Alejandro said Tepexi isn´t far from Tepeaca, so we headed back towards Tehuacan on the old federal highway.

As we got closer to Tepexi, it seemed like cactus plants were everywhere.
A Flowering Cactus
Cactus Groves
Along the Pacific Ocean side of the Mexican Coast of Oaxaca, and Guerrero there seems to be a "tall cactus belt",

This is where this type of cactus grows like groves of trees.

It also extends up into the southern part of the state of Puebla.

The cactus flowers come in bright reds and yellows.
Cactus Flower
Pie de Vaca
It was later in the day when we got to the village of Pie (pronounced pyeh)de Vaca (Cow's Foot).

It´s about a mile before you get to the little town of Tepexi.

Off to the left there was a cloth banner sign in Spanish, and in 3 Indian dialects, "Welcome to Tepexi de Rodriguez, Puebla, Gateway to the Prehistory of the Earth".

But the museum was closed for lunch, and would reopen at 4PM.
Tepexi de Rodriguez, Puebla
Tepexi de Rodriguez at Noon
Tepexi is a quiet typical town like many in the state of Puebla, especially at noon.

We were hungry so we went into town for a late lunch.

There were a couple of small stands on the plaza and we sat down at the metal chairs and ordered round of cheese empanadas.

Sometimes you don´t realize you are hungry until you sit down to eat. The empanadas were really good!
Tepexi de Rodriguez, Puebla
Empanada Restaurant on the Plaza

A Big Welcome Sign in Many Languages

Welcome to the Museum!
Camel Tracks in Pie de Vaca
After lunch we went back to Pie de Vaca.

At the corner store across the street from the museum we asked the girl where we could find the camel tracks.

She pointed down the highway, about a half mile down on the left, and told us to take a left onto a caliche road.

We made the left and headed up the dry caliche road.

About a half block from the highway, we found a place to park and looked across the small ravine.

Four Sets of Tracks
Mysterious Tracks
At first, the tracks were hard to distinguish.

As we got closer we could see what looked like the tracks of four cows that had recently walked across shallow fresh cement.

It was hard to fathom that these tracks were made thousands of years ago!

And, out in the middle of nowhere.

It looked almost like last years cement.

Alejandro and the Hoof Prints
Not Cow Tracks
We walked along the path the animals had taken many years ago.

I tried to imagine what it must have looked like back then.

Alejandro remarked, "These aren't cow tracks."

So they really could be the hoof prints of four camels that had crossed through the shallow wet limestone mud.

Hoof Print of a Camel
A Cow´s Hoof is More Elongated
Alejandro knows more about cows than I do. As a kid, he used to milk cows every morning before dawn.

Alejandro said a cow hoof looks more elongated, and these prints were more rounded.

I´m not a paleontologist, or an expert on cow or camel hooves and had to admit it did make sense.

I took his word for it.

The Sign
The Museum
It was after 4PM. By now the museum was probably open, so we headed back.

The museum itself is a simple one room affair, but is chocked full of interesting discoveries for such an out of the way town as Tepexi de Rodriguez.

The caretaker was the teenaged grandson of the owner of the quarry where the fossils were found.
The Museum
The Tlayúa Quarry
He explained that his grandfather, don Miguel Aranguti opened the Tlayúa quarry in 1955 to produce the reddish colored flagstones in the area.

Soon his workers began to find fossils embedded in the flagstones.

There were so many that he saved or gave away many of fossils until about 25 years ago until the authorities found out about it.
The Museum
His Love for Fossils
Since don Miguel loved the fossils, the government authorities called in outside experts and the idea of a museum was started.

With the cooperation of The Paleontology Society, and the Institute of Geology at the Universidad Nacional de Mexico in Mexico City, as well as Dr. Shelton Applegate with the Los Angeles Museum, construction on the museum was started to house the discoveries from the quarry, and make them available to the public from beyond the little village of Pie de Vaca.
Letter of Recognition
International Recognition
In 1999 the Aranguti family was presented the Harrell L. Strimple Award For Important Contributions to Paleontology by The Paleontology Society.

The Society recognizes outstanding achievement in paleontology by amateurs, or people who don´t make a living full-time from paleontology.

A bronze plaque and Letter of Award to the family is proudly displayed in the museum.

The family built and supports the museum through its own funds and accepts donations

The Exhibits
The grandson told us the little museum now gets about 1,500 visitors a month!

And it is estimated that there are more fossils yet to be discovered in a area covering roughly 80 square km around Tepexi!

The unexplored area is huge. The work of discovery has only begun.
Mammoth Teeth
I just got the following email:
Just a correction for your website.
There is a mandible labled "Mammoth teeth".
That mandible actually belongs to a Mastodon.
Nice website, thank you for sharing.
Thanks for the clarification!
Mammoth Teeth
What makes the museum interesting is the exhibits on display are continually changing as new discoveries are made.

The family has its heart in the small museum, and most of the visitors are eager high school and university students from many parts of Mexico.

The last time I was there, two busloads of university students from Mexico City arrived just as I was leaving.

A Fossilized Crocodile
There was the jawbone of a mastodon that lived in Mexico in the Pliocene-Pleistocene Age.

The label said that this type of mastodon was the smallest type.

These are the elephant teeth I´d heard about!

And the fossilized remains of a small crocodile!

Mullet at 6,000 ft Above Sea Level
Remember, this is the state of Puebla and we are at an altitude of 6,000 ft., and a 3 and a half hour drive from the port of Veracruz at sea level.
A Prehistoric Flamingo

This is a prehistoric flamingo.

I have seen flamingos as far west as the Laguna de Términos in Cd. del Carmen, Campeche.
This looks like a sheep head from the Gulf of Mexico.
Pteradactyl wing
A Piece of a Pterodactyl Wing
There´s a fragment of a pterodactyl wing about 1 meter long that was found in January of 2001.

It is calculated the entire wingspan must have been about 10 meters (30 feet) long!

Tacos and Cemitas
Time out for a Taco
After our visit to the museum we drove back to Tepeaca later in the afternoon. Alejandro´s brother has a stand that sells Cemitas and Tacos Arabe which are typical of the state of Puebla.

Later in the evening, when we were eating tacos at the stand, Alejandro told me he hadn´t realized the significance of what he had driven past so many times. He had never noticed.

We talked about the existence of prehistoric man, and the riddles of how tropical animals made it to the high plains of Mexico.

The enormous amount of animal life found in the Tepexi de Rodriguez area is impressive, but there is still the missing piece.

That is the presence of a prehistoric man as found in the US. Since the discoveries here at the Tlayúa quarry in Pie de Vaca have been made during the last 25 years, I realize paleontology in Mexico is still in its infancy.
Taco Arabe con su Limoncito
Evidence of prehistoric man is still yet to be discovered and there´s still lots of exploration to do.

The Search Continues
I am still looking for Clovis arrowhead points to be found in Mexico which will indicate the presence of man.

While I am not a paleontoligist, I found it to be enormously interesting to actually be walking in a place like a Jurassic Park where there is still a lot left to be uncovered.

I wonder how it all came about at this remote place at 6,000 feet that was once at sea level.

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