When Jerry MacDonald, a back-to-college geology student, first arrived at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and gazed across the Mesilla Valley at the Robledo Mountains, he had no idea how many days of scorching heat he would soon be spending in their rocky arroyos. The Robledos have always been a fossil hunter's paradise, but it wasn't long before MacDonald became convinced that in in the excitement of finding Permian fossils, the greatest secret of the Robledos had been overlooked.
Many collectors had found an occasional fossil footprint - a track. But what if an entire trackway - a series of footprints - could be uncovered? The scientific knowledge that can be gleaned from a trackway discovered in place is infinitely more valuable than a random footprint on a rock which may have been washed down an arroyo and deposited millions of years out of geologic context. MacDonald tenaciously found and uncovered not just one, but hundreds of trackways. Then came the quest for vindication by the nation's leading museums, the web of political intrigue which wrapped around government agencies and local naysayers, and the inevitable cries of "fraud!"
The MacDonald trackway discovery, recognized by the Smithsonian and Carnegie museums as the most significant Permian discovery in North America, yields voluminous data about the creatures that lived along the then tropical shores of the great Southwest ocean 50 million years before dinosaurs roamed the land.