We were strolling along Ajijic’s Malecón with new friends. One of them gazed at the placid waters with dreamy eyes and began to tell us stories of amazing animals with exotic names like Megatherium and Gomphothere, creatures which used to frolic alongside the lake in prehistoric times.
“A couple of them got stuck in the mud here ... and you should have seen how my father’s eyes lit up when he found their bones back in 2000,” one of them said.
Well, the speaker turned out to be Diana Solórzano, former director of Guadalajara’s Museo de Paleontologia and daughter of Jalisco’s most famous paleontology expert, Federico Solórzano, indefatigable collector of ancient bones and founder of the museum.
On discovering that we had never visited the museum, which is located at the east end of Agua Azul Park, Diana immediately offered to give us a special tour of the place. A week later we met her in front of the impressive skeleton of that very Gomphothere her father had excavated from shores of Lake Chapala 15 years earlier. This elephant-like creature stood 2.5 meters tall, weighed 6,000 kilos and had curved tusks about 3.5 meters long. It roamed western Mexico 13,000 years ago and is a suitable symbol for the Paleontology Museum, which took second place in a poll conducted by the magazine México Desconocido for “Best Cultural Attraction in Guadalajara.” Of course, the famous Cabañas Institute came in first, but had I known how interesting choice number two was, I would have checked it out long ago.
Federico Solórzano was born in 1922 and developed a yen for bone collecting when he was just eight years old. “Every one of them has a story to tell,” he would later say, “and believe it or not, they speak to me.” He studied pharmaceutical chemistry and biology, but fossils were always his true love and he became a self-taught paleontologist. Over the years, his private collection grew and grew until finally – rather than hoarding his treasures for himself – he chose to share them with anyone interested in western Mexico’s fascinating past.