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Forged from the fire of the earth in the Pacific ocean about six hundred miles west of Equador lie a strip of islands. There is nothing extravagant in their appearance. They are barren except for the dense vegetation of the higher elevations. The climate of the islands is cool despite its closeness to the equator.

The H.M.S. Beagle, captained by Fitzroy, arrived at the Galapagos on September 15, 1835. Captain Fitzroy was probably unaware of the impact this voyage would have on the rest of the world. Within the hulls of the Beagle was a young naturalist by the name of Charles Darwin. Darwin's observations from this strip of islands would contribute to a theory as controversial as it was genius. Here were drawn the blue prints for the theory of evolution.

September 17, 1835 the crew of the Beagle came ashore Chatham Island, one of the largest in the Galapagos. At first, Darwin was unimpressed with the foreboding landscape. A sun parched bush was the only vegetation he saw. The wilted bush struck him as being pathetic and unimportant,until he realized two important observations. The first astounding fact-although this bush was withered it was in full bloom and leaf. More importantly, he noticed that this was a different species of plant, native only to these islands.

Charles Darwin set off to see if there were anymore peculiarities. They were not hard to find. He started with the vegetation. Of the 193 samples he collected, 100 of these were native only to the Galapagos. The birds of the Galapagos were also fascinating. They were tame and seemed to have no fear of man. Darwin identified twenty-six species of birds. Of these, twenty-five of them were found nowhere else on earth. Thirteen species of the aboriginal birds were finches. Even though there were differences among the species, especially in the almost perfect gradation in beak size, what struck Darwin were the similarities that the finches shared such as the length of the tail, body shape, and plumage.

The reptiles of the Galapagos also intrigued Darwin. Here the reptile to mammal ratio was as it had been when dinosaurs ruled the planet. There were giant, deaf tortoises with strange shells that seemed adapted to the type of food they ate. Large lizards sunning themselves on coastal rocks after swimming in the ocean for their meal of seaweed. Again, nowhere else in the world were there such creatures.

Darwin had discovered a new world with an ancient design. The reptiles outnumbered the mammals similar to when dinosaurs walked the earth. Darwin knew that these islands held the key to unlocking the secrets of the origin of life on earth, however, it would take many years after he departed the Galapagos before he would publish his famous theory. No doubt the discoveries he made on the barren, unimpressive islands in the Pacific laid the foundations that would forever change the face of biological science.