Imagine walking along the streets of LA and suddenly you are immobile, unable to walk as your feet sink only 5 inches into the asphalt. Not just a little stuck, but completely unable to free yourself and suddenly the huge teeth of a saber tooth cat end your suffering.
If it sounds like the start of an action thriller then you probably haven’t visited the La Brea Tar Pits right in the center of Los Angeles. It is home to the world’s largest collection of ice age fossils with over 3.5 million fossil bones. The pits are not actually tar, but rather the crude oil which seeps through the ground and mixes with sediment, creating asphalt, explained our knowledgeable and interesting guide Gustavo.
When my daughter asked about the bubbles, Gustavo explained they are escaping methane gas.
“Oh, farts?” my daughter added.
Actually, the story unfolded a bit like an action adventure set between 60,000 and 11,000 years ago, as ice age herbivores and their predators became trapped at La Brea. Early excavation and initial discovery continued from 1907 until the rights to excavate the land was gifted to the National History Museum. In 1929 elephants escaped from the zoo, walked through the pits and got stuck with only five inches of their legs submerged, thus helping paleontologists to understand how so many animals had ended up preserved here.
Outside we visited Pit 91, where we could see though protective glass the remains of (red flag) a Harlan’s Ground Sloth pelvis and (blue flag) a Western Horse radius.
La Brea Tar Pits – Pit 91
Next Gustavo pulled a key from his pocket and let us into the “old museum,” the Observation Pit, the first pit to be excavated.
La Brea Tar Pits Observation Pit
“I remember this room from when I was a child,” hubby added. (Pretty cool that he can remember that far back). Did I mention that hubby was our original motivation for today’s visit. Turns out his memory that La Brea Tar Pits are really interesting was right on target. This is a fascinating place for scientists like hubby, kids, teens and even me!
Especially Project 23, where paleontologists carefully sift through 23 crates of sediment which were carefully gathered from the ground across the street before it was converted to a parking lot. We watched through the fence.
La Brea Tar Pits Project 23
After we explored all of the outdoor pits we ventured inside the Page Museum to see the animal bones put back together like a puzzle. Imagine building this woolly mammoth.
Inside we can also watch the paleontologists at work through the giant fishbowl lab. Personally, this is not a job I would want, it would make me nervous to be watched all day, but they worked as if we were not there at all.
If you find yourself in Los Angeles, La Brea Tar Pits is one place I would recommend you visit.
All photos on this page © Rhonda Albom 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Have you been to Los Angeles? Have you been lucky enough to visit the La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum? Where have you seen ice age fossils?
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I write everyday when we travel and post when we have internet, so the day you are reading about may not be today. Our actual visit to La Brea Tar Pits was on 30 June, 2013. Our entry and private tour was arranged by the Director of Communications.