La Brea Tar Pits – An Amazing Bit of History and Fun!

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.

La Brea Tar Pits

When my daughter asked about the bubbles, Gustavo explained they are escaping methane gas.

“Oh, farts?” my daughter added.

La Brea Tar Pits

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

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

La Brea Tar Pits“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

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.

wooly mammoth bones

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.

La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea Tar Pits

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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We are currently touring in the US and our next stop is Alaska. 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.

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  1. says

    I’ve been to L.A. many times but never been there. I aim to get out of L.A. as fast as I can. Been all over San Diego, but not much in L.A.

    Have a terrific day. :)

    • says

      I used to try and skip LA, but I am really glad we explored it a bit, off the beaten path this year. La Brea Tar Pits were really interesting. You should check the out next time you are there.

  2. Sharon says

    What a great find! We are passing through LA in August. I’ll bet my family would love this place. We will have to check it out. Thanks Rhonda.

  3. Miss Lemon says

    Forgive my earlier comment, I spoke rashly, from jealousy. In fact, please delete it and allow me to say That I’ve been enjoying ALL of your travels.

  4. Donna says

    We have been here before too. It is as cool as you describe it. LOL – funny that your hubby remembers it.

  5. says

    Hi Rhonda .. so pleased hubby’s memories and suggestion to go back – brought such pleasure .. and definitely if I ever get to LA – I’ll visit the tar pits – sound so interesting ..

    This journey looks so much fun … cheers Hilary

  6. says

    It’s amazing what happened to the elephants in 1929. Thanks for sharing this Rhonda, as I know my family would also enjoy going there.

    • says

      I know, our guide was fantastic, or we might not have learned about the elephants in 1929. If you get a chance to visit, be sure to take one of the tours :)

  7. says

    I’ve heard of the tar pits – unfortunately not before my visit to LA years ago. It sounds like a fascinating place. Hopefully I’ll return to LA one day so I can see it for myself

  8. Leonard says

    It sounds interesting. I’ve never been there before but I’ll check it out next time I’m in LA with my boys.

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