Imagine you are walking along the former streets of Los Angeles and suddenly you are immobile, unable to walk. You look down and your feet have sunk only 5 inches into the asphalt. You are not just a little stuck, but rather completely unable to free yourself. As you struggle, terrified you and suddenly feel the huge teeth of a sabre tooth cat as it ends your suffering. If it sounds like the start of an action thriller then you probably haven’t visited the La Brea Tar Pits.
Located 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.
When my daughter asked about the bubbles, our guide Gustavo explained they are escaping methane gas.
“Farts?” my daughter couldn’t resist questioning.
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 palaeontologists to understand how so many animals had ended up preserved here.
Outside we visited Pit 91, where we could see through the protective glass the remains of (red flag) a Harlan’s Ground Sloth pelvis and (blue flag) a Western Horse radius.
Note: Based on world conditions, we advise checking official channels including cancellation policies prior to booking. Also, with often reduced capacity, booking ahead becomes more important.
La Brea Tar Pits – Pit 91
Next, we entered 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 found this interesting enough to remember from childhood). 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 palaeontologists 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. Here we saw the animal bones put back together like a puzzle. Imagine building this woolly mammoth.
Inside we can also watch the palaeontologists at work through the giant fishbowl lab.
If you find yourself in Los Angeles, La Brea Tar Pits is one place I would recommend you visit.
You can read more about them at their official webpage.
All photos on this page © Rhonda Albom 2013. All Rights Reserved.
The ancients are a fascinating part of our USA discovery, but if you are seeking a few more modern stars while in Los Angeles, don’t miss the hand and foot prints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the incredibly lifelike replicas at Madame Tussauds Hollywood, or a chance to see the set of the Big Bang Theory (and much more) on a Warner Bros. Studio Tour.
Have you been to Los Angeles? Did you visit the La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum? Where have you seen ice age fossils?
Disclaimer: La Brea Tar Pits arranged for our entry and a private tour. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own.