La Brea Tar Pits Essay

La Brea Tar Pits

The La Brea tar pits are in the middle of greater Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard. The area is now a single large city block that contains the remaining tar pits and the Page Museum.

The tar pits are composed of thick black asphalt and usually there are bubbles of methane forming on the surface. The largest pit was mined for the asphalt in the early 1900's and now it's a dirty-looking lake with methane bubbles.

The Page Museum contains some of the fossils that have been removed from the pits. (You can see an evacuation in progress at Pit 23.) These plants, insects, and animals date from about 40,000 years ago to about 11,000 years ago. The panorama below show the main species: mastodons, juniper trees, saber-toothed cats, camels, Dire wolves, ground sloths, horses, bisons, and a variety of currently extant small animals.

The museum is well worth a visit if you are in the Los Angeles area and you are interested in evolution. Creationists will not like it.

There are millions of fossils and this allows paleontologists to look at variation within a species. There's a nice display of 404 Dire wolf skulls to illustrate the point.

Here's an example of a small tar pit.

Granddaughter Zoë liked the museum but the grassy hills outside the building were an even bigger hit with all the young children. They could climb to the top and roll down to the bottom. Zoë did this several hundred times before we had to get in the car. She was sad to leave the La Brea Tar Pits.

Over the holidays, we made the trek down to Los Angeles to visit family.  As soon as my son heard we were going to LA, he screamed excitedly, “can we go to the La Brea Tar Pits??”  I thought for sure, his first interest would be Legoland, but, luckily for us, he didn’t bring it up, since that wasn’t part or our plans.  Also lucky for us, the Tar Pits were on our list of things-to-do in the Los Angeles area.

The La Brea Tar Pits are one of the world’s greatest resources for Ice Age fossils, and the pits are located right in middle of Los Angeles.  It’s the only ongoing paleontological excavation site located right in the middle of a metropolitan area.  Since 1906, more than a million bones have been excavated here!  It’s an incredible source for Ice Age mammals.  The prehistoric animal found in greatest quantity here are dire wolves, with more than 4,000 individuals excavated.  There have also been more than 2,000 individual saber-toothed cats found here, as well as mammoths, giant jaguars, and many other animals and plants.

How were so many animals trapped here?  I like this description from an article at (La Brea Tar Pits, California)… “La Brea is essentially an oil field. Some 40,000 years ago, low-grade crude oil, known to geologists as asphalt, began seeping to the surface, forming a black, tarlike ooze that ensnared unsuspecting animals.”  Animals would simply get stuck in the muck… which my son found fascinating.  He contemplated this “lake” for quite a while…

The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits is awesome, especially for any kid currently in that paleontology phase.  It’s important to note, however, that there are no dinosaur fossils here.  Dinosaurs became extinct sixty-five million years before the tar pits formed.

If there haven’t been any dinosaurs found here, and there are no dinosaur fossils on display in the Page Museum, why was my dinosaur-crazy son so excited to visit the La Brea Tar Pits?  Dire Wolves.  Dire wolves are something I knew absolutely nothing about until maybe 6-9 months ago.  When these wolves were first mentioned in a book I was reading to my soon, I thought they were pure fiction.  We were first introduced to dire wolves while reading the Guardians of Ga’Hoole books to my son.  Then a couple months later, dire wolves came up again in one of the PaleoJoe Dinosaur Detective Club Books… Sacred Sabertooth (book #3 in the series).  That’s when I knew dire wolves were a real thing.    In the Sacred Sabertooth, one of the main characters writes a report on dire wolves, and the detectives actually go to the La Brea Tar Pits to solve their mystery.  Very cool!  And for adults, anyone into Game of Thrones?  While I haven’t seen the TV series, I’m currently VERY into the books, and, again, there dire wolves are again!

Also of interest?  Lots of other incredible fossils and displays.  The mammoth was a favorite.

And the atrium, located in the center of the museum, is lovely!  If you go, don’t miss the koi pond!

Lastly, we took a walk into the surrounding Hancock Park to check out an excavation site.  Pretty cool!  And this is a beautiful park.  I recommend bring a picnic lunch.

Interested in going?  The La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum are located in Hancock Park on Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.  For specific location, hours, directions, and addition information, visit the website…


You may also enjoy this post from Debra over at Breathelighter… More from the La Brea Tar Pits… a treasure trove of old bones.

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January 6, 2014 in Los Angeles, Paleontology. Tags: children, kids, Los Angeles, Paleontology, Photo Essay, Travel and Tourism

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