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La Brea Tar Pits


Right in the middle of Los Angeles’ “Miracle Mile” lies one of the oldest sites in North America.  It’s full of ferocious animals along with baby strollers, grandparents, and sunbathers.  It’s the La Brea Tar Pits.

Skeleton of a Giant Ground Sloth

Tens of thousands of years ago naturally occurring tar — also called bitumen — seeped from the earth in the Los Angeles basin.  Dust and leaves would cover the tar and unsuspecting prehistoric animals would wander in and that was the end of that.  There are literally thousands of skeletons of animals from a different age laying around Los Angeles and more are discovered every day.

If you have a yen for dire wolves and saber tooth tigers (California’s state fossil — yup, we’ve got one) this is the place for you.  These are some of the most common animals found in the pits.  There’s also ground sloths, wooly mammoths, extinct horses, and a host of other species that no longer roam the local freeways.

To this monkey’s mind, one of the most impressive exhibits is a fully reconstructed mammoth with some amazing tusks.  Standing beneath those giant curved ivory tusks evokes a sense of awe and admiration.  Who would mess with this guy?

One eerie display features dozens of dire wolf skulls mounted against an orange backdrop.  These big guys were right out of Game of Thrones.

The tar pits are now fenced off to keep unsuspecting creatures from getting trapped and ending up in some future museum exhibit but what’s weird is that the little lakes of tar are continuing to bubble up naturally occurring methane.

Methane bubbles up in the tar lake.

The tar is formed when crude oil bubbles up from the Salt Lake Oil Field, which is beneath this part of Los Angeles.  Over time, the lighter elements of the oil evaporate leaving behind the heavier tar.  This process continues to go on today and as you walk around the park adjacent to 6th Avenue you can see fresh crude oil bubbling up next to the sidewalk.

The Chumash people who lived here for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans used the asphalt to calk their canoes that enabled them to travel to the surrounding Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California.

Guided tours are available that take visitors to highlighted areas of the park and inside the museum you can actually watch scientists working on newly discovered fossils.

The park is easy to get to and there’s plenty of parking but you have to pay for it.  There’s a nominal fee to enter the museum.  The next time you’re in Los Angeles and looking for a way to spend an afternoon, head over to the tar pits and check it out.  The link at the top of this post will provide more information.

Travel safe.  Have fun!

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