Summer started with a field trip…back to the bubbling methane.

Mount Wilson

Some people say there is no history to point to in Southern California. I don’t agree.

People make entirely too much fuss about buildings, don’t you think? I took this photo of Mt. Wilson from my front yard today. I thought the sight of the late afternoon sun shining on the San Gabriel Mountains was breathtaking.

Mountains are history. They tell a story. But since I’ve decided to recap our summer adventures I think I’ll start with something not quite as beautiful as my mountains, in favor of another story. How do you feel about primordial goo?

To celebrate the end of Kindergarten we kicked off summer with a Miss Sophia request…and off we went to the La Brea Tar Pits.

Our young paleontologist-in-training was persistent in her effort to visit the George C. Page Museum.  Affiliated with the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, this on-site treasure houses and displays the more than one million bones that have been excavated from these pits.

I must admit this is a very exciting opportunity to let the mind roam to consider life in Southern California 10,000 to 40,000 years ago. Now that’s some impressive history!

Extinct Camel

The surrounding land is so rich in fossil deposits that the 1975 excavation of the museum’s foundation led to new depths of bone and plant material requiring careful salvaging. Contractors assisted paleontologists in carefully preserving 20 blocks of fossils, many of which have yet to be completely studied.

The gooey asphalt, a great preservative, gives us thousands of perfect skulls and complete skeletons–more than 200 vertebrate species to better understand the animal life that once roamed the area. And speaking of the area…

Levitated Mass

The Tar Pits and museum are on the same piece of land as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. You recognize my favorite boulder, don’t you? 

With the 2006 expansion of LACMA’s underground parking structure, sixteen previously undiscovered asphalt pools, rich in fossil deposits including the skeleton of a well-preserved Columbian Mammoth, were unearthed. There’s enough fossil material to keep paleontologists busy for quite some time.

Called Project 23, the public is encouraged to watch some of the paleontologists and volunteers at work as they sift through the set-aside material.  We were fortunate to be on-site when a Smilodon thigh bone was discovered.

Smilodon bone

These bones, well-preserved in oil and tar, still reveal DNA sequencing. Don’t be expecting a Jurassic Park headline anytime too soon, but it definitely captures the imagination.

The Fishbowl Lab also allows the visitor to watch paleontological activity and microfossil sorting. The museum uses trained volunteers for some of this tedious work–oh, if I lived just a little bit closer!

sorting little bones

And every visitor should plan to walk through the lovely gardens to find the furthest point on the grounds–Pit 91. Of the more than 100 pits, 91 is the most regularly excavated.

Pit 91shaft

I do love this place! And I have hundreds of photos…but don’t worry. I think instead of showing them to you, I’m simply going to encourage you come for a visit! Where else can you catch such a complete look at the Pleistocene Epoch?

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53 thoughts on “Summer started with a field trip…back to the bubbling methane.

  1. This must be the most exciting place to visit.. a bit far for me but I do enjoy your sojourns to the place…
    As for the snakes.?? Right up my street, I just don’t get enough time to search for and photograph these in the bush.. so I look forward to seeing your post of American slip and slides…
    I am so fascinated about these tar pits I’m going to do a bit more internet searching on the subject… love all things old that prove these existed in years past…

    • I think you’d find the George C. Page Museum website very interesting, Rob. I notice there are many youtube videos available, too. There is just so much to learn! I think I’m probably better with snakes behind glass than I’d be in the bush! I’m very brave in a controlled setting. LOL!

  2. The L.A. Natural History Museum in Expo Park creeps me out. I call it the Dead Animal Zoo. *L* I love the George C. Page Museum, though. They have so much interesting information about the history of the area, and then you can wander the beautiful grounds, find tar pits in their natural state, and see for yourself what the museum is talking about. Such a fascinating place.

    • Hahaha! You made me laugh with your comment on the Natural History Museum…I completely understand! Sophia asked me the other day when I’d take her there…now I’ll be thinking about it differently. :-) The grounds at the Page really are beautiful, though, aren’t they? ox

      • I think the older I get the more squeamish I get. My family loves the Natural History Museum, they don’t care what I think. *L* The tar pits are just phenomenal. I think it should be a tourist destination.

      • Isn’t that funny, Janine. I think your squeamishness might be more about having a really strong imagination! The old bones and artifacts may come alive for you! :-) I’m shocked to learn that some of my friends have never been to the La Brea Tar Pits, or if so, only when they were very young, long, long before the museum. It is a treasure, isn’t it!!

  3. I am fascinated by the imagination of 10,000 + years ago. Imagine the life in that area and how many times it has changed! Entire familial existences lived and died over thousands of years at a time. And there is SO much we don’t know. Thanks for showing those of us who live NO where near!!!! Wonderful!

    • Thank you, Colleen, for such a very thoughtful comment. Your thoughts exactly mirror mine. I can’t help but let my mind wander and in contemplating all that came before us, over thousands of years, it puts me in mind of perspective, and remembering that we are only here for a time. It’s a special feeling, not fatalistic. :-)

  4. I cannot think of a better way for you and Sophia to celebrate post-kindergarten, Debra, or post-anything else, for that matter. Fossil matter, that is. What a wonderful innovation; a Fishbowl Lab. I can only imagine the number of youngsters (and oldsters) who are drawn in, watching, perhaps determining to be paleontologists themselves. Your photos are wonderfully engaging, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them all, I am sure. We have the Field Museum here, right on the lakefront, which is a favorite tourist, and school field trip, attraction. Put a dinosaur or wooly mammoth in a foyer, and you have archeological success. Thank you so much for sharing La Brea again. Look forward to your take on the reptile zoo.

    • I think we’ve just about covered all I can with the La Brea Tar Pits…I hope I’ve inspired a few people to include a visit on any itinerary to the greater Los Angeles area. I hope I’ve been able to convey the unique location. It really is right in the midst of some of the most expensive land in the region…and here is all this bubbling tar and pitch! So unique! I have only briefly been in Chicago once, and never visited even one museum, due to time! One day, Penny! :-)

  5. When I was Sophia’s age, a trip to La Brea and the Fishbowl Lab would have been the best reward ever! I would have been enthralled by the Lab, as I’m sure she was. Being there when a Smilodon bone was discovered would have been icing on the cake. Sophia is one lucky little girl. Way to go, Grandma!

    • I know you’d just find the tar pits fascinating, John. If you have time you can learn a lot about them from the website. There is a lot of information on the Page Museum site. I really appreciate your interest because I find that many of my SoCal friends really don’t seem to care much, which I have a hard time with. It’s completely unique, not just in the United States, but in the world. Sophia has asked when we can go back to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaur bones…so that may be next on the list. I find that I’m learning along with her. I am not really that knowledgeable, but i do my best to keep up with a five year old! LOL!

    • Is your son enjoying Los Angeles? My nephew just moved down from the Sacramento area and couldn’t wait to be in Los Angeles…and then there are those who can’t wait to escape. LOL! I hope he’s doing well…and you’ll have more reasons to check out some of the places you probably haven’t been for quite a while! I’ll keep reminding you! LOL!

    • I am enjoying looking back myself, Nancy! Once I started looking at some photos I realized there were things we did I’m almost forgotten. Also, when I take hundreds of digital photos it seems a shame not to use at least a few of them! :-)

  6. What a great trip! WIll surely be among my first ports of call should I ever make it to California. A smilodon thighbone … wow! It’s sending me back to my treasured copy of “The big cats and their fossil relatives” (by Anton & Turner) for the beauty of its illustrations and the fascination of its contents.

    • The book you reference sounds very interesting, Mary. I have learned so much in the last year or so because of Sophia’s insatiable interest. It’s been enlightening to realize a five year old knows more about these fossils than her grandmother. But it has sent me into a reading frenzy, and the more I learn, the more interested I’ve become. I have a feeling you may be in Los Angeles at some time with your academic career, and this is one place you just must visit! :-)

  7. I don’t see a plan to Southern California in the near future but when I do return I will have so many other places to visit that I previously had not known about thanks to your blog field trips. Lovely view from your yard by the way! Summer is quickly coming to a close, isn’t it? Take Care, Thea

    • I’m so glad that I’ve been able to present a little different picture of Southern California than often comes through with media and emphasis on popular culture. There is so much of great interest, and I do enjoy highlighting the places I find interesting. Thank you, Thea.

  8. I enjoyed both the San Gabriel Mountains and the Page Museum when I lived in Los Angeles. You are so right, history is everywhere. You know, when my mom visited me from Sweden, a long time ago now, she fell in love with the statue of the man, I forget now who he was, in the square down by Olvera Street. And she also fell in love with the Spanish flavor and history of Los Angeles. I had to drive her back there several times during her visit.

    • I can picture the statue you’re referring to but also can’t think of the man’s name! We are really spoiled with our Mexican food, aren’t we, Inger? I love, too, that your mother, all the way from Sweden, really caught on to the essence and flavor of the history. I must admit there are times I shake my head when native Californians show little to no interest in our Spanish architecture, the missions, are beginnings. I have friends who have never once been to one of the 21 missions…I just don’t understand how they have no curiosity. I’m so glad you do! :-)

  9. I love posts like this one, Debra, where you delve into the long history of a place and make it come alive. I agree with you. : America has ancient history. We don’t celebrate it or recognize it like we should.

    I was talking with an architect friend tonight. He’s visiting LA in a couple of weeks for the Queen Mary Art Deco Festival. I never knew there was such a thing.

    • I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed my post on the La Brea Tar Pits. I think you would be really fascinated with it, in particular since you’re so familiar with LACMA. For me, part of the true enjoyment is the location, which is often such a surprise to those who’ve never noticed the tar pits before. And I definitely smiled to learn from you about the Art Deco Festival. The Queen Mary is always hosting interesting events, but this is a new one for me. I’m going to at least look into it! :-) Thank you!

      • If you go and see a man there, about 5′ 8″ in a dapper 1950s era hat, please say hi to Steve. He always stands out in a crowd because he dresses like men from 1940s and 50s movies.

  10. Wow, Debra, THAT is the view from your BACK YARD? I am so envious! Aand I have loed every one of your Brea Tar Pit pieces, but this one most of all. What a fantastic opportunity to see archaeology in action.

    Those prehistoric creatures: why so many in such a small area?

    • I have to stand in the middle of my street to really take a good photo of the San Gabriel Mountains, Kate. The trees in the yards obscure most of the view. But I do have one little spot in my backyard, between the trees, that I can catch a glimpse. It always makes me happy. These late summer afternoons the sun just happens to hit the mountains in a particular way that only comes once a year. I literally drink it in!

      Your question about why so many fossils in the one part of Los Angeles is interesting to me, too. California is sitting on an abundance of fossil fuel, and I have always assumed that in most other areas they simply began drilling for oil and disturbed fossil fields long before anyone recognized any significance and importance. At the La Brea site there were a couple of scientists/geologists who basically stepped in at the turn of the century who recognized the significance. There are photos in the museum of school children playing in the tar and people walking off with fossils–it just blows my mind! LOL! It’s amazing anything exists at all! If you have the opportunity to travel to California someday, Kate, this would be a real treat, I think! :-)

  11. You have so much to see and do in your area, you’re certain never to be lacking in something fun to do on weekends and in the summer. I remember reading about the tar pits, now I’ve got one more reason I should be getting down there to tour around! Looks like your summer’s been wonderful!! xx

    • So much of Southern California just screams “temporary” and plastic…there is no doubt about that! But I’m glad you can see with me that there is so much more! I sometimes think that even local, native Californians miss out by not sharing the interest in the history that really does reside here. It’s just a bit covered up with the pseudo-glitz and glamour. :-) The La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum are very interesting! Thank you for sharing my interest with me, Barbara!

  12. Dear Debra, I read the two posts I’ve missed since I began to search for an agent. So I know that you cried when you saw the photo of Sophia going off to first-grade. I’ve never had this experience but I do cry when Betty Crocker announces who’s won the bake-off!!!! So I, too, am a real softie.

    As to the tar pits: I’d so enjoy visiting California and seeing the beauty and wonder and history that you’ve introduced me to. One of these days, I’m going to board the Amtrak and go out there. I’ll see those fossils and those life-size skeletons and my mind, I’m sure, will wonder far and wee to the jungles and savannas of 40,000 years ago and to the possibilities for the future for life–human, animal, plant–on Earth. All One. Peace.

  13. You are very right in that we tend to see history in our own perspective, which means people of European decent tend to see the world as it has unfolded for them. But as this post clearly shows history goes way further back than any human traces. Great post, which certainly has made me curious about the George C. Page Museum.

    • I am truly pleased I could introduce you to the George C. Page Museum, Otto. My imagination really does flourish when I am on site and contemplate all the fossil activity, in particular when I consider the location in such close proximity to the heart of the entertainment capital of the world and a reputation for “plastic” consumerism. I feel very humbled when I look around at what we so often consider “important”, and think about how very temporary it all is! I hope someday you might be able to visit. I think you’d find it very interesting. :-)

  14. I always wondered what else is around LACMA. I always see posts of LACMA to be followed with La Brea or Tar Pit. The La Brea I saw was a restaurant. Ahihihihi. My dis advantage pf not planning my trips and not reading what I should expect…awful of me that I missed this place.
    People who said that there’s no history in SoCal are probably stuck watching movies, playing video games or out partying at night like a rockstar.

  15. I’m glad that you are setting people straight…it is not all about Hollywood, after all. There really is history in California if people take the time to explore it.

  16. Excellent Debra – I hope your young Palaeontologist discovered many useful things :-) It’s funny how the availability of things shapes our interest. You have these wonderful sites where you can enjoy the times of the dinosaurs whilst I have the opportunity to look at the relics of the last 100 years. I’m sure we’re each equally fascinated because we both will grab that history that is presented to us and seek to express our joy at finding it :-) Great read and photographs :-)

    • Thank you for your very thoughtful comment, Martin! You’ve very precisely expressed what I’ve been feeling, and haven’t directly stated. I think we have a responsibility to enjoy life where “we are planted.” And I happen to think that there isn’t any place on earth I wouldn’t find interesting. I have, however, always lived in Southern California and I am committed to finding the people, places and things that tell the story of where I live. It isn’t that I wouldn’t be completely fascinated and intrigued with other parts of the world, but as long as I’m living here, I’m going to get to know it well, and let it tell me the stories it hold! It would do me little good to always wish I were somewhere else!! You have a very curious mind–I’m sure you don’t experience boredom! isn’t that a wonderful thing to be able to say!

  17. This time it’s me, finally catching up with your posts, Debra. :-) Wow, I just love the view from your front yard! I had no idea you live so close to such magnificent mountains.

    I remember very much enjoying your previous posrt on the tar pits, and this one is equally fascinating. What a marvelous place to take interested and curious grandchildren to show them the wonders of the past, including pre-history. Our grandsons would adore this place, as would I.

    • I appreciate your comment on the local mountains, Perpetua. I recently learned from my children that they recall that every time we got in the car and headed north I would say, “Just look at those beautiful mountains.” I suppose I didn’t even realize I so frequently said it out loud. The San Gabriel Mountains are a fixture in my day, and I have never failed to appreciate them. I have several Bible verses that automatically pop into my mind when I see them first thing in the morning. It’s nice to have something so beautiful to look at while I’m sitting on the freeway in the first morning traffic jam of the day. :-)

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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