The photos aren’t very pretty…but what do you expect from bubbling asphalt?

I’m not so sure that I thought this one through. Today’s post seems a little out-of-place for Easter week.  If I’d been planning ahead I could have shared this recent field trip sooner, and saved beautiful spring gardens as a more appropriate Easter connection.

But here we are!

In mid-February I read an article about some exciting fossil-findings in Laguna Canyon. Archaeologists and paleontologists are required on-site for large construction projects and the decision to have scientists available was fortuitous when a highway-widening project became a treasure-finding expedition.

Hundreds of marine mammals that lived in the early-mid Miocene epoch were unearthed! .

If you like to keep track of your geological eras, that would put these creatures as having lived 17-million to 19-million years ago.

Unearthed were 30 cetacean skulls as well as other ocean dwellers, including sharks. The BIG find were four newly identified species of toothed baleen whale, formerly thought to have been extinct 5 million years earlier.

Every discovery is exciting, but one reason paleontologists are required at new digs and construction sites is because California is rich in fossil fuel, and you know what that means! Dig around and you never know what you might find.

La Brea Tar Pits

I was impressed that a few out-of-state visitors correctly identified the photo I shared in my last post as the La Brea Tar Pits!

The life-size models of a Columbian Mammoth family stuck in the tar is for show, of course, but the site remains an active archaeological site.

Methane Bubbles at La Brea Tar Pits

It’s rather entertaining to watch the methane continue to ripple the surface of the oil-slicked water, precisely as it has been doing for millions of years.

The Tar Pits were created when gas and oil beneath the ground were expelled through fissures or vents , with enough thrust of oil to create a volcano effect. There were over twenty pools of the tar-like substance, trapping and preserving thousands of perfect skulls and nearly complete skeletons of creatures that roamed Southern California 10,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Spanish explorers made the first written record of the tar pits in 1769, but Union Oil geologist W.W. Orcutt was the first to recognize fossilized prehistoric animal bones preserved in the asphalt, and excavations formally began in 1913-15.

Since the early 20th century over 1,000,000 fossils have been discovered in the tar pits. The accompanying George C. Page Museum showcases the discoveries.

There is entirely too much of interest to include in one post.

Guess what?

I can connect history of the Mexican land grant Rancho La Brea and even a slim connection to General Patton into the story of the La Brea tar pits–it’s a slim thread, but think back to the six-degrees-of-separation and I’ll get you there!

I hope I’ve set the stage, but for a much better look at the Tar Pits I do recommend this youtube video.

Then maybe next time I will share more about what they’ve found in the pools of tar…did you know California has a State Fossil? Oh the things I’m learning!

50 thoughts on “The photos aren’t very pretty…but what do you expect from bubbling asphalt?

  1. I know the Mexican connection! I didn’t know about the state fossil, but I am going to wait for your post to find out. The methane bubbles in the “lake” are mesmerizing, aren’t they? Are they still working on Project 23? Thank you for sharing the great video.

    1. I think the project is still underway, Janine. I didn’t go into the museum this time. We were really there for LACMA, but I never visit the art museum without visiting the pits! THe state fossil was a new one to me, too! But when I read it I just had to laugh. State flower, state bird…state fossil? Pretty funny!

  2. The Tar Pits have captivated me since I was boy. The idea of there being a spot on earth full of fossils just waiting to be pulled from the mire was just too good to be true. So today, you can write as many posts as you like about them, Debra, and share links to dozens of videos. I’ll read and watch each and every one of them. The little boy in me is yelling, “Yippee!” 🙂

    1. I’m so happy to hear your enthusiasm for the tar pits, John. They are just fascinating to me, too. I can remember as a child just standing there watching the bubbling oil slick and at one time believing there were dinosaurs still stuck in the muck! There never were dinos in that pool, but because the museum had dinosaur bones I thought surely it was all connected. I have been doing some interesting reading on the region related to prehistory and paleontology, so I am quite sure I’ll be sharing more. I almost can’t help myself! 🙂

  3. What a coincidence Debra – at dinner last night our friend who works at one of the sister museums told us about the tar pits and offered to take us on a tour there!
    I look forward to learning about the state fossil.
    Too late to watch the video now. I’ll be back.

    1. How interesting, Rosie! The tar pits are so iconic with Los Angeles, and a must see! Definitely take the time for the Page Museum when you go! If for some reason you don’t get around to it with your friend, let me know. I’ll take you. That’s one of my favorite stretches of the city! 🙂

  4. This has to be a great geological find. Going by the excellently preserved state of the fossils unearthed, I wonder if the site would be made out of bounds for all commercial exploitation for gas and oil? Or would commercial interests win the day as they have often done?


    1. I appreciate your question about commercial interests in the La Brea Tar Pits, Shakti. My understanding is that at this point they are truly intended only for scientific exploration, however, there are many deposits that are currently being worked, and others that are coveted by commercial interests. This is an area of interest to me, too. California has some very large energy efficient goals that have been written into law. How we are going to attain the still remains to be seen. Thank you so much for visiting. I hope to share a little bit more about the Tar Pits in a day or so! I eventually would like to touch on the subject of oil and gas. It is a big issue, isn’t it?

    1. Thank you, Karen! I appreciate your comment. I have enjoyed the La Brea Tar Pits since I was a child. The capture the imagination. There really is a lot of natural diversity in Southern California, and I think I’ve take it on myself to dispel some of the myths and stereotypes-there is history and lot of beauty, mixed in with all the craziness. LOL! I hope you can visit sometime!

    1. I was so glad to find a video of the tar pits that was well done. I looked through my photos and remarkably they all look the same! LOL! Lot of tar, but not much else. The tar pits were always something as a child that just fascinated me, and they still do! I’m glad you enjoyed the field trip!

  5. Oh, I love this, Debra. I’ve been fascinated by the La Brea Tar Pits, having read about them in some epic novel so long ago I’d need an archeologist to dig it out. It fascinated me, but, at the time, I had two young children and no internet to help me explore. Now, here comes Debra with such an exciting post and a video to boot.

    Isn’t it fascinating to see the pits, so ancient, with modern civilization surrounding it? I’ll be interested in what more you have to say.

    1. I’m so glad you had some previous interest in the Tar Pits, Penny. You are right about their location making them even more intriguing. They are located just a few feet from the perimeter of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art! It really is a favorite spot to visit, although it’s funny because there isn’t much to see. It’s all in the imagination! 🙂

  6. Dawnriser

    I know a little about the La Brea Tar pits from some round about reading also. How wonderful to hear of them directly!

    1. I’m so glad I could fill in a little bit of information for you. I’m not quite done with them yet! 🙂 I could go on and on…I really enjoy everything that connects to them. There is obviously a LOT of history connected to something prehistoric! LOL!

  7. A few nights ago on Jeopardy, one of the contestants revealed that she worked at the La Brea Tar Pits. Alex admitted that in his 30 years in LA, he’d never been.

    1. That is so funny to me that Alex would not have been to the Tar Pits. The funny thing is that it would be impossible for him not to drive past them on a routine basis. He must have at least known they were there. 🙂 When I was a child they were completely open without any fences at all…or at least that’s how I remember them!

  8. Ooo, my dinosaur-mad youngest grandson would just love those pits and the museum, Debra. 🙂 i love the sheer varierty and richness of the places you visit and explore with us. Such fun!

    1. Your grandson would definitely enjoy the Tar Pits, Perpetua. They aren’t much to look at, but somehow they captivate our imaginations. THe accompanying Page Museum gives a fuller interpretation of just what was caught in those pits. My five-year-old granddaughter is crazy about dinosaurs. She’s been to the Natural History Museum to see the dinos, but we haven’t taken her yet to the Page. I’m sure we’ll do that this summer and I can’t wait to see her reaction. At five she knows a lot more about them than I do! 🙂

  9. I loved visiting the La Brea Tar Pits as a child (and later as an adult, too). I can’t wait to take my son there one of these days! I’m thinking this summer we need to visit family in Pasadena and do some serious touristy stuff in the LA area.

  10. Oh, this is totally fascinating, Debra! The idea of these places which trapped so many animals and has built up a library of evolution for us to discover! Thanks so much. An absorbing post.

    1. I’m glad you found it interesting, Kate. I plan to share more about its precise location which in some ways makes it even more intriguing to me. I’ve been staring at those methane bubbles since I was a small child, and each time I seem to see something different! 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you shared the video with your son! It is such a unique open excavation site, and the accompanying Page Museum is incredibly interesting. It alone would be worth a trip to SoCal. 🙂

  11. I think you would be very interested in a British TV program about researching the DNA of a British celebrity back to the first woman, the first man and how they emigrated out of Africa. If this sounds good, please check it out here: Absolutely fascinating stuff, as are most posts on Hilary’s blog.

    I lived not too far from the La Brea Tar pits when I lived in Los Angeles. Interesting stuff as always here, Debra.

    1. Thank you for the direction to Hilary’s blog, Inger. I most definitely will check it out as well as the British show you referenced. I am sure I will enjoy! If you lived near Hancock Park then you really appreciate the beauty and peace of living in the desert, don’t you? The two are quite the extremes! 🙂

  12. Wow, identifying four species of toothed baleen whale is intriguing to me because it makes me wonder what other species we are missing. The earth has many secrets! The pictures were interesting enough to be pretty. 🙂

    1. I like your comment that the pictures were interesting enough to be pretty! You’re great, Marie! And you’re so right about the earth holding many secrets. We sometimes think so highly of our ability to “know” and understand, and think what we really DON’T know! 🙂

  13. That’s what the sea monster breathing under the surface was! Old monsters. La Brea Tar Pits seems like an interesting display of an archaeological site. But yes, that methane gas means one thing, which isn’t necessarily good – all depending on your view on the present climate crisis.

    1. Oh my yes, Otto. I am very mindful of the climate change implications of the methane. The discussion, controversy and heated arguments about fossil fuel production and consumption is very current in the state of California. I plan to address some of the issues in the near future. California is “sitting” on so much oil which divides opinions between those that tout “energy independence” with a desire to expand drilling, and the environmentally concerned who are strenuously working to halt production efforts. I’m more closely aligned with the environmentalists, but on this topic we are a very divided state. I do hope to share a bit more about this topic at some point soon. It fascinates and bothers me! The La Brea Tar Pits are tremendously interesting, as an on-going dig…still finding fossils.

  14. I loved the Tar Pits. It was a must see for me when we came out there. Of course, I saw the Bugs Bunny cartoon in my mind the entire time.

    And I would love to go to that dig site.

    1. I enjoy the Tar Pits very much, Andra. There is something so fascinating about their ancient origins and the modern and high-end real estate they occupy! 🙂 And you’re right…your Bugs Bunny reference is perfect. 🙂

  15. Hi Debra, Happy Easter and it’s so good to be back. That video was so interesting. Those ancient animals and birds are so amazing. it would be wonderful to be able to go back in time and see how the world was when they roamed the earth xx

    1. I hope you have a lovely Easter, too, Charlie. It’s nice to have you back from your exile! That must have been very frustrating! The tar pits are fascinating, aren’t they? I’m glad I could share them with you! oxo

  16. Dear Debra, thank you again and ever for introducing me to California and its plethora of natural beauty and mystery. Your curiosity about life and the natural wonders around you so enlightens my life. Peace.

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