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The La Brea “Tar Pits”-Where History and Modern Science Meet

The La Brea “Tar Pits”-Where History and Modern Science Meet

A person can put themselves back in the same place, with the same people and even the same time of year but you can not recreate a memory. You can find small things that bring back those memories but the world is an ever-changing place, constantly in motion. Times like these, where you try to immerse yourself back into your past, are when you realize that not only have you changed as you grew older, but so has the rest of the world.

Have you ever had a favorite movie as a young child that you went to re-watch as an adult only to find out it was much better in memory than in reality? If so, you will know what my day at the La Brea Tar Pits was like. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a great place to visit. It was just incredibly different than I remember as a child.

I was probably about 5 years old when my Aunt took me to the La Brea Tar Pits (Official Site) for the first time. The memories I have of the visit are a bit patchy, but here is what I do remember: Walking past the gated tar pits into the museum, looking at dinosaur statues, feeling the sample piece of “dinosaur skin” to see what scientists thought their skin felt like, and at the end she bought me a triceratops figurine and a photo slide.

Today the only thing that was familiar were the gated tar pits themselves. Political correctness and the evolution of scientific theory have changed the landscape of the museum in an entirety. There are no dinosaur statues in the museum, and with that the plaque of “dino skin” I wanted to touch again out of nostalgia was no longer in existence.

Here’s where the lesson in science comes in for all of you folks. No dinosaurs were EVER found at the La Brea Tar Pits. Considering the tar pits were formed well after the extinction of dinosaurs it would be impossible for this to occur unless someone decided to dig up some remains and dump them in the pits thousands of years later.

Most of the skeletons found in the tar pits are from the ice age, but the tar pits continue to ensnare small animals and bugs today. What you have pictured in your mind of the tar pits is probably inaccurate. It actually looks much like a big pond of water with some surface oil, much like a puddle in an urban street. Methane bubbles periodically work their way to the surface, making it look like a dying Jacuzzi tub.

Inside Page Museum at La Brea (yes, La Brea Tar Pits is actually quite redundant, seeing as “Brea” means Tar you are saying “The Tar Tar Pits”), there are numerous skeletons from thousands of years. One of the more numerous skeletons found in the pits is the Dire Wolf. They have a wall covered in their skulls, and these are only a portion of what they have found.


Some of the scientists here work in a literal fish bowl, just like you see in the first Jurassic Park movie. Walking around the back side of the museum you will come to the Paleontology Laboratory, which juts out into the room with a full-glass semi-circular build. The scientists work quietly inside, able to see everyone that mills around watching them tediously separate microfossils from minerals and sediment. It must take a lot of nerve to work under those conditions and I imagine they take turns sitting in the “fish bowl”.

After my brother and I finished the tour of the museum we walked around the ‘pond’ out front that has the mammoth statues tragically stuck in the ‘tar’. Around the walk are some art pieces, one of which looks like spare parts of a construction site. They are simply four concrete boxes. One of those pieces that starts the argument, between my brother and I, over whether art is the product or the intention of the artist’s talents. As we step down to cross the street I notice that tar has bubbled up through the street. Makes roadwork easy I laugh with my brother.

We try to go to Trader Joe’s to get another piece of my childhood memories: Fruit Leather. When I was young my parents used to pick up the fruit leather from Trader Joes for us to snack on. Once again my memoirs were blocked by time and reality: the parking lots were small, crowded, and full. No parking and there were several cars sharking around for spots just as I was. I decided that the fruit leather would have to wait and we headed back to my brother’s home city.

The drive home was through the mist that had remained throughout the day, the sun hiding behind the clouds. The memories I have of living in California mostly involve sunshine, or very windy days where we wore what was called a “windbreaker”, or in Midwestern talk, a light jacket. I don’t clearly remember any rainy or misty days from my childhood, probably because they were spent doing things of no monumental value, like playing legos inside or watching “Oprah” with my Mom.

The mist isn’t unpleasant at all, in fact it’s warm enough that with a jacket the weather is really nice. Comparable to a spring rain in the temperate regions. My Dodge Stealth still looked clean, mismatched wheel and all.

Yet again that I am reminded that memories are not only selective, but they are exactly that: memories.

A person can put themselves back in the same place, with the same people and even the same time of year but you can not recreate a memory. You can find small things that bring back those memories but the world is an ever-changing place, constantly in motion. Times like these, where you try to immerse yourself back into your past, are when you realize that not only have you changed as you grew older, but so has the rest of the world.

And it is in times like these that you realize something important you may have overlooked. For you to continue succeeding in life it is ok to change paths. When you can’t see a dinosaur exhibit, enjoy the comedy of the “fish bowl” scientists and the fascinating numbers of the Dire Wolves that were found in this little piece of Los Angeles.

The Dinosaur exhibit will always be a part of you, and it’s the reason you stepped into the next phase of life. It inspired you to learn something new and continue moving forward.

There is a lot in this world to see, and I have planned to see as much as I can of it, but there is a small factor that I continue to forget: the factor of time. I can take a picture of the world and try to see all of it as it existed in that picture, but I will never truly see all of the world.

To be a well rounded person I truly believe you have to experience the most of the universe as possible, and that’s what I try to attempt in my life. I may only be able to see the “dino skin” exhibit when I’m 6 years old, and the Dire Wolf collection at the age of 25, but every piece that I add to my collection of memories is going to be there forever. In another 20 years, perhaps, I will return in search for the memories of this misty day in Los Angeles and the bubbly waters of La Brea only to discover something new.

Remember: The memories last forever, and the new ones should be cherished just as much as the old.

December 30th, 2009 | 5 Comments

5 Responses to “The La Brea “Tar Pits”-Where History and Modern Science Meet”

  • 02/21/11

    Sally Zellers says:

    I have been to the tar pits and agree that the pits themselves are a bit anticlimactic. The museum is great though. I especially like the wall of dire wolf skulls.

  • 05/14/11

    Cliff Cain says:

    Dont they have an onsite dig going on??? I would love to just volunteer my time there!

      06/23/11

      Nicole says:

      That they do! Lots of micro fossils, mostly. All ice age animals.

    04/03/13

    rachel says:

    i always wanted to go and help find some animals that the la brea tar pits buried. but my main question is can the la brea tar pits ever erupt in lava like in the movie “valcano” or is that just a part of the movie ?

      04/03/13

      Nicole says:

      Rachel,

      The likelihood of a volcano erupting at the La Brea tar pits is about as likely as a volcano erupting anywhere that is not volcanically active today on Earth. The reason the tar pit bubbles is because of the release of gases, not because of any molten magma body below. It was certainly sensationalized for the movie Volcano. If you ever go visit La Brea you can watch the scientists in action as they sort and identify the fossils.

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