Last December I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. I spent a week in southern California and the La Brea Tar Pits were without a doubt my favorite part!
First of all, let’s talk about the tar pits themselves. Before you even see the museum or the grounds, you can smell them; the smell of tar permeates Wiltshire Boulevard for blocks, especially on hot days. These tar pits have been around for tens of thousands of years and formed when crude oil oozed to the surface through cracks in the crust. After the oil reached the surface the lightest part of the ooze–the oil–evaporated, leaving behind the thick, sticky asphalt. Luckily for scientists (but unluckily for the animals), during the Pleistocene many plants and animals got stuck in the tar, and can now be studied. When you walk around the grounds today you can see tar pits large and small still bubbling away. In front of the museum is a massive pond with mammoth sculptures reenacting how these animals may have become stuck. Also on the grounds you can see Project 23 and some of the pits that scientists have been excavating for 100 years, as well as the Pleistocene Garden, a recreation of what the Ice Age flora was like.
Once you go inside the Page Museum itself, things are no less impressive. The museum is filled with some of the millions of specimens found at the site. Smilodon (saber-tooth cats) are some of the most well known fossils (it is the state fossil of California) and some of the bones even have evidence of injuries and disease. Unlike in museums in other states, large specimens such as mammoths and horses are suspended from the ceiling instead of mounted from the floor in case of earthquakes! One of my favorite exhibits was the wall of over 400 dire wolf skulls that was made to solve the problem of too many fossils and not enough storage.
In the middle of the museum is the Fishbowl Lab. For me, fossil preparation is one of the most exciting parts of the scientific journey. Visitors can watch volunteer preparators clean and repair fossils. You might even get a chance to see Zed, the largest and most complete mammoth found so far at the site!
If you find yourself in southern California, I highly recommend visiting the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. I could easily spend days in that museum and I would love to go back! To learn more about the tar pits, check out the links below!