My mom has traveled long distances before, but never by plane, so when I brought her from Incheon to Los Angeles, jet lag hit her hard! So we took it easy for the month of May, catching up at home and sampling some of LA’s diverse cuisine, but as soon as June showed up, she was back to her old self again! That meant it was time to start showing her around town!
This particular morning was very June gloomy (“June gloom” is when the marine layer builds up overnight and makes the mornings in Los Angeles very cloudy), which made it the perfect atmosphere for visiting one of my favorite local landmarks, the La Brea Tar Pits!
These pits of molten asphalt (not actually tar) were first recorded by Gaspar de Portolá in 1769 and became part of the Rancho La Brea land grant in 1840, owned by Captain G. Allen Hancock, namesake of Hancock Park!
The Hancocks knew they were sitting on a treasure trove of prehistory since the beginning, but nothing came of it until they gave the canine of an ancient sabertooth to William Denton in 1875. That sabertooth, Smilodon fatalis, would go on to become California’s state fossil!
Excavations started here in 1913, and since then, paleontologists have discovered over 2,000 sabertooth fossils buried deep in the terrible-smelling asphalt. They’ve also found woolly wonders like giant ground sloths (Nothrotheriops shastensis) and short-faced bears (Arctodus sinus)! Some of these fossils are over 46,000 years old!
But those wonders can’t compare to the Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) discovered here! Over 21 of these mighty pachyderms were found in Pit 9 alone! All of these numbers are going to change, though, because this place is still under excavation! It was a little early to watch the excavators in action, but they give demonstrations pretty regularly!
All of these creatures had come down to the water for a drink one day, not minding the terrible smell, and as they stepped into the pool, they found that they couldn’t pull their legs out, even the mammoths! The asphalt was so strong that the more the animals struggled, the worse it got. Their cries drew in the predators that then got stuck themselves, and yet, despite all of the death surrounding this pool, thousands of animals kept making the same mistake again and again. It’s a good thing we’ve come such a long way!
Mostly! The asphalt is still bubbling up under the surface, and Mom and I came very close to blundering into a pool of our own! There are traffic cones set up on most of these spots to keep visitors from becoming fossils, but some joker had moved one!
That was scary enough that we decided to call it a day! We’ll be out again later, because there’s so much of Los Angeles to show my mom!
Have a nice af-tar-noon!