Come for the Lush Scenery and Wildlife, Stay for the Hot, Molten Asphalt that won’t let you go!
I’m basically a little kid thinly disguised as an adult. Very thinly. So, when I go to write about The La Brea Tar Pits, my initial reaction is to jump up and exclaim, “Dey gots the Saber Toothed Tigers an’ dey goes, ‘Rraawrr!‘”
In fact, they are more properly known as Saber Toothed Cats, not Tigers, as they have far more in common with other of the Big Cats than modern tigers, and more than 2000 individual specimens of the Smilodon Californicus have been uncovered at the site. Evidence does, however, support the supposition that the beasts, indeed, did go, “Rraawrr!”
The site is one of the largest sites in the world for uncovering Ice Age Mammalian fossils. The sheer volume of bones from the vast span of years has brought invaluable insight to scientists the world over about our planet and how the ecosystem has adapted and flourished (or not) over the centuries. William W. Orcutt was the first man to take a scientific interest in the tar pits, gaining permission to excavate in 1901 from Rancho La Brea’s owner at the time, Henry Hancock.
That’s the Hancock family that Hancock Park is named for, while W.W. Orcutt got the local species of coyote named after him, Canis orcutti. The word “Brea” literally means “tar” or “pitch” in Spanish, so Rancho La Brea itself simply means “Tar Ranch.” I gotta admit, it sounds way cooler in Spanish. (Most things do: Consider “Antonio Banderas” versus “Tony Flags.” Seriously, he’d have no career.)
Anyway, the place is pretty cool, and cheap. Seven bucks, lots of cool fossils, and “The Fish Bowl,” where you can watch actual Paleontologists get their Paleontology on; this is a working fossil site, kids. They’re still digging stuff up and putting more and more together.
There are huge Mammoths assembled, of differing varieties, American Lions, Dire Bears, thousands of Dire Wolves, (Which, apparently, are not just D&D monsters.) and, of course, our friend, Smilodon Californicus, the Official State Fossil. “Smilodon” sounds so friendly, doesn’t it?
Main image above courtesy of Ian Coleman, used with permission; tho’ it being turned into a “Saber Tooth LOL Cat” is entirely my fault. Don’t blame him for that! He was very kind to let me use his picture. Please visit his site to view amazing wildlife paintings at http://www.colemangallery.com/Welcome.html.
This post is part of the L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks series – click here for the rest of the series!