That resulting cool museum is the George C. Page Museum, located in downtown Los Angeles, CA, which is dedicated to and located on the site of those naturally occurring asphalt seeps that we call tar pits. However I try to phrase it, there’s really just no pleasant euphemism for those sucking pools of black goo.
Discovered by Spanish explorers in the 1700s, these billabongs of bubbling black broth got nothing more than a “yuck” from our forefathers until 1901 when the first bones of ancient, extinct animals were found therein. By that time, the area had become known as Rancho La Brea. Eventually, much like the dark, oily sludge of the tar pits themselves, the Hollywood area of modern L.A. oozed up into existence around it.
|Saddest museum display ever, right?|
The museum itself is located in an impressive-looking building fronted by a statue of fighting saber-teeth and a building-wide relief of the relevant animals in their ice-age southern L.A. climate. However, before being impressed by the architecture, you’re going to want to be appalled by the asphalt.
Most of those tar deposits are hidden underground, with only a sticky patch of grass or two denoting their presence. However there’s a nice, open pond-sized specimen right in front of the museum. It’s surrounded by a chain-link fence and features life-sized statues of dying and/or grieving mammoths within. Death-sized, actually, I guess.
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Inside, the museum is small, but fascinating, especially since there are no towering dinosaur skeletons to dominate the place and steal all the attention from the bones of the unique mammal and bird specimens on display. In addition, the bones are all stained a telltale shade of brown from millennia of miring in the muck.
The main feature of the museum, though, is the public-viewable laboratory itself, which is in a transparent bubble of windows in the middle of the museum. It allows visitors to smear their nose prints just inches from where museum staff carefully extract bits of ex-animate matter from solid hunks of dried, black tar. Yet another sucky-sounding job that science makes awesome.
Like most people who are people, I like natural history museums a lot, even though there’s a general sameness to many of them. You know, this way to the dinosaur bones, this way to the taxidermied fauna, this way to our rock collection. The La Brea Tar Pits museum, on the other hand, though somewhat humble, remains a unique repository of the natural history of the region.
Oh, and here are some relevant facts that should have been cleverly worked into the article instead of clumsily post-scripted here: “Brea” is Spanish for tar, the term “saber-toothed tiger” is a misnomer, and another word for naturally occurring asphalt is “bitumen.”
Also, even though I busted on L.A. a lot in this article, there’s still a part of me that likes the city. I think it’s the hole in my soul part.