Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits

Tuesday, October 2, 2012
My Cost: FREE!

5801 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

By taking advantage of the free Tuesday, (first Tuesday of each month,) we completed our summer trilogy of LA County Natural History Museums! (See my previous blog posts on the William S. Hart Museum, and the Natural History Museum.) 

The top of the museum peaks out above the mound that surrounds it on three sides. A walk around the top will give you a peek inside the central atrium of the museum, but you have to go inside to see all the bones!

The entrance is below ground level at the bottom of a long ramp - giving the feeling
one is "sinking" into the past, to see the remains of animals that weren't able to free themselves.

While a lot of the places we've been going lately are totally new to me, the Page Museum is actually one that I visited some years ago. I think it was back in 2007, but I can't remember for sure. (What is more memorable is the time in 2008 when my college roommate and her husband came for a visit and we decided to kick it at Hancock Park for a bit. We got a little silly and spent a while rolling down the grassy hills pictured above, and somehow I totally and completely lost my car keys, never to be seen again... Had to have a locksmith come and make a whole new key using the tumbler that was stashed in the car by the manufacturer.)

Harlan's Ground Sloth is the first skeleton you see, and he's sort of the mascot of the museum.
You can't tell the scale from the picture, but this guy is over six feet tall!

For those who have never heard of the Page Museum, or the La Brea Tarpits, it's a museum of Ice Age fossils that were retrieved from the area's asphalt deposits. Here's a quick rundown:

The land where the Page sits is oozing with asphalt deposits, which have come to be known as "tar pits." Although now hemmed in on all sides by urban development, this was once an enormous tract (4,400 acres,) known as Rancho La Brea, that was handed over by the Mexican government to Antonio Jose Rocha in 1828. A provision of this grant was that the native residents of the pueblo be allowed to use as much of this "pitch" or asphalt as they wanted, such as for waterproofing roofs. 

While people had noticed the remains of animals in the asphalt deposits, they assumed the bones to be of livestock or wild animals who had met their demise fairly recently. The first published mention of ancient fossils being present in the asphalt was in 1875 by a man named William Denton. This mention went fairly unnoticed, but then in 1901 another man, prominent geologist W.W. Orcutt, became interested in the fossils, and spent a few years with a partner intermittently investigating. Finally, the fossil load they found in 1905 was enough to interest a U.C. Berkeley professor, J.C. Merriam. 

From 1905 to 1915, large-scale fossil excavation took place by scientists from foreign and domestic institutions, plus a lot of amateur investigating. By this time, Rancho La Brea had been parceled up and sold, and George Allan Hancock had become the owner of the property where the deposits were located. In 1924, Hancock donated 23 acres to the County of Los Angeles to be used as a park, as long as the land was preserved and the fossils were exhibited.

The on-site museum was built thanks to the efforts and financial contributions of California shipping magnate George C. Page, and bears his name in tribute. Construction began in 1975, and the museum opened in 1977. Page didn't want the fossils to have to be transported to the Natural History Museum to be investigated, so today visitors can watch staff and volunteers prepare fossils in a Fish Bowl Lab inside the museum.  It currently houses a collection of more than three million Ice Age specimens, with fossils on display from deposits that are 10,000 to 40,000 years old.

The specimens come from deposits found all around the park, not just in the park itself. Contractors from those building projects have cooperated with the efforts to preserve the fossils. The current big project - Project 23, that includes a near-complete Columbian Mammoth - was unearthed when LACMA was building its underground parking structure.

So, wandering through the museum you can see lots of skeletons retrieved from the asphalt. Here are some I snapped pictures of:

This wooly mammoth skeleton is really awesome in size!
There were a lot more bones that I didn't take pictures of, unfortunately. But I did get some pictures of their two very cool animatronic displays. I don't remember them being here the first time I visited, so I think they are fairly new. Vivi kept going back, over and over, and was less and less scared of them as she began to realize they weren't dangerous.

The mammoth model rocks back and forth.

The saber-toothed tiger makes an attack on a ground sloth.
(Notice Vivi is taking a turn sitting in Alex's baby carrier that he has almost outgrown himself. Lol!)
There are also lots of pictorial exhibits showing the history of the land, the ancestry of different species, the anthropological history of the area, etc. And a film plays regularly in a small auditorium.

Another nice feature of this museum is that it is built around a lovely atrium. There is water running through the atrium, including a waterfall and a bridge, and several lovely seating spaces. It can be accessed by two doors, and there's a third door that is exit-only.  There are some steps that weren't stroller friendly for us, but it was still pretty. And turtles in the water! Everywhere we visit with an outdoor water feature seems to have turtles!

Looking up to the sky, and the windows look out from the gift shop that arches into the atrium. 
The turtles and koi!
Looking at the turtles with grandpa!

Now, even though this is a fairly small, one-story museum, your visit doesn't have to stop once you exit the building. There are all the related sections of Hancock Park to visit. Here they are on a map:

All the blue areas are Page-related: Lake Pit, Pleistocene Garden, Pits 3, 4, 61, 67, the Pit 91 Excavation, the Project 23 boxes, Pit 9, Pit 13, and the Observation Pit.
Not on the map are some life-sized statues of the Ice Age animals in the park.

Mammoth replicas in the Lake Pit evoke an earlier time, but the traffic and buildings in the background sort of spoil the illusion...
The Pit 91 Excavation Viewing Station is open daily from 10am to 4pm.
Did you ever see the episode of "Dirty Jobs" from season 5 where Mike Rowe was in the pit slinging buckets of goop?
Looking into the excavation, but no one was working today.
And, as our final bonus for the day, we went and walked, (well, Vivi sort of ran,) under Levitated Mass, LACMA's new "Big Rock" installation. If you don't remember the 105-mile trip the rock made from Riverside to LACMA last February/March, you can read a recap on the LA Times Blog here, including live tweets and behind-the-scenes photos from the first night of the 11-day trip.

It was not crowded at all on a weekday. I wonder if skateboards are prohibited?

Vivi really got a good lead - and lost her drink bottle, which rolled down the ramp.

Coming up the other side, I was wondering what my father-in-law thought of the installation,
or if he thought it was a waste of footsteps, lol! 

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