Fossil hunting is usually a long slow business, walking bent over in the sun for hours, picking up a rock, checking it out, tossing it aside in disgust. I used to spend my summers exactly that way, looking for horn coral and petrified wood on my grandparents’ ranch in Arizona. Even now, if I’m walking along some dry streambed or freshly turned piece of earth, I can’t help looking for interesting rocks.
Because one of them might have been alive once.
And this is why I love the La Brea Tar Pits. Because what rockhound wouldn’t love a place where fossils are found by the crateful, where a single chunk of hardened asphalt might contain a hundred bones. And not just lowly corals or stray bits of petrified wood, but entire sabertooth cats and mastodons and dire wolves. I mean, just imagine. Even cutting across the grassy part of Hancock Park, you could actually be walking on a mammoth.
And if I had a backhoe, I’d be right there digging to find out.
I would be perfectly happy living in the Page Museum. Just throw down a sleeping bag over by the ground sloth and spend the night. One day I’m going to sign up for their volunteer program where you get to sit in the “fishbowl” lab and clean tar off fossils. In my mind, I’d be scrubbing a toothbrush over the molars of a mammoth or the leg bone of a sabertooth. In reality, I’d probably be looking through a magnifying glass sorting out pollen and mouse toes from a pile of sandy matrix.
But I’m okay with that.
Anyway, the tickets Elaine and I had for the Natural History Museum were a twofer special with the Page Museum at the Tar Pits. We’d seen one so now we had to see the other.
This did not hurt my feelings one little bit.
The museum was having some kind of Kid Expo in the park itself. All sorts of little street fair booths teaching kids about ecology, a small stage with various bands singing about how trees are our friends and a little row of food trucks.
Now food trucks are all the rage here in LA, but I’d never actually been to an event where they had them. The concept seemed fun. Little gourmet restaurants on wheels, specializing in cupcakes or PBJ sandwiches or strange cuisine mash-ups.
And there sat five of them.
Tempting, but we had to wallow in fossils first.
And sadness. Because La Brea is all about sadness. I mean, most fossils are pretty neutral. Here is a dinosaur. It died and got covered with mud. Here is a tree. It fell over in a bog and got preserved as a rock. But the La Brea Tar Pits fossils are all about being mired in tar until you starved to death or were eaten alive by predators. Not some poor old mammoth tottering off to die, but unlucky animals fighting a losing battle against merciless asphalt.
Makes me feel guilty for liking the place.
But it wasn’t all gloom and doom. Amid all the tar-stained skeletons and audio-animatronic exhibits was a small auditorium where they were presenting some kind of live show called Ice Age Encounter. So we got a ticket and waited in line. The encounter turned out to be with a couple of sabertooth cats. The baby one was a marionette, but the older one was a life-sized puppet, actually built by the Jim Henson Company.
It was freaking awesome.
Yes, it was just a man (or possibly a woman) in a sabertooth cat suit. Yes, there was a guy on the right side of the room working the eyes and mouth with a remote control. Yes, I cried anyway.
I’m a sucker for sabertooth cats.
Anyway, after gorging ourselves on Cenozoic disaster, we went outside to browse the food trucks. The Korean-Mexican fusion one had calamari tacos. Now I had never had a calamari taco, but I was fairly certain I was going to be having one before the day was out. Elaine, however, hates seafood so she tried to talk me into the hoagie truck on the far end of the row.
She didn’t have much luck.
She settled for a spicy pork burrito.
So we sat on a low wall in the shade of the art museum, eating calamari tacos and spicy pork, cooled by the fragrant breeze off the main tar pit.
Elaine thought it was smelly.
I thought it smelled like fossils.