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Today’s Deathstination:  The LaBrea Tar Pits

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

First Impressions

Saturday morning my roommate and I arrived at the LaBrea Tar Pits, which I had never actually been to, despite the fact that it’s a large bubbling pit of death 5 minutes from my apartment.

When you first walk up you’re greeted by kind of what you might expect, a large pit of tar.  It smells like ass and there are sulfur bubbles primordially oozing on the surface.  Strangely, there weren’t actually that many people outside chillin’ by the pit proper.  Actually IN the pit is a large statue of a momma mammoth stuck in the tar while its baby mammoth wails in despair.  I like this place already.

The reason I had never been to the Tar Pits is that I was under the (quite mistaken) impression that it was all hot and crowded and touristy.  It’s not.  It’s basically the ridiculous pit outside, and then a really rad adjacent museum that hasn’t been updated since the early 80’s.  All the better, because it’s not trying to be politically correct or dumb things down for children.

Example one: Penis Bone

La Brea, in espanol, means “the tar.”  So really, it’s the Tar Tar Pits.  And actually where tartar sauce comes from, little known fact (note: not true).

Tens of thousands of years ago, there were large tar pits around what is now urban Los Angeles.  The tar was often deceptively covered by water.  So the ancient beasts of North America would wander by for a drink and get stuck in the black goo of eternal pain.  As explained by the old timey animation in the introduction video, “tar is not like quickand, the animals would not sink right away.  They would just get stuck and eventually die of exposure and starvation.”

The reason that there are thousands of fossils in the pits is because of sticky situations like the one above.  Initially, your unsuspecting pronghorn antelope would get stuck in the tar.  Then a sabre tooth cat would smell easy prey and leap onto it and then it would get stuck.  And then vultures would come for some carcass feast and they would get stuck.  And bugs, birds, bacteria, so on and so forth. Stuck stuck stuck death death death FOSSILS!

The fossils are superbly presented throughout the museum.  They are somehow better than your run of the mill museum skeletons because they are all totally insane extinct shit we don’t have anymore, i.e. mammoths, mastadons, giant ground sloths, stilt legged llamas, sabre tooth cats (not tigers, so we learned).

There were lots of families there with small children and everyone seemed to be having a really good time, which I attribute to it not being a super modern museum with tons of multimedia interactive hands on exhibit crap.

The only interactive thing in the place was a vat of tar that you pulled up with metal rods to see how hard it is to escape once your stuck.  My roommate kindly demonstrates.  The kids loved it, despite the fact that the existential despair of being trapped in tar as you slowly die is a lot to wrap your head around.

Favorite Bits

This one is a tie.  My first favorite is the dire wolf skull wall.  Hundreds of ancient giant wolf skulls attached to a neon wall, aka that which I shall have in my home when I am an insanely rich old dilettante.

Here’s something embarrassing: I DIDN’T KNOW DIREWOLVES WERE REAL.  I thought they were mythical beasts from Game of Thrones I swear to god.

Nope, they were real and according to this painted backdrop, crazy sinister.

My second favorite part was the giant anamatronic sabre tooth cat attacking a sloth.  It was super old and the rickety and mottled yet surprisingly hypnotic.


Yes, available!  A great gift shop with lots of sciency things for kids.  And this shirt, which I almost bought.  Get it?  Because you get stuck and fossilized for all eternity!

Also, Tar Pit photo booth.  We chose the ground sloth theme.


I’m not sure what’s going to go in this section yet.  Perhaps ratings, i.e.  7/10 skulls. Based on how good the deathstination is for children, death interaction levels, overall morbidity, etc.

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