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  1. #1

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    T&T Sticky Sunday at the Tar Pits

    On a recent trip to the San Diego Zoo our kids discovered the magic of fossils. For anyone who hasn't been to the SD Zoo in a while, the new "Elephant Odyssey" exhibit contains a mockup of a tar pit complete with fake fossils for kids to touch. Since the kids all enjoyed this, Tink and I decided it was time to take them to the real Tar Pits.

    We arrived early to make sure we had a parking spot. The parking in the surrounding area is extremely limited, and the parking lot itself is very small. $7 for a spot, but you honestly do not have much of an alternative. Up to this point the kids did not know what we were doing. I remembered from years past that the whole park sits above a tar field. It isn't uncommon for tar to "bubble up" in unexpected spots... it has been over 20 years since Tink or I had set foot in this park... wow.


    There are 3 of these structures in the already limited parking area. It seems Mother Nature decided to repave the parking lot


    Yes that is tar. It has split the asphalt and in some areas would actually bubble. I quickly move the kids past this structure, not wanting to spoil the surprise.


    To "us locals" it will forever be known at the Tar Pits


    This is "the lake". It is a mixture of tar and water.


    Years ago they installed a few replica Mastodons. Ironically the display is inaccurate. Most animals were stuck in shallow pools, like flypaper.


    The bridge offers a nice "non fenced" view of the lake.


    In other areas that are more tar and less water the tar forms actual bubbles.The escaping gas from the earth below causes the lake to randomly "boil".


    This gives a better indication of just how large the lake is.
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  2. #2

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    Re: T&T Sticky Sunday at the Tar Pits

    Outside of the museum are two beautiful sculptures.

    I love sculptures


    This appears to be either the American Lions of the Ice Age or the African Lions of today. I wasn't sure... but it provides a nice contrast to the Saber Tooth Cats in the previous sculpture.


    I really just wanted a shot of them going in the door. Above the museum are amazing reliefs carved into panels. Unfortunately I didn't get a shot of them.


    Some of the shots will be blurry, sorry, this was the infamous "Ground Sloth".


    Mastodon leg bone. The kids had fun touching it and then touching their own leg trying to compare themselves to these elephant ancestors


    This is a mother and calf, as well as a camel on the other side. It was somewhat sad explaining to the kids that the calf got stuck and died.


    A better shot of mother and calf


    Ancestor to the modern American Buffalo. These were about 1.5 times bigger.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


  3. #3

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    Re: T&T Sticky Sunday at the Tar Pits

    What I really liked about the museum were the touch exhibits. They brought the whole thing to life for little kids.


    The basic design is simple. Plexi-glass cabinet with a two poles stuck in a bucket full of the infamous tar. All you need to do is pull the poles out. It is a lot harder then it looks. I had to help the girls.


    She really really tried, didn't want me to help. She could barely move it. Through this exhibit the kids began to understand why everything got stuck in the tar.


    He was the only one to pull a pole out, and it took him a good 5 minutes to do it.


    The beautiful Saber Tooth Cat. The kids couldn't stop staring at it.


    This is a shot of the famous canines. Initially scientists didn't believe the cats could close their mouths completely. The Tar Pit discoveries proved that to be wrong. The collection has the only known fossil of a cat with it's mouth closed in the world. It is not on display but there is a photo on the website.


    The kids checking out the early human things. In front of the display are more touch exhibits like the shell they're looking at.


    It's a little dark, but she loved seeing "the hairy elephant".


    I was explaining to the kids ho a fossil is protected in burlap and plaster cast. Before I knew it I had a small group of people around me asking me questions. Someone asked if I was a docent and I explained that I was merely explaining the process to my own kids... For anyone interested there is a lot of information on the Tar Pits website. I will post a link at the end of the TR.
    Last edited by techskip; 09-14-2010 at 06:00 PM.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


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  4. #4

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    Re: T&T Sticky Sunday at the Tar Pits

    Every collection has "that one defining piece". I would have to say this is it


    Sorry for the artistic shot but I couldn't resist.


    The average Mastadon fossil is roughly 15ft... this one is somewhere around 15ft at the shoulder and 17ft at the crest of the skull. Again sorry for the overall blur.


    The little one looking at the leg bone


    Since there was a lot of dead animals getting stuck in the pits, it stands to reason there would be a few birds.


    She loved the birds


    I loved this one mounted in a flying position.


    A cool display of a pack of wolves


    This represents 1/4 of the total collection of wolf skulls. According to the sign there are 404 on display, and over 1600 in the total collection. Wolves travel and hunt in packs, if a member was stuck it is possible others may have also been stuck attempting to free it.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


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  5. #5

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    Re: T&T Sticky Sunday at the Tar Pits

    Wow that looks Awesome!
    I like the sculptures they have in the beginning!
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  6. #6

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    Re: T&T Sticky Sunday at the Tar Pits


    The American Lion (with Short Nosed Bear on the other side). The lion was roughly 1.5 times the size of its modern African cousin. The bear, on all fours, was over 6ft tall (modern polar bears are only about 5ft and modern brown bears are only 4.5ft).


    The wild horse


    A family group of Saber Tooth Cats


    This was one of the final displays. This block was excavated in the early 1900's. Most of the other blocks were taken out in this manner, and the overall block then excavated off site and the larger bones removed. A LOT of the specimens went to the LA Natural History Museum. According to the movie, the tar is responsible for the unique dark brown color of the bones. The Tar Pits lend out specimens to a variety of museums. If you see large mammal fossils that are dark brown or black, look for a sign, chances are it came from the Tar Pits.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


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  7. #7

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    Re: T&T Sticky Sunday at the Tar Pits

    The whole area sits on "Museum Row" and the Tar Pits themselves are found within a park. It isn't uncommon to find small patches of tar that have "bubbled up".


    You can barely see it, but she is playing with the tar on a stick. Before anyone becomes upset... the tar is not hot... the reason it bubbles is escaping gas. I also made sure the kids were not wearing new clothes or new shoes... just in case.


    This is a bubbling spot behind a fence


    An animal may or may not have seen this pit. From a distance it looks like water. The larger pools are behind fences so as to protect the public. Decades ago people did get stuck (they show pictures in the movie).


    This pit would have gotten animals... and this is how I was able to explain why the animals got stuck. If you glance at it you see the tar at the top of the photo. What you don't see is the tar under the dust and leaves which were blown there by the wind... the whole picture is a tar pool. Remember it only took a pool 3-4in deep to trap an animal.

    There is a couple observation pits. I did not bother with pictures because currently they are not being excavated. Pit 91, the most famous pit, has been silent for several years. The reason is simple. When Museum Row was being expanded, and foundations were being dug, construction crews found a huge asphalt deposit (dried tar). Obviously construction work couldn't be indefinitely stopped so the deposits were carefully boxed up and labeled accordingly. This became known as Project 23.


    I was disappointed that you can't really see this particular box. They just finished a box that was a lot closer to the fence. Each box is a mixture of sand, gravel, asphalt and fossils. They've already found large tusks (the plaster casted one pictured earlier was from a box) and camels among other things.

    The tar is great at preserving even the most minor details of the bone. You can clearly see where bones had been broken, and healed. A trained eye could detect various bone diseases... really amazing preservation. The only downside to the tar deposits is that nothing is in order. Unlike other dig sites that may have semi complete skeletons... the tar pits are a jumble of EVERYTHING.

    For more information I would recommend visiting the website, or visiting in person.
    http://www.tarpits.org/

    The museum is little more then a glorified visitor center. Admission was $7 for adults, but the collection, the experience, and the memories were worth the price.
    "Happiness is a Low Water Level"


    "Creating magical memories and making Managers cry since 1955!"


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