Stuck in the Tar Pits

What?? Another post about my time in LA?! Hey, what can I say? I got to do a lot of fun stuff on this trip! 🙂

With the fun of Gally officially done for another year, but with all of Monday and some of Tuesday open to me before flying home on Tuesday afternoon, I still had some time to unwind and potentially see more of LA. The days right after Gally ends are, for me, kind of like the days after Christmas ends. They’re both short periods of time that only happen once a year and they both condense a lot of fun stuff into a short period of time. And after they’re over, the world seems a little quieter and more boring by comparison. Obviously it’s a temporary feeling because, as with Christmas, there’s always another Gally to look forward to! But having the day or two after it ends (I always fly home on Monday or Tuesday) to “come down” and just chill out is nice. I almost always have at least a couple of friends with me on Monday or Tuesday and we always find something to do, which often involves having a wander around Santa Monica, maybe doing a little shopping, going to the pier, and having a boozy lunch. All of which are lovely, of course! But this year, I was flying solo as pretty much everyone went home on Monday. So it was up to me to figure out my plan for the day.

But first, breakfast!

There’s a bit of a tradition at Gally that at some point during the convention, or maybe even multiple times, you have to go to Denny’s. Yes, that chain diner that you go to with your family on Sunday morning or with your friends after a late night of partying in high school (that’s what I did in the ’90s, at least!). There’s one about a half-mile down the street from the Marriott, making it easy to get to, and offering a way to get tasty food at non-hotel prices, which is key when pretty much all the other walkable restaurants are in hotels (being right by LAX, there are lots of other hotels around the Marriott, all with their own overpriced restaurants, but there aren’t a lot of other restaurant choices). Denny’s actually used to be connected to a somewhat-shifty Travelodge hotel, but that was torn down a few years ago, though thankfully Denny’s has continued to survive. Anyway, why say all this? Because I didn’t go to Denny’s at all on this trip, until Monday morning! Felicity and I went with a couple other friends and had a typically tasty breakfast. It felt like my Gally experience was officially complete for the year once I finished my Moons Over My Hammy. 😀

Denny’s, in all its glory!

Obviously I wasn’t going to spend my whole day at Denny’s, so after breakfast, I was hanging in my room with Felicity and Jason (who had joined us for breakfast) and mulling over an idea I’d had to visit the La Brea Tar Pits. Back in the olden days (meaning, pre-2006), Gally was held in a different hotel, the Airtel Plaza in Van Nuys. My first four times going to Gally were at that hotel and, every year there, I always heard people talk about going to La Brea as an excursion, but I never went. It’s popped up in conversation now and then over the years since, but I still failed to go there, so I figured 2022 would be the year to go! I looked it up before getting to LA and saw that I could pre-book tickets, but I didn’t rush to do so as I figured they were unlikely to sell out. I looked again on Monday morning and saw that tickets were still available, but again didn’t buy one because I thought I’d just be able to walk up and buy one. I checked again after breakfast and saw that they were no longer available and was worried I wouldn’t be able to go – uh-oh! Thankfully though, I called the museum directly and was told they still had tickets, but if I got there later in the day, there may be a wait to get in (not sure if that was due to metering people because of COVID, because it was Presidents’ Day, or both). Because it was already approaching noon and because I knew Felicity and Jason would have to leave the hotel for the airport soon anyway, I decided I would just head out. I said my goodbyes, grabbed a Lyft, and was shortly on my way. Actually, I grabbed the wrong Lyft at first – oops! I did confirm it was the right car make/model and, when I said the driver’s name, he didn’t correct me, but the person who actually ordered the car flagged us down about ten feet down the parking lot. He got in and my actual Lyft was there waiting for me. So, crisis averted. 🙂

So what are these tar pits all about, anyway? What’s so interesting about them? Basically, the whole area is a big research site where many dinosaur and animal bones have been found over the last century. And how did those big dinos get caught? There’s natural oil under the ground in the whole area, which turns into sticky pools of asphalt as it moves upward and seeps out of the ground. Dinosaurs and animals would get caught in those sticky pools and they’d get even MORE stuck when they tried to pull themselves out. The asphalt then served as insulation around the bones as the animals decomposed, preserving them to be found millions of years later.

Today, the whole area is a park, which you can walk around for free. You’ll see sticky asphalt pools with gases bubbling up (contrary to what you may hear/read elsewhere, they aren’t bubbling because they’re boiling), plus active archaeological digs as scientists are still finding new stuff in the area even today. On one edge of the park, you’ll find the museum, which houses bones, fossils, and lots of good information about the area. There’s even a paleontology lab inside, where you can see scientists working on some of the cool things that have been discovered in the tar pits. If I didn’t end up getting a ticket to the museum, I would have just walked around the park (it was another really nice day!), but I’m glad I got to see the museum, too. At only $15 per adult, it’s a good value, so do check it out when you’re in LA! Based on my experience, you can expect to be sharing the space with a fair number of kiddos, but that makes sense for a museum full of dinosaur bones (I was also there on a school holiday, so that likely contributed to the kid crowd).

Lots of pictures to share here, but there was a lot of cool stuff to see!

Walking into the museum.
I think this was a bear.
Check out those tusks!
It’s amazing how well-preserved the bones are.
Lots of smaller bones/artifacts are in glass cases along the walls.
This case had insects in it. Amazing that something as delicate as a dragonfly survived!
More massive mastadon tusks.
The fossil lab is like a fishbowl, allowing folks to look in as the scientists do their work (which I’m sure they LOVE).
A scientist working on microfossils under the microscope.
Doing some conservation work on a VERY large skull.
A lower jaw in the fossil lab.
Carbon dating has shown that this bison lived 27,000 years ago. Wow!
This is a 40,000-year-old tusk belong to a mammoth named Zed (Zed’s skull is three pictures up).
The skeleton of a short-faced bear.
A bronze cast of a giant Ice Age bear.
This is a replica of a 42,000-year-old baby mammoth named Lyuba. Her actual remains are very fragile, which is why a replica is on display instead.
A big mass of bones in an asphalt block.
This green space is in a courtyard in the middle of the museum.
Starting my walk through the park, beginning with a bust of the guy for whom the park is named.
This is part-pond and part-tar pit. And don’t worry – the elephants aren’t real. 🙂
Zooming in on some of the bubbles. Again, those are from gasses coming up, not heat.
The smell of asphalt around these pits is pretty strong, like a freshly-tarred street in the summer.

Checking out Pit 91, which was first excavated in 1915.

These containers are full of bones and discoveries from the tar pits that have yet to be sorted through.
This area was set up to dig through the new findings from one of the crates above.
This pit/dig site wasn’t open the day I was there, so I just had to stick my phone through the gate to get this photo.

Just outside the park, I realized I was basically back at the Academy Museum! We saw this big rock from a distance when we walked outside, so when I saw it here, I had to get a closer look. It is a piece of art, but it’s basically…a big rock.

This trip has been light on selfies, so here’s another one on my way out of the tar pits!

After a quick (well, quick for LA) Lyft, I was back at the Marriott, where I remained for the rest of the day. I packed my stuff up (I always like to do that the night before I leave), caught up on some TV, and just generally chilled. And I even used the hot tub!

The lobby is a much quieter place after Gally ends.
Hot tub selfie!

That last night in the hotel quickly turned to the last morning, when I got my daily walk in, packed the rest of my stuff up, and made my way to LAX around noon. My flight ended up being delayed by about an hour, but hey, it happens. The gate area was especially crowded (maybe because other flights were also delayed?), so I decided to buy my way into the Sky Club. Sure, it’s $39, but I had way more space to relax and watch Netflix, so it was worth it! It was a nice, relaxing way to end a great trip that represented a return to (some sense of) normality and that gave me a chance to see some more new-to-me stuff.

I may have to wait a year for the next LA trip and Gally, but expect to see some more travel goodness from me before then!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!