I Wander the PitsPosted: 1, 2 July , 2011
I saw my first tar pit when I was three years old. My family and I went to see one of the random tar pits scattered along the Californian coast.
Tar pits or asphalt lakes are natural occurrences of subterranean bitumen leaking to the earth’s surface. Water often covers the tar and animals drinking from the water have often slipped in and become trapped in the natural asphalt. Sometimes predetors have followed the would be prey and became ensnarled as well.
Daddy said the pits had “healative” powers. So we camped as close as we could… every July all through my youth. Mama said they just stink, but she could never keep daddy away.
Father Juan Crespi of the Portolà expedidtion wrote, “While crossing the [Los Angeles] basin the scouts reported having seen geysers of tar issuing from the ground like springs; it boils up molten, and the water runs to one side and the tar to the other.
The scouts reported that they had come across many of these springs and had seen large swamps of them, enough, they said, to caulk many vessels. We christened them Los Volcanes de Brea, the Tar Volcanoes.”
My Daddy walked in aimlessly one day and sank to the bottom. But even as we were all screaming and calling for help, I knew, I knew staring into that black vinyl like surface, that I was in love, in love forever with the pits and the tar.
Methane gas also escapes, causing bubbles that make the asphalt appear to boil. Asphalt and methane appear under buildings surrounding the pits, and require special operations for removal to prevent weakening building foundations.
And I made it my life’s goal to wander, wander and visit every single tar pit. And so I walk from pit to pit through the West… Carpenteria to McKittrick to La Brea. And so heal my tarred soul.
The La Brea pits visible today are actually from human excavation. The lake pit was originally an asphalt mine. The other pits visible today were produced during the 1913-1915 excavations, when over 100 pits were excavated in search of large mammal bones. Various combinations of asphaltum and water have since filled in these holes. Normally, the asphalt appears in vents, hardening as it oozes out, to form stubby mounds.
Cuidado mis amigos, for this is the treacherous La Brea pit, a giant gashing, gurgling, goo stained gap in the ground that has absorbed countless mammals.
Among the prehistoric species associated with the La Brea Pits are mammoths, dire wolves, short-faced bears, ground sloths, and the state fossil of California, the saber-toothed cat, Smilodon fatalis.
Only one human has ever been found, a partial skeleton of a woman dated to approximately 10,000 calendar years, who was 17 to 18 years old at death and found associated with remains of a domestic dog, and so interpreted to have been ceremonially interred.
But remember, my journey to the tar pits may be over soon for the pits themselves may rise up and absorb the rest of humanity for its amalgamated sins.