How My Dinosaur Fascination Began

I can’t really remember when I first liked dinosaurs. I was young, that’s for sure.

It must have started when I was three years of age. Back then, both of my parents worked at the same school, my mother teaching kindergarten and my father teaching second-grade. This was also the time when my sister started kinder there as well, so it felt like a very unfair situation to three-year-old me. Every member of my immediate family got to go to School except for me. I was sorely jealous of my sister. It was the deepest of betrayals for her to go to School without me.

(I know. Back then, I was such a fool.)

Instead of getting to go to School with my family, I was left at a babysitter’s for the day. My babysitter was a kindly older woman who had a dog and liked to do her ironing early in the morning. I was not the only kid she was looking after. Eddie came from another family with no connection to mine, but the two of us got to know each other through the power of playtime (and being toddlers).

I don’t remember much about Eddie anymore, but I do remember that he always got to pick our afternoon movie. His top two choices were Small Soldiers and, you guessed it, Jurassic Park. 

While none too pleased that I had been allowed to watch a PG-13 movie at the ripe old age of three while not under their watch, my parents were more than happy to encourage my growing admiration for paleontology. My mom showed this by getting me dinosaur toys (screw dolls, am I right?) and throwing me dinosaur-themed birthdays.

(One time, during one of these dino b-day bashes, they bought a Stegosaurus piñata that we just could not break open. My dad had to pull it down and break it with a sledgehammer.

My dad bought me dinosaur flash cards and educational CD-ROM games about dinosaurs. (CD-ROMs. Remember those? In case you’re curious about what these “games” looked like, here’s a link to a YouTube video that showcases one of the games I played.)

My love for dinosaurs only grew as the years passed. I knew all the names of my favorite dinosaurs. Adults would gape in astonishment at this little tyke (aka me) rattling off names like Plesiosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, or Dimetrodon. My parents took me to Dinosaur museums, and my extended family got in on the dino craze too. My tias on my mom’s side gave me glow-in-the-dark raptor toys, and my Uncle Dwight, on my dad’s side, gave me a Dinosaur Encyclopedia for a Christmas gift.

I even roped my sister into playing dinosaur games with me. We loved to pretend to be Iguanodons on the run from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. One time, in order to simulate being eaten by this carnivore, my sister and I decided to throw ourselves onto my mom’s recliner, imagining it was the giant mouth of a T. Rex. Unfortunately for us, the momentum of our leap into the jaws of death flipped the recliner over onto the backyard’s sliding glass door.

Anyways, as you can tell by now, I’m really into dinosaurs.

As time has gone by, while I don’t play with dinosaur toys anymore, I still have an abiding love for them and I gather what tidbits of information is available about them. If I could, I would go back in time just to catch a glimpse of these creatures in the flesh. Sure I’d have to adjust to the low oxygen levels that accompanied that time period, and sure I’d probably get eaten by a dinosaur myself before acclimating my lungs to said breathing conditions, but it would be glorious and oh so totally worth it.

Any dinosaur fans out there besides me? I’d be happy to hear

The “The Tar” Tar Pits

People should be a little more conscious of foreign languages when they name places. “La brea” can be translated to “the tar” from Spanish to English. So, the La Brea Tar Pits are technically called the The Tar Tar Pits.

Honestly, I’m kind of fond of this name.

I love anything having to do with dinosaurs, so when I went to visit a friend of mine in Los Angleles, he took me to see the La Brea Tar Pits. Yes, I know the animals that perished in the tar pits aren’t technically dinosaurs, but they are, however minimally, connected to the idea of dinosaurs. They belong to an era not our own. They’re otherwordly, fantastical creatures that once walked the earth.

You know how coffee lovers get stimulated by the scent of freshly-ground coffee beans? That’s me at the sight of fossils. Even if they’re casts of fossils.

The exterior of the La Brea Tar Pits
Morbid mammoth models meant to traumatize children

When we first arrived at the pits, there was this thick, noxious smell pervading the entire area. I thought it was the smell of nearby LA traffic.

It’s not.

The tar pits reek.

It’s not technically tar bubbling behind those fenced-off areas. It’s natural asphalt. Mounds of asphalt rim the pits, looking for all the world like ordinary street bumps. If you ignore the stench and approach the largest pit (called the Lake Pit), a model mammoth has been placed in the “tar,” sinking to its fake death. To up the drama of this staged moment, model mammoth family members stand at the pit’s edge, reaching out with their trunks to their doomed brethren.

Aside from the pits that pock-mark the area, the surroundings are extremely pleasant. Rolling hills are reminiscent of your average park. Some families even congregate for picnics on these grassy knolls.

Part of the La Brea Tar Pits is a museum. It’s rather small, but it’s filled with the bones of La Brea victims.

Giant Sloth skeleton

I never knew sloths could be so huge.

There’s even a display case that shows more than a thousand skulls of dire wolves that have been discovered in the pits.

Dire wolf display case

Apparently, these wolves sank into the tar trying to nibble on other unfortunate animals and in the process of doing so, they became unfortunate animals too.

The mammoth skeleton is what really caught my heart. When you stand next to it, it completely and totally dwarfs you. It’s clearly larger than an elephant, and it gave me a bit of my dinosaur fix.

Mammoth Skeleton

It’s not always a soothing experience to be humbled, but when it comes to facing the massive remains of what used to be, I say bring on the humility! The mammoth skeleton was a towering edifice to former beings, and I’m always grateful to be reminded of just how small I am in the grand scheme of things.

Surprisingly, the funniest part of my trip to La Brea occurred as my friend and I were walking outside amongst the outer pits. We came across a two-feet-by-two-feet square fence that appeared to be randomly placed on one of the hills. As we approached it, we found that the fence guarded a small circle of tar that’s beginning to emerge from underground.

It’s mind-numbing to think that the next time I go to the La Brea Tar Pits, yet another pit may have oozed from beneath the earth.