Day 17: August 12, 2014
Pier, Tar, and Tepees

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OK. So the title of this trip claims a connection with Historic Route 66 but so far it hasn't touched the road. Today that changes... a little... kinda. In the past, I've always been careful to visit and photograph a true US-66 terminus. Either the original at Seventh & Broadway or the later one at Olympic & Lincoln. Since I didn't reach Los Angeles on Sixty-Six, that seemed less important today and, in fact, today seemed like a good time to take in a couple of other spots often associated with the western end of the historic highway. The first is the Will Rogers Highway plaque on Ocean Boulevard where Santa Monica Boulevard ends. Route 66 was also called the Will Rogers Highway. The Santa Monica Pier is definitely a place many people associate with the end of Route 66 and, in recent years, a specific business on the pier has been the end point of many a trip. That business is 66-to-Cali whose owner, Dan Rice, has been active in Route 66 promotion. He was instrumental in getting the "End of the Trail" sign erected a little further out on the pier. That sign is a replica of a movie prop that stood nearby for many years.

These locations have been called sentimental, or popular, or traditional. There is something attractive about ending a trip at water's edge. Maybe that's sentimental. As for tradition, the Will Rogers plaque surely qualifies. It has been there longer (62 years, 1952-2014) than the actual route existed (59 years, 1926-1985).

Of course I looked over some of the bathers as I walked the length of the pier. Then I enjoyed a cool Mexican beverage in the Mexican restaurant at pier's end and, from the top level of the building, tried to see what he saw before heading back to shore.

My next stop was at the La Brea Tar Pits just a few miles away. The museum now offers a free "Excavator Tour" which I wanted to take advantage of. When I left the motel, I was thinking of going directly to the museum and taking the 12:30 or even the 11:30 tour. Then, for some reason, I decided to go to the pier first and target the 2:30 tour. By the time I left the pier, I was hoping to make the 3:30 tour. I asked about the tour as I bought my museum ticket and learned it was just leaving. As the attendant handed me my ticket, he pointed out the tour group and I quickly caught up with them.

Serious and organized excavation of the tar pits started in 1913 and continues today. More than a million bones have so far been extracted from the pits where animals died after becoming entrapped in the sticky tar. Although the mass of tar and bones in the first picture is a reconstruction, it was cast from actual bones and is an accurate view of what was originally found in the pits. It's housed in what was the first museum here. Outside, real pits can be seen behind fences.

In 2006, nearby construction of a parking garage encountered a lot more fossils than anticipated. In order to save the fossils and allow construction to continue, wooden boxes were built around them and the boxes hoisted out and moved here. Project 23 takes its name from the number of those boxes. Behind the fence, the work of extracting and documenting the contents of the boxes goes on seven days a week. The fourth picture shows Pit 91 where excavation has continued, with lots of big gaps, since 1915. This is the count of the bigger finds. Underground pressure continues to bubble through the water and tar as seen in the fifth picture.

Page Museum has plenty of fossils from big creatures like camels and mastodons but the small stuff is there, too. The worker in the third picture is using a microscope to find tiny fossils of both plants and animals. During the outside tour, the guide asked if anyone knew what was the largest fossil ever found at La Brea. After hearing guesses of mammoths and mastodons, she explained that is was sort of a trick question since the largest fossil was of a tree. This is it. A 14,500 year old Juniper that was found upright, indicating that the tar and earth rose to encase it, four feet underground.

I'd timed things terribly so that I caught LA rush hour leaving the museum. A wreck that closed two lanes of I-10 added to the fun. But it could have been worse and I made the fifty-some mile drive to San Bernardino in a little over three hours. My room at Wigwam Village #7 was ready and waiting and I got some pictures of the lighted sign in the darkness that arrived soon after I did.

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