Better Know a Museum: Los Angeles Part 4

Hey there every peoples!

Welcome to the final segment of the first installment of my new series, Better Know a Museum. Now there is much more to the LA Museum than what I have showed you, but it would take me another month to cover it all. They have probably the biggest display of gems and minerals I have ever seen, a detailed hall of California History, and truly superb wildlife halls. But in the interests of time and relevancy, I just stuck with the fossils and artifacts. But before I move on to posts about shovel-tuskers and ancient cults, I want to talk about a particular display in the Age of Mammals hall.

I was pleased to find an abundance of raw fossil material in the hall, half of which was used to explain how fossils teach us about ancient life. But the other half was used for something different. About half the raw fossil material was used to tell the story of Los Angeles through the ages. Well, only two of the four sections contained fossils from the LA area proper while the other two had fossils from farther away but still in the general region. But it was the first section that really spoke to me.

The first section was on Los Angeles during the Eocene epoch, 40 million years ago. To show this, it used fossils from the Sespe formation in Ventura County. As someone who wants to build a museum to in part tell the story of fossils on the Central Coast, you can’t imagine how enthused I was to see the fossils in this display. Having never been able to find photos or information on such fossils, I went trigger happy with my camera. I photographed every fossil in that display. Here are a few:

Crocodile femur which indicates a warm and wet climate

Jaw of the Miacid Tapocyon, named after Tapo Canyon where the first fossils were found

Jaw of Dyseolemur, a primitive primate

They also had a slab  from the late Oligocene member of the Sespe Formation containing the skulls, jaws, and bones of two rhinos and the shell of a tortoise:

Subhyracodon and tortoise remains from the Kew Quarry outside Camarillo, Ventura County

The next display featured marine fossils from the LA area. They were from the middle Miocene, around 15 million years ago. The fossils of sea cows, dolphins, fish, and mollusks provided a stark contrast to the steamy Louisiana-style swamps of the Eocene. One spectacular specimen was the skeleton of a sea turtle hatchling:

Sea turtle hatchling

The next display provided yet another dramatic change. It featured fossils from Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert of Kern County. Walking down the mezzanine visitors are transported from swamps to shallow seas to open grasslands with patches of woodland. This was another display that I really enjoyed since Red Rock Canyon is one of the places I want to go search for fossils (actually I signed up for a field trip with the LA Museum that goes looking for fossils out there).  This display, like every other one in the series, used the fossils to show how the environment change, like the preponderance of grazers:

Jaw of a three-toed grazing horse, Pliohippus

Jaw of a marmot-sized grazing rodent

And the presence of grass:

Fossil grass stems

The final display was about Rancho La Brea (yeah, I didn’t see that coming either). It featured mostly plant and invertebrate fossils since many other animals from the tar pits are on display elsewhere in the hall:

Redwood branch dredged from the asphalt

So what does this mean for me? This display effectively achieved my dream. It told the story of lesser known fossils from unexpected locations. Should I just quit now since it’s already done? Am I just going to say “yay, someone finally did it” and pursue a conventional career in paleontology since I couldn’t possibly compete with institutions of this magnitude?

The answer is a resounding HELL NO!!!  There are so many more fossils out there that need to be brought into the spotlight. I have often felt discouraged by reports of fossils collections that make me think there are no fossils left to find. But I remain optimistic. I will try to make this museum work one way or another. I would be out looking for fossils right now but just finding where to look has proven difficult. I actually do have a few maps that show the locations of Sespe outcrops but they are very tough to read (the color variations make it very difficult to tell what’s what). I am even thinking of asking the Coastal Paleontologist where he looks for fossils so that maybe when I get a job I can take weekend forays up to Santa Cruz. And for the last month and a half I have been composing a proposal letter to the San Luis Obispo City Council. And I don’t see the LA Museum as competition. It is my hope ( whether or not it’s a fools hope is yet to be seen) that my little museum could work with the LA Museum, maybe displaying fossils they could not fit into their new hall. I have a lot of work to do. But I will do my best to make my dream a reality. Because I love fossils. I love the Central Coast. I’m just having a little trouble getting started.

So if anyone out there knows where I can find geologic maps or simply point me to a good spot here or there or anywhere (particuallry the Sespe, Caliente, Pismo, and maybe Round Mountain Silt, Horned Toad,  and Dove Spring Formations) I would be eternally grateful.

Till next time!

2 thoughts on “Better Know a Museum: Los Angeles Part 4

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