Filming Locations: Vasquez Rocks

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The Vasquez Rocks Credit: Roadtrippers

The Vasquez Rocks are one of the most iconic filming locations in American cinema history. It has been used as a backdrop in movies since the late silent era and is still prominently seen in modern films and television series. The Vasquez Rocks have been featured in Dracula (1931), The Texas Ranger (1931), The Girl and the Bandit (1939), Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993-1995) and Star Trek (1966-1969), among many others. The rock formation is located close to the town of Agua Dulce and is about a forty-five minute drive from central Hollywood. It is believed the Rocks was formed approximately 25 million years ago when the tectonic plates along the San Andreas Fault line pushed together. The Vasquez Rocks are near 45 meters tall, at their highest point, and cover an area just under four kilometres square.

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Power Ranger Command Centre
Credit: Blogspot

The Rocks take their name from notorious outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez (1835-1875). The earliest known group of people to occupy the Vasquez Rocks region were the Chumash Native American Indians in 450AD. Their descendants, the Tataviam, later lived in the area. But it wasn’t until Tiburcio used the Rocks as a hideout in 1873 and 1874 that it would later gain fame. Before Tiburcio’s time, the area was known to locals as simply “The Rocks”. Born Jose Jesus Lopez, Tiburcio entered a life of crime at an early age. He was in and out of prison throughout his youth. On August 13, 1873, he and a gang robbed the general store in Tres Pino and killed three people in the process, including one marshal. A bounty was issued for his capture: $8,000 alive or $6,000 dead (no figures in this article have been adjusted for inflation). For the following two years, Tuburcio and his gang used the Vasquez Rocks to elude law enforcement. Eventually Tuburcio was captured and brought to justice. He was somewhat of a celebrity leading up to his hanging on March 19, 1875. While in custody, Tuburcio signed autographs and was considered charming by anyone who met him. He was played by Anthony Curio in an episode of Stories of the Century (1954-1955).

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Tiburcio Vasquez Credit: San Francisco Chronicle

In 1910, entrepreneur Henry Krieg recognised the location’s uniqueness and invested in turning it into a tourist destination. Krieg’s family still reside in the area.

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Title Card from 1952 Credit: The Agua Dulce History Project

As of today, over 200 movies and television series have been filmed at the Vasquez Rocks. The site’s harsh and rural landscape was extremely popular in B-Westerns during the 1940s and 1950s. The Rocks can be seen in the backgrounds of Golden Trail (1940), Along the Oregon Trail (1947) and Shotgun (1955). Television companies began to utilise the area’s close proximity to Hollywood when they became regular productions in the 1950s. Some shows include The Lone Ranger (1949-1957), Gunsmoke (1955-1975), Bonanza (1959-1973) and The Big Valley (1965-1969). The Vasquez Rocks have been used as alien worlds in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981), the original Battlestar Galactica (1979-1980) and four series and three movies of Star Trek.

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Captain Kirk and the Gorn fight  Credit: Los Angeles Times

In the Star Trek first season episode “Arena”, Captain Kirk is transported to the surface of a remote asteroid – by an alien intelligence – where he must fight a Gorn commander to the death. Using local materials, Kirk forms a crude weapon and overpowers the lizard. At the final moment when Kirk can kill the Gorn, he refuses. Impressed by Kirk’s resolve, the alien intelligence return them to their ships. Peaceful dialogue between the Federation and the Gorn Hegemony had been opened. The Enterprise flies off in search of its next adventure.

 

Considered corny by today’s standards, the fight sequence is regarded as one of the most iconic scenes in film history. The desert shoot lasted for two days in November, 1966. Actors Bobby Clark and Gary Combes got so hot inside the Gorn rubber suits that they nearly fainted. The Vazquez Rocks have been a favourite filming site for Star Trek and have been featured in The Next Generation (1987-1994), Voyager (1995-2001) and Enterprise (2001-2005).

The Vasquez Rocks was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It is maintained by The County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation. The Interpretive Centre (tourist information) was opened in 2013, and was awarded the highest ratings award for environmental safety. People can visit the site most days of the year, but a permit is required for filming. Weddings are a popular event, with groups of up to forty being allowed per function. Filming shoots are still common at the Vasquez Rocks with many being planned for the immediate future.

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Interpretive Centre Credit: Gruen Associates

Sources:

County Parks – Vasquez Rocks Natural Area (https://santaclaritaguide.com/VasquezRocks.html)

How Vasquez Rocks, L.A.’s onetime outlaw hideout, became ‘Star Trek’s’ favorite alien landscape (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/la-et-st-star-trek-50-vasquez-rocks-20160829-snap-story.html)

Memory Alpha – Vasquez Rocks (http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Vasquez_Rocks)

Movie Sites – Vasquez Rocks (http://www.moviesites.org/vasquez.htm)

The True Hollywood Story of The Vasquez Rocks – Hollywood’s Favorite Rocky Set (https://filmmakeriq.com/2012/06/the-true-hollywood-story-of-the-vasquez-rocks-hollywoods-favorite-rocky-set/)

Vasquez Rocks (http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/vasquez-rocks)

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