What do Westworld, The Wild Wild West, Star Trek, Army of Darkness, and Zorro all have in common? Well, aside from being awesome, they all, at one point or another, filmed at Vasquez Rocks.
For me, Vasquez Rocks is a gorgeous natural landscape that is a perfect meld of my favorite things – it is both classically western and classically sci-fi.
Originally we planned to go out here a couple weeks ago, but the forecast called for clouds! And there was no way we was going to drive all the way out there for cloudy skies! Thankfully, earlier this week there were no clouds, but it was pretty windy! I almost lost my hat a couple times! But other than that it was gloriously sunny and few people around.
Vasquez Rocks’ iconic and unique shape make it very easy to spot in the wide variety of TV shows, movies, and even music videos, that used it as a backdrop. It has been used as canyons for outlaws (which is fitting considering its history that I’ll touch on in a bit), the land of prehistoric creatures, as well as otherworldly planets.
One of my favorite shows, Disney’s Zorro, filmed at Vasquez Rocks, however the exact episode escapes me. I guess it’s time to rewatch it! And I’ll update this post with a screencap when I do. Another personal favorite, the 60s The Wild Wild West filmed at Vasquez Rocks twice. In season one’s “The Night of the Sudden Plague” the area was the setting for the villain’s hideout. You can even see the tops of the rocks peeking over the edge of the fort.
The location was used in season two, in “The Night of the Cadre” where the climax of the episode takes place.
Episode 18 of Star Trek’s first season, “Arena” is wildly accepted as the quintessential episode. In it Captain Kirk is locked in a battle with the Gorn in the area of Vasquez Rocks. The episode had such an impact that Vasquez Rocks was used again again throughout various incarnations of Star Trek.
HBO’s version of Westworld has also chosen to film at Vasquez Rocks, using it as the site of where the town of Escalante would be rebuilt, in the episode “Trace Decay.”
This of course is just a small sampling of the vast productions that have filmed here. The fantastic filming location blog I Am Not a Stalker offers many more images of shows and movies that used Vasquez Rocks.
Now, you know I can’t resist digging up the history of places, and Vasquez Rocks has a bit of an interesting history, especially how it got its name.
Vasquez Rocks History
Like all magnificent rock formations, Vasquez Rocks was created by mother earth millions of years ago. And long before Zorro rode across its landscape or Captain Kirk fought the Gorn, the land was home to the indigenous people known as the Alliklik or Tataviam as they are known today. When the Spanish arrived, the natives were noted as friendly, and like other Native Americans, were assimilated by way of the Spanish Missions. Up until this point these spectacular rocks had no name, or none that was noted. At the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, California became part of the United States and that is when Vasquez Rocks’ name sake, outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez, enters the scene. With the rocks’ deep crevasses and high peeks to serve as lookout posts, Vasquez and his gang found these rocks to be the perfect hideout. Vasquez earned a reputation as a murderer and thief, and a hefty bounty along with, ranging from $2,000 to $8,000 (depending on the source) as well as quite the ladies’ man. He apparently was very charming, loving to sing, dance, play guitar, and even write poetry. However, it is his womanizing that would lead to his downfall. When one of Vasquez’s many female playthings learned he fathered a child with another woman, along with frequent visits to a prostitute, she became enraged. She or one of her family members tipped off William Rowland, the Los Angeles County Sheriff. A shootout ensued at one of Vasquez’ other hideouts, and Vasquez was captured. Women reportedly arrived at his jail cell with flowers, and even a playwright of the nearby Merced Theater wrote a play called “The Capture of Vasquez.” Flattered, Vasquez allowed the actor portraying him to observe him in his cell to glean mannerisms and vocal inflections, and Vasquez even gave the actor his own clothes to wear in the production. Despite claiming he never killed anyone, Vasquez was convicted of murder, and hanged in San Jose on March 19, 1875. He is buried in the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery in Santa Clara.
Near the end of Vasquez’s reign, his former hideout became the location for borax mining as well as homesteading. When the mine closed in 1922 the homesteaders still benefited from an industry that was emerging in California, motion pictures. Homesteaders leased their properties for filming, but by the 1960s, the taxes on the land became too much, and they were bought out by Los Angeles County, and the area became what it is today, a park.
Vasquez Rocks is located in Agua Dulce, about 37 miles northeast of the heart of Hollywood. It is part of the Los Angeles County parks system. For further details on hours and offerings, please visit the website.