Drive about an hour north from downtown Los Angeles and you will enter a whole different world – not just figuratively, but very much visually. Any visitor should marvel at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park on first sight, and then quickly realize the jagged sandstone rocks are rather familiar.
It’s not your mind playing tricks on you. The scenic area has indeed served as a set for more than a few big budget Hollywood blockbusters. After all, the unique rock formation looks out of this world, like the landscape of Mars or some other distant planet.
Vasquez Rocks are located right off the Antelope Valley Freeway north of Santa Clarita and just before the Palmdale, in an Old West town called Agua Dulce. Although its remote, the area is still within Los Angeles County. The park is roughly 900 acres carved out of the Sierra Pelona Mountains. It was named after a 18th century bandito, Tiburcio Vasquez.
The term “runaway production” came about in Hollywood more than a decade ago, when studios set up shop in Canada, New Zealand and other far-flung places to take advantage of financial incentives. However, studios were enamored with Vasquez Rocks since the 1920s, and the area is truly one of a kind.
Over at IMDB, no less than 414 films and TV shows are tied to Vasquez Rocks. Here are some titles across the past century that you’ve probably seen – or may want to check out.
Star Trek has a long and prodigious association with Vasquez Rocks, so much so that it has earned the nickname “Kirk’s Rock.” Showrunner Gene Roddenberry turned to the sandstone rock landscape to serve as the dramatic backdrop for the battle between Capt. James T. Kirk and Gorn, the villainous green lizard in an episode titled “Arena.” In another episode, titled “Friday’s Child,” Vasquez Rocks became the planet Capella IV, where Kirk and Dr. McCoy assisted the birth of a warrior prince.
Crews returned to film the Star Trek motion picture reboot in 2009 and a Big Bang Theory episodes revolving around Trekkies was shot at Vasquez to pay homage.
Werewolf of London
Before the jagged Vasquez Rocks became synonymous with Star Trek, they were used to depict Tibet in the horror classic film Werefolf of London. The 1935 release featured the location at the center of Dr. Glendon’s botanical voyage. After being attacked by a wild animal, Glendon returned to London a changed man. He turned into a werewolf at night and became a menace to the city.
The live action version of The Flintstones provided plenty of gaggles to audiences upon release in 1994. But, how many were able to figure out that the Bed Rock in the film was actually Vasquez Rocks? Anchored by a hilarious performance from John Goodman as Fred Flintstone, the location served as more than an ideal setting for the portrayal of Stone Age in the comedy blockbuster.
The Vasquez Rocks etched a reputation as the studios’ go-to for more than a few B-movie westerns in the 40s and 50s. Everything from Gunsmoke, Bonanza to Laredo and The High Chapparal were filmed there. The “typecasting” eventually led to the filmmakers of Blazing Saddles, the Western spoof released in 1974, deciding to use the locale.
In the modern era, the based-on-a-true-story crime film Alpha Dog used the Vasquez Rocks for the most dramatic part of the story. The ensemble cast featuring Justin Timberlake, Emile Hirsch, Bruce Willis and more was about a teen abducted and held for random by drug dealers. We won’t play spoiler, but let’s just say that the film sequence shot in Vasquez Rocks at night proved haunting and pivotal to the plot.
Hot Shots! Part Deux
Charlie Sheen and Lloyd Bridges brought their comedic chops to the “Rambo” parody. Sheen’s Topper Harley led a rescue team into Iraq to retrieve Iraqi war prisoners and everyone who tried to rescue them.
The fictional Hollywood character Zorro was based on Tiburcio Vasquez, the outlaw who eventually became the namesake of the Vasquez Rocks, her reported hideaway. In a 1957 Zorro episode, Annette Funicello met the bandit at the rocks.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Proving Vasquez popularity across the “pond” Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was shot on location. The hilarious Mike Myers character made his foray into the landscape in his British flag-painted Jaguar drop-top.
Wild Wild West
First came “The Wild Wild West,” which was filmed at Vasquez Rocks from 1965-1969. In 1999, director Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Wild Wild West” featuring Will Smith and Kevin Kline came back to the rocks. The hilarious adventure took advantage of the Vasquez Rocks landscape throughout the film, transporting the audience to the Old West.
It’s not hard to imagine the Vasquez Rocks formation as part of the set for “Dante’s Peak.” The disaster thriller starring Pierce Brosnan, who played James Bond, and Linda Hamilton, whose “Terminator” role was career-defining, was set in a fictional town of Dante’s Peak. Its residents had to escape a sudden volcano eruption. “Dante’s Peak” was released by Universal Pictures and Pacific Western Productions in 1997.
Talk about a wild ride. On the 1986 episode titled “Wheel of Fortune,” the A-Team’s Murdock wins big at the game thanks to Face’s letter frequency research. Face helps pull him out of the asylum and plans to head to Hawaii as one of the prizes. The twist comes when Murdock is kidnapped and the team has to head on a CIA mission to Baraq in South America to steal a Russian chopper. Vasquez Rocks has prominent appearance in the episode.
The 2016 black comedy film starring Josh Brolin filmed a western sequence at the Vasquez Rocks. The film’s premise is a fictional story that follows the real-life fixer Eddie Mannix working in 1950s Hollywood Mannix attempts to trace the whereabouts of a cast member who disappeared during the filming of Bible-themed epic feature film.
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