Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce, California
How appropriate that the perennial film location Vasquez Rocks gets its name from a charming ladies' man and bandit who rustled horses, robbed stagecoaches and hid from the sheriff among these breathtaking geological rock formations. The story of Tiburcio Vasquez, who was ultimately captured, stood trial and hanged in 1875, bears remarkable kinship to the sagas of the countless movies and TV episodes made in the Agua Dulce location.
Just 35 miles from beautiful downtown Burbank in the Santa Clarita Valley, the bedrock formations of this Los Angeles County Natural Area Park provided the perfect set for the earliest silent Westerns, many Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) adventures, Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles (1974) and, naturally, the live action Flintstones movies. Gunsmoke, Bonanza and The Wild Wild West all made repeated trips to the rocks. It would be near impossible to count how many times a stagecoach was ambushed by robbers hiding atop these tilted rocks most likely formed by violent earthquakes millions of years ago, or how many aliens have landed among them.
A scene from Charles Lamont's 1951 adventure The Flame of Araby shot at Vasquez Rocks
"They're dramatic and so interesting spatially, not earthbound but more like something from outer space. You just wonder how those jagged peaks came out," says Joseph Pevney, who directed the Star Trek: The Original Series episodes "Friday's Child" with Julie Newmar and "Arena" in which Captain Kirk fights the Gorn, at Vasquez Rocks. "The Gorn suit was made of rubber, and it was so heavy and hot inside I put a stuntman in it because I didn't think an actor could take it."
"[Vasquez Rocks] looks otherworldly with those upturned strata, and we could afford to get there and to shoot there," says Bob Justman, the associate producer on Star Trek: TOS. He knew the location well then, having already coordinated numerous shoots there including those for several episodes of Outer Limits and the Stoney Burke rodeo rider series, as well as the feature film Apache starring Burt Lancaster.
William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk prepares a little surprise for his Gorn opponent in the Star Trek episode "Arena" directed by Joseph Pevney at Vasquez Rocks
Romance of the Rio Grande (1941), the first Cisco Kid film, starring Cesar Romero, was shot at Vasquez Rocks. So was a 3-D Western, The Charge at Feather River (1953). Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins came out to Agua Dulce to play adventurers traveling through an exotic land in Green Mansions (1959). Annette Funicello met Zorro at the rocks in a 1957 Zorro episode.
More recently, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery poked good fun at the illusory nature of location filmmaking by setting the Brit among the rocks with his British flag-painted Jaguar convertible. For the sci-fi Roswell TV series, Vasquez Rocks served as one of the show's principal locations.
"More film has been shot in those two or three square miles than anywhere else in the whole state of California," director Cliff Bole wages. Bole was first inspired by the location as a 6 year old on a field trip there with his Boy Scout-like group, the Woodcraft Rangers. Years later he would return to the location with the Daniel Boone (1964) TV series crew as the show's associate producer. Vasquez Rocks has stood in for dozens of locations in the numerous television shows he has directed, including several 1990s Star Trek shows and a MacGyver episode in which the area doubles for the prehistoric bedrock of Afghanistan. "Vasquez Rocks answered all of our needs for Afghanistan."
Vasquez Rocks is "a keystone to the industry," Bole says. "It's so close — you see the outcroppings from the freeway — and you can do so much there from getting on a horse to phantasmagoria. Turn a corner and you can make it look like another part of the world without having to move your company."