In the Sierra Pelona Mountains in northern Los Angeles County, near the small town of Agua Dulce, California, sits a collection of rocks that is really cool, and really famous. Formally known as Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, many call it just the Vasquez Rocks (I will refer to it as such here). This 932-acre park is pretty much right off the 14 (Antelope Valley Freeway aka State Route 14), and you can see the main rock jetting up into the sky from the freeway. The official address is 10700 Escondido Canyon Rd, Agua Dulce, CA 91350. It’s an extremely unique rock formation and impossible to miss.
Open Wednesday through Sunday (closed on Monday and Tuesday), from 8am to 5pm, the Vasquez Rocks has a long history. This includes being the home of the Tataviam people in the 1700’s (who lived there until the Spanish arrived and “civilized” them, moving many to missions and towns; the last of the Tataviam people died in 1916), being a part of the Pacific Crest Trail, being a hideaway of the late 1800’s bandido, Tiburcio Vasquez (the namesake of the rocks), and finally, one of the most popular outdoor film locations in southern California.
Tiburcio Vasquez was a Mexican-Californian outlaw who died at the ripe old age of 39 (1835-1875). He was active in California from 1854 until 1874, right up to his capture and subsequent execution a year later. He used the Vasquez Rocks as one of his main hideouts, although he had many hideouts during his, uhm, career. He slithered his way around southern California, avoiding capture and robbin’ folks, eventually participating in a robbery that triggered his downfall. He and his gang stole $2,200 from Snyder’s Store in Tres Pinos (now called Paicines; about one hour from San Jose and 1 ½ hours from San Francisco), which resulted in a triple homicide. Vasquez claimed to not have pulled the trigger, but the California governor put a $1,000 bounty on his head (good money back then) and the hunt was on. After being pursued by the sheriff from San Jose to southern California, he got away after a messy gunfight.
He ultimately settled upon the Vasquez Rocks, as it offered a prime hideaway spot. The amount of rocks, deep cervices, caves, and tall look-out points proved to be the perfect bad-guy hangout for him and his posse. They used the tallest point, which stands at 150 feet, as their lookout point.
He hung out around the Vasquez Rocks for about 2 months before making an “oopsie” that led to his capture. After attempting to hold a prominent sheepman, Alessandro Repetto, for ransom, a posse of lawmen from Los Angeles descended and almost snagged Vasquez and his posse in the San Gabriel Mountains, but he managed to escape. After alluding capture in an adobe home 200 yards south of what is now the present-day Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, he was finally captured after someone betrayed him to the sheriff.
After remaining in a Los Angeles County jail for a little over a week, he was shipped to San Francisco (literally, they sent him up there by steamship) to stand trial in San Jose. He maintained his innocence, admitting to being an outlaw and bandido, but always denied being a murderer. He soon became somewhat of a celebrity amongst Hispanic Californians and had an onslaught of love letters and fans who would visit him in jail, including many women (some things never change). To pay for his legal defense, he signed autographs and posed for photos, which he would then sell, all from his jail cell.
Nonetheless, he was found guilty in January of 1875 after a 4-day trial. It took the jury only 2 hours to decide he deserved death, and he was quickly sentenced to die by hanging. He applied for clemency but was denied by the governor (a new one, not the one who put the $1,000 bounty on his head). It is said that Vasquez “calmly accepted his fate” and was hung on March 19, 1875, less than 3 months after his conviction and death sentence.
While the rocks have a history that far pre-dates Vasquez, and he was only there for a short time, his name and legacy is forever attached to them.
The Vasquez Rocks is decently accessible to most southern Californians, sitting roughly 40 minutes north of Los Angeles, 1 hour from the Inland Empire, 2 hours from Palm Springs, and less than 2 ½ hours from San Diego. From the Bay Area it’s approximately 5 ½ hours. Of course, this all greatly depends on traffic, i.e., the time of day, the day of the week, and whether anyone decides to get into an accident on the freeway.
Getting to the rocks is quite easy, as it sits almost immediately off the freeway. From the exit ramp to the entrance of the park, it was roughly 5 minutes. It’s in a rather rural area of north-central southern California (figure that one out in your head), in the high desert, not far from desert towns like Palmdale and Lancaster. As mentioned in the introduction, the nearest “town” is Agua Dulce, which is actually a “census-designated place in Los Angeles County” that has a population of about 3,500. The nearest larger city is Santa Clarita.
An important note: The parking. Something I wish I had known before going was the parking situation. There are multiple parking lots inside the park, with the furthest and biggest being right near the most famous of the rocks. When we first arrived at the gate, there was an endless line of cars exiting, with more cars lining the road and even more people actively parking as we arrived. In my mind, this meant that the parking lot inside the park was full, and it was fruitless trying to battle it out. Plus, the main rocks didn’t look that far away. So, I figured let us walk.
The parking lots inside the park were NOT full, not even by a long shot, especially the big one at the very end near the main rocks. I dragged my poor 4-year-old all the way through for nothing. It would have been fine had it been just myself, or if I were with adults, but it certainly put a damper on our outing because my daughter became unnecessarily tired. By the time we made it to the main rocks, she was running on abut 50% battery life, and quickly draining. It’s not far (I don’t think it’s far at all), but for a small child, it probably feels like eternity. Had I known I could just drive through to the end, we could have spent more time exploring the main rocks because her energy wouldn’t have been zapped. It’s just something to keep in mind if you go with small children.
Another important note: The bathroom situation. Due to Covid-19, the bathrooms inside the visitor’s center were closed and inaccessible. All that was available to use were porta-potty’s. There were two behind the visitor’s center, and a few more in the back of the larger, back parking lot. The porta-potty’s were of course, disgusting, and it’s something I really wish I had known about before arriving. Although I looked for a gas station after exiting the freeway, there were none in the roughly 5 minutes it took to arrive at the entrance. I wrongly figured it’d be “no big deal” because both the Sequoia and Joshua Tree National Park’s had operating, indoor toilets that flushed, at least near the entrances. So, I strongly suggest exiting the freeway to use a bathroom beforehand, otherwise you might be poppin’ a squat. At least until Covid is over!
Anyway, if you park where we did, or in the first parking lot by the road (near the currently closed visitor’s center), you can make it to the main rocks via the dirt road that runs through the park (and leads you to the other 2 parking lots that I wish I had known about). Or you can meander your way through some smaller rocks on the plethora of tiny trails sprinkled throughout. Seriously, there must be hundreds of trails running all over the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. Regardless of which way you turn, I guarantee you can find a trail that takes you somewhere. It’s not difficult making your way to the main rocks, because you can always see them, but there is no straight forward trail to them (other than taking the dirt road).
There are plenty of other rocks to climb and explore (besides the main, famous ones) and many are easy to climb due to their weird, almost flat shapes. We saw people climbing all the rocks, all over, and even some rock climbers propelling down the main rocks. People also ride horses through the park, as many of those living nearby own horses, so beware of horse poop! Dogs are also allowed inside the park, and we saw quite a few, but please, clean up after them.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Vasquez Rocks is one of the most popular outdoor film locations in southern California (and maybe in all of California). Countless movies, TV shows, music videos, and commercials have been filmed here. The most famous of these are Star Trek and the Flintstones, but there are countless more.
Some of the movies filmed here include: Alpha Dogs, Apache, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Blazing Saddles, Bubble Boy, Cars, Delta Farce, Dracula, Galaxy Quest, Hail, Caesar!, Holes, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jingle All the Way, Joe Dirt, John Carter, Little Miss Sunshine, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers The Movie, Mom and Dad Save the World, The Muppet Movie, My Stepmother Is an Alien, One Million B.C., Parasite, Planet of the Apes, Princess of Mars, The Rapture, Space Raiders, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, The Magnificent Seven Ride, The Ten Commandments, Wavelength, and Werewolf of London.
Some of the TV shows filmed here include: 24, The A-Team, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Alias, Alien Hunter, Battlestar Galactica, The Big Bang Theory, Bones, Broken Arrow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Cheyenne, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Fantasy Island, Fastlane, Fear Factor, Firefly, Friends, Gunsmoke, Hell Town, The Incredible Hulk, Johnny Ringo, Las Vegas, Lassie, The Lone Ranger, MacGyver, Medium, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Monk, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, New Girl, Numb3rs, Paradise, all the Power Rangers, Prey, Project U.F.O, The Rat Patrol, Roswell, Saving Grace, The Six Million Dollar Man, all the Star Treks, Tales from the Crypt, Tales of Wells Fargo, Teen Wolf, The Twilight Zone, Wanted Dead or Alive, Westworld, and Zoro. The rocks were also animated into the TV show Futurama.
Some of the music videos filmed here include: “High and Dry” by Radiohead, “About a Girl” by Sugababes, “Be with You” by Enrique Iglesias, “Black or White” by Michael Jackson, “Drummer Boy” by Debi Nova, “Far Side of Crazy” by Wall of Voodoo, “Heaven Is a Halfpipe” by OPM, “Mobscene” by Marilyn Manson, “Rehab” by Rihanna, “S Club Party” by S Club 7, “Sanctuary” by Joji, “Steal My Girl” by One Direction, “This Darkened Heart” by All That Remains, “When the Curtain Falls” by Greta Van Fleet, “You Got Lucky” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Love’s Just a Feeling” by Lindsey Stirling, “Too Much to Think” by 311, and “On” by BTS. The cover of the Village People’s album Cruisin’ was also shot here.
Commercials for Taco Bell, Bank of America, Pacific Bell, Pepsi, and Nike have also been filmed at the Vasquez Rocks.
Overall, the Vasquez Rocks is a wonderful day outing. It’s extremely accessible and not overcrowded (by California standards). The rocks are perfect for novice rock climbers, families, horseback riders, and solo hikers, and one could easily spend a few hours getting “lost” exploring among the rocks. I’m very happy that I was able to visit the Vasquez Rocks before moving, as it’s super famous and has a super cool backstory. If you’re ever in the L.A./Palmdale/Lancaster/Inland Empire region, I highly suggest taking a daytrip here. In fact, you don’t even need to carve out a whole day. We were able to explore the rocks for approximately 2 ½ hours and still make it home in time for the Super Bowl!