The Vasquez Rocks: Home of the Bandido.

In the Sierra Pelona Mountains in northern Los Angeles County, near the small town of Agua Dulce, California, sits a collection of rocks that are really cool, and really famous. Formally known as Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, many call it simply the Vasquez Rocks, so I will refer to it as such. This 932-acre park is pretty much right off the 14 (Antelope Valley Freeway), 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. Open Wednesday – Sunday (closed on Monday and Tuesday),from 8am to 5pm, it’s an extremely unique rock formation and impossible to miss.

The Vasquez Rocks have a long and interesting history. This includes being the home of the Tataviam people in the 1700’s, who lived there until the Spanish arrived and “civilized” them by moving many to missions and towns; being a part of the Pacific Crest Trail; was once a hideaway of the infamous late-1800’s bandido, Tiburcio Vasquez (who’s the namesake of the rocks); and finally, it’s one of the most popular outdoor film locations in Southern California.

A little bit of interesting info about the namesake of the rock, Tiburcio Vasquez: He was a Mexican-Californian outlaw who died at the ripe old age of 39 (1835-1875). He was active in California for many years, right up to his capture and subsequent execution in 1875. He used the Vasquez Rocks as one of his main hideouts, although he had many hideouts during his lucrative career. He slithered his way around Southern California for awhile, 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 1 ½ hours from San Francisco), which resulted in a triple homicide. Vasquez claimed to have not pulled the trigger, but the California governor put a $1,000 bounty on his head anyway and the hunt was on. After being pursued by the sheriff from central Cal to SoCal, he got away after a messy gunfight.

Exploring one of the many trails.

After running for awhile, he ultimately settled upon the Vasquez Rocks. 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. 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 south. Of course, this all greatly depends on traffic.

One of the very first trails within the park. The “Geology Trail”.
From the top of the main rock.

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, in the high desert, but 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. There are multiple parking lots inside the park, with the furthest and biggest being right near the most famous of the rocks. This is something I wish I had known before going. When we first arrived at the gate off the highway, there was an endless line of cars exiting, with more cars parking along the road, and lots of cars actively parking. In my mind, this meant that the parking lot inside the park was full, so it was fruitless trying to battle it out. Plus, the main rocks didn’t look that far away. So, I figured let us walk.

Big mistake. Huge.

Parking lot #1 inside the park.
Parking lot #2 inside the park, nearest to the famous rocks. As you can see, there is plenty of parking.
You can see the first parking lot to the upper left.

The parking lots inside the park were NOT full, 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 that it’s super far, but for a small child, it probably feels like eternity. Had I known I could just drive through to the end and park near the main rocks, we could have spent more time exploring because her energy wouldn’t have been zapped. It’s something to keep in mind if you go with small children!

The view climbing up. It looks much more vertical than it is (but it is pretty steep).
View looking down as you’re climbing up.
One of the many trails throughout the rocks.

So, if you park where we did, or in the first parking lot by the road (near the visitor’s center), you can make it to the main rocks via the dirt road that runs through the park (and which leads you to the other 2 closer parking lots). Or you can meander your way through some smaller rocks on the seemingly hundreds of tiny trails sprinkled throughout. Regardless of which way you turn, I guarantee you can find a trail that takes you somewhere. It’s not hard to make your way to the main rocks, because you can always see them sticking up, but there is no straight trail to them other than taking the dirt road.

As mentioned, there are plenty of other rocks to climb and explore 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.

As mentioned in the introduction, the Vasquez Rocks is one of the most popular outdoor film locations in Southern 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, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Blazing Saddles, Bubble Boy, Dracula, Holes, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Joe Dirt, John Carter, Little Miss Sunshine, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers The Movie, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, The Magnificent Seven Ride, and Werewolf of London.

View from the top of the main rock.

Some of the TV shows filmed here include: 24, Alias, Alien Hunter, Battlestar Galactica, The Big Bang Theory, Bones, Broken Arrow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Fear Factor, Friends, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Monk, NCIS: Los Angeles, New Girl, Roswell, all the Star Treks, Tales from the Crypt, Teen Wolf, The Twilight Zone, and Westworld. The rocks were also animated into the TV show Futurama.

One of the larger, main trails, around the backside of the main rock.

Some of the music videos filmed here include: “High and Dry” by Radiohead, “Be with You” by Enrique Iglesias, “Black or White” by Michael Jackson, “Mobscene” by Marilyn Manson, “Rehab” by Rihanna, “S Club Party” by S Club 7, “Sanctuary” by Joji, “Steal My Girl” by One Direction, “Love’s Just a Feeling” by Lindsey Stirling, and “On” by BTS.

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 very accessible and not overcrowded (particularly 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. 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!

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