Vasquez Rocks: Santa Clarita’s Historic Backlot
It’s easy to forget that one of most filmed locations in Los Angeles, if not California, sits just east of the Santa Clarita City border: Vasquez Rocks. The iconic location, named after cagey desperado Tiburcio Vásquez, who holed up in the area a century and a half ago, has been home to countless film and television productions over the years. Unlike many movie ranches and backlots, which are not open to the public, Vasquez Rocks is a public park owned and operated by the County of Los Angeles and is open for unbridled exploration. Given its significant relevance to the history of film and television, along with its distinctive look, this location is truly unique.
In the original television series “Star Trek,” with William Shatner, Vasquez Rocks served as the backdrop for one of the most memorable scenes in the saga’s history. Season 1: Episode 18, titled “Arena,” features an epic battle where Captain Kirk fights the alien space captain Gorn in a comically dramatic duel of death. It’s highly advisable that you stop reading this article immediately and YouTube “Kirk vs. Gorn” before going any further. The scene made optimal use of the canted cliff face and signature rock formations.
Since the original television show began airing in the mid-1960s, Vasquez Rocks has been featured on just about every iteration of Star Trek. The location has made appearances on screen in both of the film franchises, including the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot, where Vasquez Rocks doubled as the planet Vulcan.
Vasquez Rocks has been much more than an alien planet. True to its authentic Old West roots, Vasquez Rocks has been home to a multitude of westerns. These include pop culture pillars like “Bonanza,” “Rin Tin Tin,” “Wagon Train,” “Bat Masterson,” “F-Troop” and even the off-color 1974 Mel Brooks comedy, “Blazing Saddles.” Segments filmed at the rocks included the railroad scenes and character Hedley Lamarr’s rousing speech to his collection of miscreants and outlaws. “Badges…?” Faithful viewers will also recognize western scenes in HBO’s current hit sci-fi show “Westworld.”
Comedies have certainly utilized the unique look of the rocks to further their storylines as well.
In “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Adventure,” evil robot Bill and Ted kidnap the protagonists and take them to Vasquez Rocks, where they promptly kill them. This sets up a meeting with the Grim Reaper where Bill and Ted have to outwit him to “get back to the babes.”
In “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” Vasquez Rocks is where Mike Myers and Elizabeth Hurley’s characters escape from Dr. Evil’s lair. The scene famously features Austin’s “shagadelic” Jaguar E-Type roadster amidst the backdrop of the rocks.
In the 1994 movie “The Flintstones,” starring John Goodman as the boisterous Fred Flintstone, Vasquez Rocks doubled as the prehistoric town of Bedrock. The production took over the park as they recreated a material version of the cartoon metropolis. “The Flintstones” was a high-powered production from the start, with Steven Spielberg, who was credited as “Steven Spielrock,” as the executive producer. Aside from Goodman and Perkins, the movie featured a top-flight cast, including Elizabeth Taylor, in her last screen appearance, and Halle Berry.
The 2000 sequel, “The Flintstones 2: Viva Rock Vegas,” was also filmed at Vasquez Rocks but did not revisit the commercial success of the original, which grossed nearly $342 million worldwide.
Vasquez Rocks also starred in the “Friends” Season 5 episode, “The One Where Joey Gets a Big Break.” In the episode, Joey gets the lead in a movie and takes a road trip to Vegas (Vasquez), where he discovers the movie has no funding.
Last, but not least, on this look at notable filming at Vasquez Rocks, are two high-profile music videos. Both Michael Jackson’s “Black or White,” and Rhianna’s, “Rehab,” featuring Justin Timberlake, heavily highlight the Rocks.
If you are interested in more information on the history of filming in Vasquez Rocks, a simple Google search will reveal volumes of information. However, a quick trip up the 14 Freeway is the best way to truly discover one of Santa Clarita’s historic treasures.
The City of Santa Clarita’s Film Office was started in 2002 and today processes over 500 permits per year, leading to over 1,300 film days! Filming is a great benefit to the community, adding over $30 million of positive economic impact per year to the local economy. For a list of what has filmed in Santa Clarita, go to www.FilmSantaClarita.com and follow the City’s film office at Instagram.com/FilmSantaClarita.
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