Very down-to-earth Vasquez rocks portray the surface of alien planets for the media

Deborah Painter (USA)

They have become associated with stark alien or other-dimensional landscapes since the 1960s, when the popular American television programme Star Trek used them as dramatic backdrops in two episodes, “Arena” and “Friday’s Child”. Prior to that, the Vasquez Rocks of Agua Dulce in California were a favoured location for American Western programmes, such as Branded, Cheyenne, Zorro and The Adventures of Champion, as well as motion pictures like One Million BC (1940) and Apache (1954), when rocky areas with hiding places, wide overlooks and an overall arid, rugged look were needed. More recent films and television programmes tend to exploit their odd appearance (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Army of Darkness (1993) and John Carter (2012)). Some films with no fantasy elements also use the rocks as a backdrop, one example being the family “road” comedy, Little Miss Sunshine, released in 2006.

The much-photographed side of the Vasquez Rocks pinnacle and main film staging area.
(Photo: Michael Ramsey.)

In fact, the Vasquez Rocks now have the distinction of being an overexposed outdoor location simply because of their proximity to the big city of Los Angeles’ filmmaking industry, hence their presence in scores of films, television programmes and music videos. Only about 64.5km from Los Angeles, the Vasquez Rocks are off State Highway 14, between Acton and Santa Clarita in California, USA and can be seen from Highway 14. The signs will direct the motorist to the exit that leads to the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park at 10700 Escondido Canyon Road, the Los Angeles county park where the rocks are located.

It is a down-to-earth place, illustrating plate tectonics in a vivid way. The Vasquez Rocks are approximately 4.5km from a continental strike-slip fault – the famous San Andreas Fault. State Highway 14 sports a sign indicating that one is driving over the fault, which is scarcely noticeable when the motorist crosses it at this location. Thus, the Vasquez Rocks are not located directly over the fault. Rather, the Elkhorn Fault, a secondary fault of the San Andreas, runs through the park.

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