Even on your very first visit, you might experience a little déjá vu at Vasquez Rocks. That’s because the picturesque high desert landscape has been used as a setting for key scenes in many motion pictures, television shows, and music videos. Outside of Hollywood, though, most people come to this FREE county park to hike, ride horses, take photos, and challenge themselves to climb one of the 150-foot rock formations. Since the park is only about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, California, it is a popular spot on weekends for families.
The rock’s history began millions of years ago when the sandstone was squeezed, uplifted, and torn apart between the San Andreas and the San Gabriel Faults. Over time, the rocks folded and twisted into sharp angles, and then were eroded into even stranger shapes by wind and water. From the 1930s to present day, westerns, Sci –Fi shows, comedies and commercials have all been shot here, back dropped by these gigantic geologic stone features.
The human history in this area began about 1,500 years ago with the Tataviam Indians. Then around 450 years ago, a group of Shoshonean people from farther north, known as “People Facing the Sun,” arrived and traded with the Tataviams. In 1862, the Homestead Act made public lands available to anyone who filed a claim and lived on it for five or more years, so families and miners moved in. The area even attracted California’s most notorious bandit— Tiburcio Vásquez (1835–1875), the park’s namesake. In 1874, the outlaw used these rocks to elude capture by law enforcement. It worked for a while, but eventually he was hanged for burglaries, murders, cattle thefts, and stagecoach robberies. Vásquez is seen as a hero by some Mexican-Americans for his defiance of what he viewed as unjust laws and discrimination. Others regard him simply as a colorful criminal because of his good looks, charm, and suave ways with the ladies!
The best place to learn the full story of Vasquez Rocks is inside the brand new Interpretive Center. It is LEED platinum certified which means it is as “green” in every way as a building can be. Stories of the park’s Native Americans, geology, flora and fauna, filming and homesteading history are told by huge murals and photos on the walls. Terrariums house several native lizard and snake species, and local artifacts from the Tataviam Indians are also on display.
With over 932 acres of spectacular rock formations and interesting geologic and human history, Vasquez Rocks Natural Area is definitely worth a stop. But if you visit in the summer months, keep in mind that temperatures reach well over 100 degrees. There is very little shade, and you should bring plenty of water.
IF YOU GO:
10700 West Escondido Canyon Road
Agua Dulce, California 91350
Open April - August 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
September - March 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Interpretive Center Hours are Tuesday – Sunday 8:00 am to 4:00 pm
Closed Mondays, except holidays.