Vasquez Rocks: Another World Just Minutes from Los AngelesSeptember 2, 2011 1 Comment
It lies only 40 minutes north of Los Angeles, but one trip to Vasquez Rocks in the canyon country of Agua Dulce and you will literally feel as if you are on a different planet. One of L.A.’s best free natural attractions, Vasquez Rocks is a county park just outside Santa Clarita that feels more like a national monument. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, it’s a good destination for a day trip when you feel like escaping the grind, traffic and smog of L.A. proper and getting back to nature a little. It also just happens to be hallowed ground for Trekkies, and film and TV buffs in general.
My parents recently visited us from the East coast, and we were looking to get out of the city (but not too far) and show them some sights. So Vasquez Rocks seemed a logical choice. Plus we had never been there, and that’s way more than I can say for Universal Studios, Disneyland, and all the other major attractions that people want to see when they visit you in Southern California.
As mentioned previously, Vasquez Rocks is an absolute mecca for geeks. Sci-fi geeks, that is. You may feel a strange sense of familiarity when you enter the park, and with good reason. With its gigantic otherwordly rock formations jutting upwards out of the ground at 45-degree angles, the park has been the shooting location for countless westerns, sci-fi films and TV shows, including the classic Star Trek episode “Arena” where Captain James T. Kirk battles the Gorn (a lizardlike creature in a really bad costume). Other shows that have shot scenes here include Planet of the Apes, Power Rangers, Battlestar Galactica, and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. In more recent years, the area has been used in shows like CSI and Bones as a convenient location for murderers to dispose of their victims.
Formed by the action of the San Andreas fault, the site was named after Tiburcio Vasquez, a wily bandit who was known as “The Scourge of California.” He used these rocks as his hideout until he was finally captured by law enforcement in 1874. The area was also an ancient Native American village, and in certain caves one may view the petroglyphs (cave drawings) made by members of the Shoshone and Tataviam people in prehistoric times.
There are short nature trails around the park, but most of our party was more interested in clambering up as many large rocks as we could find. It was incredibly fun and really brought out the child in all of us–even my 67-year-old father, who insisted on climbing up to the top of the highest peaks with my daredevil 12-year-old son! The nice thing about the park is that the rock formations slope upwards gradually, so you need not have any special rock-climbing equipment or even walking sticks. Of course you will want to exercise caution when climbing, especially with the smallest hikers.
My husband followed my 9-year-old son around as he explored the peaks, overhangs and cool caves. My oldest son and his girlfriend took off down another trail, and my mother and I were contented primarily with hiking around the smaller rocks and observing the fauna, including pretty wildflowers and other native plants. Because it is so large, the park did not feel at all crowded, and free parking was plentiful. In fact, we even lost touch with each other at certain points (cell phone service can be very spotty in the area). I did have some mild concerns about rattlesnakes, which inhabit the area especially during the warmer months, but I am happy to say we managed to avoid any critter encounters. A mountain lion is also said to roam the area, but apparently he isn’t seen very much.
You can pack a picnic lunch to eat at one of the available picnic tables, but note that no barbeque grills or fires are permitted. There is also no running water at the park; the decidedly un-luxurious restroom accommodations consist of port-a-potties.
It was a very warm day and there really isn’t much shade to be had in the park, so on hot days I highly recommend bringing LOTS of extra water, sunscreen, and some sort of hat. I assume it gets breezy and cold up there in certain seasons, so in cooler weather it would make sense to bring a sweater or jacket. Oh–and DEFINITELY bring your camera!
Downtown Agua Dulce, only about a quarter mile away, has a grocery store for food and sundries as well as a couple of restaurants if you forgot to bring food, which we had. All that hiking about gave us serious appetites, so following our hiking expedition, we stopped to check out Sweetwater Cafe for lunch. (The other restaurant is a pizza parlor.)
I literally thought I stepped into the middle of a western movie when we walked through the (swinging, natch) doors. Men in straw “ten-gallon” hats, overalls, flannel shirts and beat-up cowboy boots eyed us from various tables. This is serious horse country, I realized. It’s amazing to find how different the people and the community are just minutes from hip, pierced, tattoed downtown L.A.
The waitress was not the friendliest soul on the planet, and we waited quite a long time for food for our party of eight. The food was fine, more or less standard diner fare, and the kids seemed happy with their burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and fries. I don’t know that I would rush back there; however, there unfortunately, aren’t a lot of dining options available.
Vasquez Rocks is located at 10700 W. Escondido Canyon Rd., Agua Dulce: http://parks.lacounty.gov/Parkinfo.asp?URL=cms1_033383.asp.