One of my favorite hiking spots is Vasquez Rocks, a 905 acre state park about half-way between Lancaster and Santa Clarita, just off the Antelope Valley Freeway.  Crisscrossed with trails, the park sits right on top of the San Adreas Fault.  The rocks of the name are gigantic jagged plates of sedimentary rock thrusting upward at about a 45 degree angle, like the sails of old clipper ships rising from the desert floor.  Eroded by years of rains and sand, the rocks are made of multi-hued bands of parallel browns, yellows and reds.  People climbing them look like ants scrambling upon their anthills.



            My wife and I, sometimes alone, sometimes with our children and sometimes with our friends, will spend a few hours hiking around the park.  We’ll pause at the babbling creek that runs in the gully, where we’ll sit beneath a shady tree and to eat our lunch. In the spring, the grass is green and flowers bloom; there are pepper trees, yucca bushes, and juniper trees everywhere.  The aroma of flower and greenery fills the air, while birds twitter and butterflies flit.

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            On occasion, we’ll hike up to the top of those perilous rock outcroppings.  One doesn’t need to know how to climb mountains to reach their peaks. No ropes or special shoes are required.  It can be a bit intimidating for novices, but the view from the top is magnificent.  It isn’t a spot for toddlers; there are no guardrails or fences to keep someone from falling.



            The Vasquez Rocks were named not for a famous explorer or politician.  Instead, they were named after a notorious outlaw: Tiburcio Vasquez.  He used the rocks to elude capture by the police—for a while—back around 1874. 

Born in 1835, by 1852Vasquez had fallen under the influence of Anastacio Garcia, one of California’s most dangerous bandits.  He was there when Garcia killed  the Monterey Constable, William Hardmount.  And Hardmount would not be the last person Vasquez had something to do with killing. 

Though Vasquez liked to claim he was a defender of Mexican-American rights, he was, in fact, far more of a bandit than a revolutionary.  By 1856 he had been convicted as a horse rustler and spent five years behind bars at San Quentin, where he participated in four prison breaks that left twenty other convicts dead. 

After his release from San Quentin, he soon returned to crime, committing numerous burglaries, cattle thefts, and highway robberies.  At the same time, he was a notorious womanizer, having multiple affairs with women regardless of their marital status.  After he and his gang stole 2200 dollars from Snyder’s Store in San Benito County—and after killing three bystanders in the process—his days were numbered.   Posses began seriously hunting for him after a reward of a thousand dollar was posted for his capture.  He continued robbing stores on a regular basis.  He and his gang sacked the town of Kingston in Fresno County and robbed all the businesses there, making off without 2500 dollars in cash and jewelry.  The governor of California, Newton Booth, was authorized by the California State Legislature to spend up to 15,000 dollars to bring Vasquez to justice.  In January, 1874 Booth offered 3000 dollars if he was brought in alive and 2000 dollars if he was brought in dead. The rewards were increased to 8000 dollars and 6000 dollars respectively by February.

            Vasquez was finally captured in late 1874.  After a four day trial in January, 1875 he was sentenced to be hanged.  Visitors flocked to his jail cell after his conviction, many of them women. He signed autographs and posed for photographs while he awaited his execution which took place barely three months later, in March 1875.  He was only 39 years old.

Even if you haven’t visited Southern California, you’ve seen Vasquez Rocks—assuming you’ve watched any TV or movies during the last seventy years.  Some of the better-known movies in which the Vasquez Rocks have made an appearance include the film Dracula in 1931, Blazing Saddles in 1974, Star Trek IV in 1986, the Flinstones in 1994, and the Star Trek movie of 2009.  Some of the television series that have used Vasquez Rocks as a set includes CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Twilight Zone, Mission Impossible, Have Gun—Will Travel, Maverick.  And perhaps most frequently, the rocks have been used for alien planets in episodes from all the various versions of Star Trek: from the original series in the 1960s to Enterprise in the 2000s.  In fact, the rocks have appeared in over seventy television series and over forty movies, serving as backdrops for various westerns, for the town of Bedrock in the Flintstone movies, and for Vulcan, the homeworld of Mr. Spock from Star Trek.  Captain Kirk fought a lizard-like Gorn there, defeating him with a well-placed blast from a homemade gun.


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