A Strange New World: A Visit to the Vasquez Rocks
By Chris Gore
Of all the otherworldly places the crew of the starship Enterprise visited, one of the most remarkable was the planet on which Captain Kirk fought the Gorn. The classic episode of the original Star Trek series “Arena” pits Kirk against a slow-moving, hissing, yet intelligent serpent creature on a strange new world. But this planetoid on the far reaches of the galaxy is located closer than one would think… right here on earth… in the state of California in fact, in the city of Agua Dulce just outside of Santa Clarita, in the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. Which means that earthlings like us can travel to this world and explore the awe-inspiring beauty of these unique rock formations.
This idyllic location for an alien world was literally millions of years in the making. The Vasquez Rocks were formed 25 million years ago due to rapid erosion and were exposed due to activity along the infamous San Andreas Fault. The name comes from local bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who took refuge in that area from 1873 to 1874.
The setting of the Vasquez Rocks in the Star Trek episode “Arena” has made those rock formations iconic. But it is not an exaggeration to say that this place is a “rock star” having appeared in so many film and television productions. The “Arena” episode from 1967 was just the first time the rocks had starred in Star Trek. The location was used in Star Trek the Next Generation, Star Trek Voyager, as well as other Star Trek movies and as the planet Vulcan in JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek movie. From the earliest Westerns to episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, this desert paradise has been home to so many film and TV productions, it should have its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Wayward Nerd visited the formations to marvel at their beauty and, of course, to take our own photos. For any nerdy traveler, I can’t stress enough how important it is to bring three things with you when visiting the Vasquez Rocks:
2. A camera
3. A Star Trek item to include in your photos
While many choose to bring Star Trek props or uniforms, we brought with us a custom Star Trek LEGO figure of Captain Kirk and an alien to accompany us on our journey. Our tiny companions made quite the stunning models on our adventure.
Before venturing to the canyon itself, take some time to explore the visitor center. There, you will find an impressive scale model of the entire valley along with displays that tell stories of the park’s rich history. There’s also a gift shop in the visitor center where Star Trek items are for sale. Be sure to sign the guest book on the way out where you may even find some famous names. Helpful park rangers are more than happy to answer all your questions, even the nerdy ones.
It’s difficult to describe the feelings you experience upon walking through this famous natural landmark. As a film fan, I can’t help but become giddy at discovering and remembering all the movies in which this park played an integral role—from “Planet of the Apes” to “One Million B.C.” to “The Flintstones” to “Galaxy Quest” to the indie film classic “Free Enterprise” and so many more. If you have the time to take screen captures of the famous Kirk versus Gorn scene from Star Trek, you can even locate the exact spot where William Shatner stood when he found the alien beast.
There is no fee to visit the Vasquez Rocks and you’ll find ample parking. According to the official site, the park is open from sunrise to sunset with seasonal hours listed. I cannot stress how important it is that you bring water as you will truly be surrounded by desert and nothing else. I would also advise calling ahead to be sure that your exploration is not limited by any film or TV productions that may be present, which actually happened on the day we visited. Lucky for us, they hadn’t started shooting yet, so we were able to continue our journey.
Travel safe… and live long and prosper.
Chris Gore is a comedian, a writer and an occasional TV host. He is a trekkie. A film devotee. He is in constant search of the nerd universe and will report back with news of alien life. He is batman.