As a tribute to the 50th anniversary of Star Trek’s debut on NBC, I thought it might be fitting for this week’s column to honor the franchise with a Trek-related topic. Unfortunately, the Klingon home world is off limits due to both its impractical distance and the fact that it is fictional.
With a little imagination though, you can indeed visit many of the distant worlds that appear in the various Star Trek projects without a warp-capable starship. Sure, you could try to sneak into the Hollywood studio lots where most of the series and movies were filmed – and if that’s your approach, good luck with that. Or, with a 45 minute drive from Tinseltown you can visit the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park and reenact your favorite scenes in an equally authentic locale.
Despite being in Los Angeles County, Vasquez Rocks is an oasis of natural beauty that encompasses exactly none of the characteristics we outsiders have come to associate with Los Angeles scenery. Formed by uplift and erosion some 25 million years ago and exposed by the rumblings and grumblings of the San Andreas fault (hey, it’s still California), these sedimentary rocks have been made a National Historic Landmark due to their historic importance to multiple Native American groups.
But it’s the site’s importance to the entertainment industry that’s relevant here. Hollywood has leaned pretty heavily on Vasquez Rocks since it was first used to portray Tibet in the 1930’s. Star Trek directors, in particular, just love this place. Four of the films (V, VI, Generations, and the 2009 reboot) have included scenes filmed there, as has every Trek series except Deep Space Nine and The Animated Series.
Probably the most recognized moment in all of Trekdom for Vasquez Rocks is in ‘The Arena’, a first season episode of The Original Series in which Captain James T. Kirk fights at length with an alien known as a Gorn. It’s a classic scene – awful costume, prolonged struggle, shirt ripping to expose William Shatner’s (once legendary) pects – all the ingredients for successful 1960s television. It’s because of this scene that the major formation of Vasquez Rocks has come to be known as ‘Kirk’s Rock.’
Oh, but it’s not just Star Trek that has made use of the striking backdrop of Vasquez Rocks. Take note of the rock formations in the photo here and you’ll begin to see them everywhere. Movies such as Blazing Saddles, Dracula, Little Miss Sunshine, and the Pauly Shore tour de force, In the Army Now have all been filmed there, as have television series, Bonanza, CSI, Monk, Airwolf, Gunsmoke, and The Big Bang Theory (via green-screen, ironically). You can even see Vasquez Rocks in music videos by Tom Petty, Eddie Money, and Michael-freaking-Jackson.
And this is just a small sample – so small in fact, I could write another column just listing other ways in which the entertainment industry has made use of the place. Add to that the interesting geologic and human history and the fact that it’s a breath of fresh air in a sea of LA-area traffic, smog, and other man-made shenanigans and you’ve got lots of reasons to visit – assuming you don’t mind contending with geeks, Gorns, and the possible earthquake.