Agua Dulce, CA: Retreating to the Rock of Ages

* New posts go up every Thursday, so come back next week for another day of exploration or a round-up of my favorite spots or fashion trends!

The “main rock,” the one people rush to see first, points toward the heavens. You really can’t miss it. When I first laid eyes on the rock formations — named after Tiburcio Vasquez, a California bandit who used it as a hiding place from law enforcement — no part of me thought it looked earthly or natural. Maybe that’s why the location is so constantly used in movies that take place in alien worlds, and why I’ve been coming here for years, bewitched by its strangeness and beauty. These layered sandstone cliffs — which look like lopsided pages in a book or a poorly baked mille feuille — were formed over the course of 25 millions years due to sedimentary bedding and later, an earthquake along the San Andreas Fault. Yes, 25 million years. In other words, they’re the rocks of ages, something that even time forgot about, but people still remember. 

We’ve been living in Santa Clarita for close-to three years now, and we still consider the Vasquez Rocks to be one of the area’s best and most whimsical attractions (OK, technically it’s in Agua Dulce, but y’know). The first time we visited the place, we gushed, “Oh, my God. This is where Joey was left stranded in that episode about his big break!” But really, it’s starred in so much more than that. The Vasquez Rocks doubled as Tibet in 1935 Werewolf of London and an alien planet in Star Trek, among many other otherworldly lands. 

But more recently, we were reminded of this beautiful part of town through Westworld, where it serves as a backdrop to dangerous “badlands” in a theme park where the “hosts” are robots that look entirely like real people. (If you hadn’t had the chance to binge through the show during quarantine, I highly suggest it, even though I’m partial to the first season over all else). Suffice to say, a few scenes featuring the jutting rocks were enough to get Anton and me to hop into the car and get going.

The road to Agua Dolce is easy and open. The sun hangs low, glazing everything in beautiful, glittery bronze and vermillion, which makes the drive even more picturesque and pleasant. These days, driving is one of those scant few freedoms we can exercise, and sometimes, we even make drives to locations we don’t intend on exploring on foot — for safety reasons, of course. We slither up Agua Dulce Canyon road flanked by ranches and filming locations, one of which is called “Sweetwater Movieland Ranch.” Sweetwater is Westworld’s American frontier area — a relatively tame section of the park, where booze flows freely, adventures await and women in corsets always try to seduce newcomers. We wonder if somehow the fictional Sweetwater was inspired by the real one. 

It’s after 5 p.m., and the main gates to the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park are closed, so we park along the street with the rest of the visitors, most of whom are here to take advantage of the golden hours of photography. Come to the Vasquez Rocks at any time of day, any day of the week, and you’ll likely see a handful of folks dressed up to the nines and others lugging camera equipment around the park. It can feel like an odd juxtaposition sometimes. A place like this warrants comfy sneaks, elastic-waisted shorts, and a t-shirt you don’t mind getting a little sweaty and dusty. (Full disclosure: Though I’ve hiked here in sports attire before, this time, I also clamber out of the car in a little lbd and mini heels which haven’t seen the light of day in quite some time.) 

Only a few steps in, and my white sandals are already covered in a layer of dust and sand. I can feel the crunchiness between my toes. We walk around the sprawling site, eyes wide open, taking in the russet-colored landscape. We spy a couple walking back after a hike, head bent in conversation, a sheen of sweat coating their sun-lit skins. Just a little ways into the park, a family of four gathered around a picnic table, the kiddos playing with a remote-controlled monster truck. Another couple, decked out in their best attire, meander in with a photographer, holding a chalkboard sign that reveals their recent marriage to the world.

Inside the park, there’s a broad and generous pause on the outside world, and suddenly, I feel deeply relaxed. Downtowns might look changed, empty and different, but out here in nature — and specifically at the Vasquez Rocks — everything’s still somewhat the same. No pandemic, no political division, no lockdown can affect the formations and crystal skies which have seen and heard it all for millions of years. Uninhibited playtime, celebrations of milestones and normal life events all resume in plain sight. Being out here makes us focus on and love the world before us, even if it’s just a snapshot of what once was and perhaps will be again. 

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