Re-Uses of the Vasquez Rocks Location
by Jörg Hillebrand and Bernd Schneider
Vasquez Rocks is a Los Angeles County Park of 745 acres. It has been used for location shooting in numerous movie and television productions, including ten times for Star Trek:
1. Amusement Park Planet in TOS: "Shore Leave" (where Kirk gets beaten up by Finnegan)
2. Metron Asteroid in TOS: "Arena" (that the Metrons have set up for Kirk to fight against the Gorn)
3. Lazarus's Planet in TOS: "The Alternative Factor" (site of the rift between the universes)
4. Capella IV in TOS: "Friday's Child" (where Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the pregnant Eleen seek refuge)
5. Vulcan in "Star Trek IV" (the peak to which Spock retreats to meditate)
6. Mintaka III in TNG: "Who Watches the Watchers" (site of the "duck blind")
7. Tarok in VOY: "Initiations" (Kazon training ground)
8. Xyrillian homeworld in ENT: "Unexpected" (holo-simulation)
9. Vulcan in "Star Trek (2009)" (two different places)
10. Vasquez Rocks in PIC: "Maps and Symbols" and "The End is the Beginning" (the only time the place appears as what it really is)
It is not possible to identify all parts of Vasquez Rocks beyond doubt in the episodes because it may appear very different depending on the camera angle - fortunately, because otherwise the various planets would look the same. Nonetheless several parts of the location can be clearly recognized.
The most characteristic part of Vasquez Rocks is a massive slanted rock formation with two spikes, consisting of distinct plates. On postcards and on private photos this formation is most often depicted from a plain on the north side where a parking lot is located. We will refer to this side as the front of the rock. The two peaks are pointing to the left when looking in this direction.
In TNG: "Who Watches the Watchers" Riker and Troi, dressed as Mintakans, walk along the front side of the formation. With a couple of screen caps assembled to a panorama, we get a quite good impression of this side of Vasquez Rocks. The eye-catching slanted rocks are located on the right, with the double peak pointing to the left. The "duck blind" for the observation of the native Mintakans is located in the peak. Many years later, PIC: "The End s the Beginning" shows the same panorama in one shot, thanks to the extreme widescreen format of the series (one of the very few occasions where this waste of TV screen space actually makes sense).
The characteristic rocks were previously filmed for two TOS episodes from roughly the same angle, as a comparison of the following screen caps from TOS: "Shore Leave" (right peak) and TOS: "Friday's Child" (left peak) demonstrates. On the latter picture we see the moment of the explosion that is supposed to throw back the Capellan pursuers.
The screen cap from TOS: "Friday's Child" brings to light that a path is leading up the rock between the uppermost double peak and the lower peak on its left. The same episode also provides us with a view in opposite direction, from the path down on the plain.
Another path to the other side of the tall rock is located on the very right edge of the front views examined so far. In TNG: "Who Watches the Watchers" the Mintakans take this way, as does Kirk in TOS: "Shore Leave".
The following screen cap from TOS: "Shore Leave" may show the fork. The narrow left path leads up the rocks, the right one around the rocks.
A shot of the front side of Vasquez Rocks was used for the Vulcan landscape near Amanda and Sarek's house in "Star Trek (2009)". We can see the tall rock in the center and the somewhat lower rock on the left. The latter has been digitally supplemented with a rock piece facing in opposite direction (to the right), most likely a part of Vasquez Rocks as well. Possibly a duplicate of this rock piece, now tilted to the left, can be seen on the right.
Another part of Vasquez Rocks is visible behind the city at the time of Spock's childhood. It is not conclusive which part of the rock formation is visible here (perhaps the rear side?). It appears to have been digitally altered and is not the same as the one behind Amanda's and Sarek's residence.
TOS: "Arena" prominently features the rear side of Vasquez Rocks. Compared to the previous prospects the following images show the two spikes from the opposite side, so they are now facing to the right. More than 50 years later, almost the same angles were chosen for two shots in PIC: "Maps and Legends".
The rock can be seen from roughly the same angle in TOS: "The Alternative Factor", "Star Trek IV" and VOY: "Initiations". In ENT: "Unexpected" the camera position was close to the more rounded rock on the right.
The almost panoramic view of the rear side with Kirk and the Gorn reveals something like a road between the tall rocks on the left and the somewhat lower ones on the right. This is quite odd on a planetoid that the Metrons have prepared, for we wouldn't expect them to use wheeled vehicles. ;-) In one take we can even clearly see how the Gorn stands in the middle of that road. The other picture is taken from a somewhat different angle avoiding to include the road and shows more details of the right rock formation. These rocks were also clearly visible from the other side in the Mintakan panorama.
Raffi's trailer is located at the rear side of the rock formation in PIC: "The End is the Beginning". The relative position to the rocks, however, is not consistent and changes more than once during the episode. Also, the surroundings of Vasquez Rocks were heavily edited for the establishing shot in the episode, adding higher mountains than in reality (probably to obscure man-made structures of the 21st century).
We can make out the same rock hill with a rounded top in a number of episodes. This hill is located on the western side of the main rock formation, the right side as seen from the front.
The "western fort" of Cestus III from TOS: "Arena" was located directly at Vasquez Rocks, but was shot in a fashion not to reveal the prominent rocks in the background. It is possible that the wrinkled metal sheet on the top of the wide-angle shot was deliberately used to obscure the rocks.
For the remastered episode, this piece of metal was retouched.
Vasquez Rocks shows up in the Futurama episode "Where No Fan Has Gone Before" (the Star Trek homage with almost all voices of the TOS cast). A photo of Vasquez Rocks is used to represent Sherman's Planet in the Decipher Star Trek CCG, but this is non-canon as the surface of that planet was never on screen.