The Desert Dwellers – Visiting the Vasquez Rocks Interpretive Center

Neek sez:

I love interpretive centers!  They are thoughtful, informative and give you answers to questions about the places you visit.  So, starting off, this is what I learned:

The history of Vasquez Rocks starts with the native people, The Tataviam who were here from 200 B.C., years before the first Spanish explorers met them in 1769 when they numbered in the hundreds.  By 1910, their population dwindled dramatically due to Spanish mission life, marrying with other tribes and not using their native language.  The last known Tataviam speaker died in 1916.


Vasquez Rocks was named for a notorious Californio bandit, Tiburcio Vasquez who used the area as a hideout.  Eventually, his criminal history and romantic antics caught up with him and he was tried and hanged on March 19, 1875 in San Jose.  The legends of “Zorro” are loosely based on him.


The leaning rocks were formed by a massive earthquake 25 million years ago and erosion helped to reveal the slanted formations.  They are very deep rocks embedded in the earth.


Borax was discovered there and mined from 1906 till 1926.  The Lang mine produced 100,000 tons of ore valued at $3 million.  The mineral was used in a variety of materials including antiseptic solutions, bandages, ceramics and cosmetics.


Many films and television series were filmed here representing many genres.  Most are of the Science Fiction and Western variety.  Lex is a big fan of Star Trek so he loves that the episode where Captain Kirk fights the Gorn was filmed here.  I kind of like it that the “Flintstones” were filmed here because it really looks like Bedrock!

Rattlesnakes don’t look real until they move.  Tarantulas too!

Lex sez:

When you pull into the driveway where the sign for the entrance to Vasquez Rocks is off of Escondido Canyon Road, there is a building towards the right that was new to Neek and I.  This is the Vasquez Rocks Interpretive Center.  It’s been open for a few years now and it is a fascinating and welcome addition to Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park.


The Interpretive Center has a wonderful presentation of the history of Vasquez Rocks.  There were parts of the geological history that I was unaware of.  I was very impressed by the fact that the full measurement of Vasquez Rocks into the earth extends over 22,000 feet, which is taller than any mountain in the US, including Denali!  There is also a detailed history of the native people that lived there for centuries, the Tatavium.  They had a unique language with Aztec roots, probably a Takic Uto-Aztecan language.  However, due to intermarrying with other tribes and the arrival of the Spanish, the last of the Tatavium died sometime before 1916.


There is also the history of Tiburcio Vasquez, for whom the rocks are named after.  He was a bandit who hid out from the law there.  His life is cited as an inspiration for the legend of Zorro, from which many movies have been made over the years.  Speaking of movies, the Interpretive Center has a history of the many movies and TV shows that have been shot at Vasquez Rocks since as early as 1935.


Many of them have been westerns, but a lot have been science fiction too.  That’s including my favorite, the Star Trek TV episode “The Arena” in which Captain James T. Kirk fights the Gorn which I mentioned in my previous blog entry.  So I was very happy to see that the gift shop in the Interpretive Center had a life-size head of the Gorn!  It was a little out of my price range though, so I settled for a Gorn refrigerator magnet.


One thing the Interpretive Center had that I really wasn’t expecting was live animals.  There was a big hairy tarantula.  He was just sitting there in his glass container covered with low-hanging webs waiting for a nearby cricket hopping around to come closer for lunch!  But even more fascinating to me was the huge snake in the glass case right next to it.  Neek and I really thought it was not real.  But then it stuck its tongue out at us to prove us wrong!


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