The above photo is a contemporary shot of the stunning Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce, Calif., just north of Los Angeles, located more or less between the Santa Clarita Valley and the Antelope Valley. In case you're unfamiliar with the rocks and their scale, it's a massive formation. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you may be able to make out a tiny group of people near the middle of the shot, positioned atop the recessed portion of the rock.
The rocks are named after the bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who, legend has it, hid out there in the 1870s. A great many movies and TV shows have been shot at the site over the years — not quite approaching the sheer volume of productions shot at Iverson, but still pretty respectable. Even today you can sometimes spot new TV commercials featuring the distinctively angular rocks of Vasquez. Car companies are especially fond of shooting their ads at the location.
Among the hundreds of productions shot there, a few of the more famous ones are "Blazing Saddles," the "Flintstones" live-action films — where the rocks provide the backdrop for the town of Bedrock — and some episodes of the original "Star Trek" TV show.
Melody Ranch — before it was destroyed by fire in 1962
Santa Clarita Valley natives are rightfully proud of their area's movie history, which, like that of Iverson in Chatsworth, goes all the way back to the silent era. Unlike Chatsworth — where development took hold faster than it did in the more remote Santa Clarita area — the SCV still has a few working movie ranches, with Disney's Golden Oak Ranch and the rebuilt Melody Ranch among the main ones.
Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society does a good job of getting the word out about the area's movie history, and a number of events take place regularly in the area — classes, tours, the Cowboy Poetry Festival, etc. — to help keep the legacy alive. This information is easy to find online, with the Historical Society's website a great place to start.
Incorrectly labeled photo, from scvhistory.com
A while back I discovered a mistake on the SCV Historical Society site, where a photo of some early Western actors at Corriganville in Simi Valley, seen above, was attributed to Vasquez Rocks — about 35 miles away. Most site visitors would never notice the mistake, even though the rock formations don't look much like Vasquez Rocks. But any film location researcher familiar with Simi Valley and the Santa Susana Mountains — and there are a few of us — would easily recognize the rocky formation toward the left of the shot. The photo, by the way, is a promotional still from the 1943 Monogram Western "Death Valley Rangers," shot at Corriganville.
Corriganville's Fort Apache, with "Rock Face" in background
That formation, which I've been calling "Rock Face" in my research for years, is seen in the backgrounds of countless productions filmed at Corriganville. (Update: I learned about a year after posting this blog entry that the formation has been called "Fort Apache Rock" by Corriganville historians.) The above screen shot is just one example, from the 1952 Ben Johnson movie "Wild Stallion." Rock Face/Fort Apache Rock was easy to spot behind Corriganville's Fort Apache, as in the above shot, or looming over many of the movie ranch's chase roads. There's no mistaking that it's the same formation seen in the shot of the movie cowboys above it.
Interpretive sign at Corriganville
Underscoring the point that there's no question about this sighting, Rock Face/Fort Apache Rock even appears on one of those "interpretive signs" at the former site of Fort Apache, which is now part of Corriganville Regional Park. A couple of the other hills seen in the SCV Historical Society photo can also be seen here.
I made an attempt at the time to let the SCV Historical Society know about the mistake, but I never heard back. (Update: The SCVHS website appears to have since taken down the photo.) Nothing alarming about any of that — people are busy these days, and who has time for that sort of thing? Unfortunately, I soon realized that, as tends to happen in the digital age, the misinformation had already found its way all over the Internet.
My heart goes out to the people involved in the book and the website. These kinds of mistakes are all too easy to make. The only way to be sure we avoid them would be to not do anything, and that's no good. I often cite the example of Magic Johnson, who led the NBA in turnovers during his Hall of Fame career — and also led the Lakers to nine NBA Finals and five championships. The point is he made things happen, and when you do that, sometimes things go wrong.
Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that are not specifically focused on the usual subject matter of this blog, the Iverson Movie Ranch. Past subjects have included Bell Ranch, Pioneertown and other old filming locations. You can go directly to the Off the Beaten Path posts by looking up the term "Off the Beaten Path" in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here.