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Hiking: Vasquez Rocks

Southland's No. 1 Rock Star, at Agua Dulce

January 02, 1994|JOHN McKINNEY

Chances are, you've seen the rocks on TV and the big screen many times--from old Westerns to modern sci-fi films. And you've probably seen Vasquez Rocks while motoring along the Antelope Valley Freeway; the famed formations are but a couple of miles from California 14.

But the best place to see the Southland's most famous geological silhouette is Vasquez Rocks County Park Natural Area in Agua Dulce. Hiking trails circle the rocks, which are not only enjoyable to view, but fun to climb upon.

Through a camera lens, and from a distance, the rocks look insurmountable; actually, they're rather easy to climb. The rocks are only 100 to 150 feet high, and you can find safe and mellow routes to the top of the sandstone outcrops.

The rocks themselves are tilted and worn sandstone, the result of millions of years of earthquake action and erosion by elements. The big beds of sedimentary rock known as the Mint Canyon Formation were laid down some eight to 15 million years ago. The Vasquez Rocks Formation is composed of coarser, redder layers underneath.

Tataviam Indians occupied the area until the late 1700s, when their culture was overwhelmed and eventually extinguished by the soldiers, settlers and missionaries of the San Fernando Mission.

During the 1850s and 1860s, notorious highwayman Tiburcio Vasquez used the rocks and canyons as a hide-out from the Los Angeles lawmen who were pursuing him. Even before he was hung for his crimes in 1875, the area was known as Vasquez Rocks.

The trail system at Vasquez Rocks is a bit informal. Because of the open nature of the terrain, hikers can--and do--tend to wander where their rock fancy takes them. If you remember that the park entrance/office is more or less to the north and the Antelope Valley Freeway to the south, you'll stay fairly well oriented.

A favorite route of mine, a clockwise tour of three miles or so, is described below; however, part of the fun of Vasquez Rocks is going your own way.

Directions to trail head: From the Antelope Valley Freeway (14), a few miles northeast of the outskirts of Canyon Country, exit on Agua Dulce Canyon Road. Head north 1 1/2 miles. Agua Dulce Canyon Road swings west and you join Escondido Canyon Road, proceeding a quarter-mile to the signed Vasquez Rocks County Park entrance on your right. You can park just inside the entrance at the small parking area near the park office, or continue to the main lot near the largest of the rock formations. It costs $3 to park on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

The hike: Begin at the signed trail head for "Geology Trail" just across the park road from the parking lot. (Pick up an interpretive brochure, as well as a trail map, from the office.) Soon after you begin your trail-side study of strata, Geology Trail intersects the famed Pacific Crest Trail and you'll head right.

The mile-long stretch of PCT through the park is part of a segment that connects the San Gabriel Mountains to the south with the Sierra Pelona area of Angeles National Forest to the north. The path parallels the park road. To your left are some scattered residences and the open desert beyond; to your right are some of the most famous of the Vasquez Rocks.

Pacific Crest Trail joins a dirt road at the edge of a picnic area and continues west atop the north wall of Escondido Canyon. Very few park visitors, it seems, hike here, though the rock formations are stunning and a seasonal creek flows through the canyon. Only the annoying hum of the nearby Antelope Valley Freeway disturbs the natural beauty.

You can cross the creek with the PCT, double back along the other side of Escondido Canyon, and continue your exploration of the little-known southern part of the park. But to continue to the main rock formations, stay west with the dirt road and you'll soon reach a junction with the park's horse trail. You can take this trail if you wish, or continue a short distance farther and join the foot trail.

The Vasquez Rocks area is a transition zone between mountain and desert environments. Yucca, buckwheat, sage and California juniper are among the plants you'll pass en route.

The footpath drops northwestward, then heads east to visit the most dramatic of the Vasquez Rocks.

Pacific Crest Trail

WHERE: Vasquez Rocks County Park Natural Area.

DISTANCE: 1-3 miles round trip.

TERRAIN: Tilted sandstone outcrops, sagebrush- and juniper-covered hills.

HIGHLIGHTS: Breathtaking geological formations, rock climbing.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Vasquez Rocks County Park Natural Area, 10700 W. Escondido Canyon Road, Agua Dulce 91350, (805) 268-0840.

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