A Return to Vasquez Rocks

When some people get their wishes fulfilled, they go to DisneyLand.  But when a few select Star Trek fans (and HC representatives) recently got theirs, that being a whole day with the Alpha hero, they headed to... Vasquez Rocks.  It has long been popular with hobbyists and collectors to photograph their props in poses made famous in episodes or in promo shots, so what could be better than finding the original site for the best communicator screen cap ever and exactingly recreate the scene with the actual prop?  Right!  Nothing could have been better.  And you get to join us here for that adventure.

Vasquez Rocks is the distinct tilted formation that continues to be home to so many TV and movie shoots, owing mostly to its proximity to Hollywood.  Even the most casual Trek fan would recognize the rocks as the planet where Kirk battled the Gorn in "Arena" (left), but it was also seen in at least four other episodes:  The Alternative Factor,  A Private Little War, Shore Leave, and the one we were focused on for this effort, Friday's Child.  In the critical scene, Kirk and Spock use two communicators together to create a "sonic disruption" that causes a rock slide, blocking their pursuers.  Both comms sit on a broad flat waist-high "table" rock, and it is there that Alpha, in Leonard Nimoy's hands during the month of May 1967, gets the best close-up from the series of any communcator prop ever.  (Note - the adjacent comm held by Bill Shatner is Beta, the other hero, but it remains just out of focus in the shot.)

And wonderfully, the original spot, right down to that table rock, is still there (minus a little erosion) AND easy to find.  Its existence today was not a given, since fires, new roads and vegetation, and especially the 1971 earthquake have since altered the terrain, but we got lucky.  We also could have brought along a replica to duplicate the second comm, but the day was one for authenticity (only a substitute knife blade was used).  We begin with a guide for you to duplicate the same trek yourself the next time you're in the vicinity.

Follow the simple directions from the Los Angeles area to Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, which is only about a one hour drive north from the San Fernando Valley.

When you enter the free park, pass the Ranger's Station on your right as the road bends left.  Not more than a few hundred yards later is a large informal dirt parking lot.  Leave your car at the far end and start hiking right there the short easy trail that heads towards the rock formation.  The path takes a few twists and turns, and breaks up a little, but it's easy enough to make your own way when it does peter out.  Another picks up right away.  At this point you are in the footprints of the tribesmen and the Klingon as they pursued the landing party into the hills.   You will quickly and easily see the pass rise and the table rock straight ahead.

Even if it is a very hot day, and it often is there, the spot is in shade during the midday hours, so you won't have to worry about melting your Kydex.

Upon parking and starting your hike, you will get this wonderful vista.  The road that continues on and bisects the two formations can be seen briefly just right of center.  Like many, you may get the impression once there that these rocks are quite a bit smaller than they look on TV:

As you approach the "Friday's Child" rocks, you get to see what the actors experienced, though the same shrubs are a little more grown out and the turf is a bit more parched than it was that spring day four decades ago (view the full image by clicking on each):

 

A number of fake rocks erected by the Trek filming crew gives the impression of a tighter squeeze through the pass:

To have the table rock in sunlight, this screen cap comes from a morning shoot.  Some fake round boulders were already at the bottom:

Immediately to the right of the table rock, where Kirk and Spock are seen dashing off to, is actually still wide open, with a small steep rise followed by a six foot drop.  Not a good place to hide from deadly hand-flung weapons:

Once arrived, we set up to recreate the famous close-up.  It was astonishing to realize, as our first cameraman kept saying, "tilt it more, tilt it more," the large angle Mr. Nimoy held that prop at for the audience's benefit; he had it canted an uncomfortable 45 degree towards the camera with then the rear end of it also raised up, though the front bottom was resting on stone.  As the camera in that scene pans away, you do see him drop the angle and rest it more flat.  The next trick was curling the fingers of the right hand (the one on the knob) out of the way and into what was a very unnatural pose.  The actor's lanky digits must surely have helped him position and hold it easier than it was for us.

A white line of dried bird droppings was, that day, curiously aimed at the comm's exact position.  Not surprisingly, due to 40 years of erosion, individual embedded pebbles you see now vs. then are different, but the same general topography; the prominent ridges, bumps, and slopes are all still right there.  The GPS data is to aid your return:

While the expanse of sky overhead and behind was broad and clear, it is obvious the Trek crew utilized some added key light from the front right (that we didn't have) to augment their shots.  The right comm jewel did indeed here radiate brilliant aqua to match the familiar image; we now know the blue is from the AB coating on an Olivine-colored Swarovski rhinestone.  It was also plain to see in our photo work later how quickly the mild Kydex texture disappears as the size of the image (pixel quantity) shrinks.  No wonder so many hobbyists have wrongly thought after examining screen caps that some comms came in a smooth body.

After sorting through many nearly-identical photographs, as each member of our crew rotated through the honors, we present here at last the very best one, preceded by the original famous pic for ease of comparison.  Of course we offer our new one in much higher resolution (exactly 3X per axis, or 9X total pixilation):


(2220 x 1665)

We concluded the day by running around like children in a candy store taking "action" photos in the hills with Alpha and some other props that came out of the same shoebox - these phasers.  While cementing the authenticity of these is not the quick slam-dunk that it was with this hero communicator, and we here do not profess to have the same expertise as we do with comms, we nevertheless have heard no compelling evidence thus far to regard them anything but genuine, especially given the verified history of that box of props:


(3000 x 1461)

May you fully enjoy many wondrous days in life like we did this one!

All the best,
The Chang Gang

p.s.  We wish to extend our deepest appreciation to the Vasquez Rocks park staff for their enthusiasm and assistance in this endeavor.

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