How Vasquez Rocks, L.A.'s onetime outlaw hideout, became 'Star Trek's' favorite alien landscape

The mission, from the day “Star Trek” premiered on America’s televisions on Sept. 8, 1966, was ambitious: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Where did Gene Roddenberry’s TV series go to find that world?

Often as not, it was a piece of alien-looking geology right here in Southern California — amid the jagged, sandstone boulders of Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, a Santa Clarita Valley desertscape of prehistoric waves, frozen in time, that has done star turns in Hollywood productions since the 1920s.

It’s where Capt. James T. Kirk famously battled a seemingly indestructible green lizard called a Gorn in the episode titled “Arena,” and it represented planet Capella IV, where Kirk and Dr. McCoy helped an Amazon-like Queen give birth to a warrior prince in “Friday’s Child.”

FULL COVERAGE: The 50th anniversary of 'Star Trek' »

“Star Trek” fans can recall Kirk staring in confused wonder as one of the loves of his life, Ruth, inexplicably emerges among the rocks on planet Omicron Delta, ostensibly many light years from Earth, in “Shore Leave.” In the same episode, Kirk engages in a rough-and-tumble brawl around the rocks’ distinctive angles and crevasses with a trouble-making upperclassman who used to taunt him at Star Fleet Academy.

Probably equally important as its otherworldly topography, Vasquez Rocks, just off the Antelope Valley Freeway en route to Palmdale, sit just at the edge of what’s known as the Thirty Mile Zone, a radius around Hollywood in which union actors and technical crew can report for work before pay premiums kick in and jack up the costs of production.

That has made it a favorite location for film and TV directors for decades, going back to Saturday-morning westerns of the 1920s and ’30s — such as “The Texas Ranger” in 1931 and “The Girl and the Bandit” in 1939 — through latter-day productions shot there including the 1994 film version of “The Flintstones” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

REVIEW: See what critic Kenneth Turan thought of the most recent film from the franchise“Star Trek Beyond” »

randy.lewis@latimes.com

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