Vasquez Rocks County Park is a lovely desert park near Agua Dulce off the Antelope Valley Freeway north of Los Angeles popular for its jutting sandstone formations. Most visitors will enter the park and drive to the main parking lot and enjoy scrambling and climbing the nearby rocks. Kirk’s Rock is an unofficial name for a popular formation next to the parking lot that was used as a backdrop in many movies and TV shows. On weekends it can be quite busy around the parking lot. Less people decide to explore the south and western parts of the park, despite the fact that a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the park. On the park map, which is available at the information trailer at the entrance, official trails are marked as foot and equestrian trails. One can use these trails to hike a very scenic loop venturing into the south and western portions of the park. Since the rock formations invite to scramble cross-country a network of unofficial trails has developed making it quite difficult to stay on the official foot and/or equestrian trails. The following route description illustrates a possible loop hike using loosely parts of the official trails and some cross country portions.
What's in the name
The park is named after Tiburcio Vasquez, a notorious bandit, who in 1873 and 1874 used these rocks to elude capture by law enforcement. Tiburcio Vásquez was born in Monterey, California on April 10, 1835. In 1852, Vasquez fell under the influence of Anastacio Garcia, one of California's most dangerous bandits. In 1854, Vásquez was present at the slaying of Monterey Constable William Hardmount in a fight with Anastacio Garcia at a fandango. Vásquez denied any involvement, but fearing arrest, he became an outlaw. Vasquez and Garcia then played leading roles in Monterey County's murderous Roach-Belcher feud, which reached its apex when Garcia was lynched in the Monterey jail in 1857. By 1856, he was actively rustling horses. A sheriff's posse caught up with him near Newhall, and he spent the next five years behind bars in San Quentin prison. There he helped organize, and participated in, four bloody prison breaks which left twenty convicts dead.
After his release, Vásquez made attempts to be law abiding, but eventually returned to crime. He committed numerous burglaries, cattle thefts, and highway robberies in Sonoma County in 1866. He was captured after a store burglary in Petaluma and sent to prison again for three years. In 1870, Vásquez organized a bandit gang which included the notorious Juan Soto, and later, Procopio Bustamante. After numerous bandit raids, he was shot and badly wounded in a gunfight with Santa Cruz police officer Robert Liddell. He managed to escape; his sisters nursed him back to health. In 1873 he gained statewide, and then nationwide, notoriety. Vásquez and his gang stole $2,200 from Snyder's Store in Tres Pinos, now called Paicines, in San Benito County, killing three innocent bystanders in the process. Posses began searching for him, and Governor Newton Booth placed a $1,000 reward on his head. Sheriff John H. Adams from San Jose pursued the band to Southern California; Vasquez escaped after a sharp gunfight.
Vásquez hid for a while in Southern California, where he was less well known. With his two most trusted men, he rode over Tejon Pass, through the Antelope Valley, and rested at Jim Heffner's ranch at Elizabeth Lake. Vásquez' brother, Francisco, lived nearby. After resting, Vásquez rode on to Littlerock Creek, which would become his first Southern California hideout. Vasquez was very popular in the Hispanic community, and had many friends and family members from Santa Rosa in Northern California to Los Angeles in the south. He was handsome, literate, charming, played guitar, and was a skillful dancer. Women were attracted to him and he had many love affairs. He enjoyed reading romantic Spanish novels and writing poetry for his female admirers. He had several affairs with married women, one of which would eventually prove his downfall. Vásquez returned to the San Joaquin Valley. On November 10, 1873, he and his gang robbed the Jones store at Millerton, in Fresno County. On December 26, 1873, and his band sacked the town of Kingston in Fresno County, robbing all the businesses and making off with $2,500 in cash and jewelry.
Governor Booth was now authorized by the California state legislature to spend up to $15,000 to bring Vásquez to justice. Posses were formed in Santa Clara, Monterey, San Joaquin, Fresno, and Tulare Counties. In January 1874, Booth offered $3,000 for Vásquez's capture alive, and $2,000 if he was brought back dead. These rewards were increased in February to $8,000 and $6,000, respectively. Alameda County Sheriff Harry Morse was assigned specifically to track down Vásquez. Heading towards Bakersfield, Vásquez and his gang rode south to the rock promontory now known as "Robbers Roost" after him. From there, the gang could rob coaches from the Cerro Gordo Mines, silver mines near Owens Lake. However, pickings were poor.
The gang moved to Elizabeth Lake and Soledad Canyon, robbing a stage of $300, stealing six horses and a wagon near present day Acton, and robbing lone travelers. Vásquez was believed to be hiding out at Vasquez Rocks. For the next two months, he escaped attention. However, he then made an error that led to his capture. On April 15, 1874, he and his band held the prominent sheepman Alessandro Repetto for ransom. Pursuing posses from Los Angeles almost trapped the gang in the San Gabriel Mountains, but once again, Vasquez and his men escaped. Vásquez took up residence at the adobe home of "Greek George" Caralambo in the northwest corner of Rancho La Brea, located 200 yards south of the present-day Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Greek George was a former camel driver for General Beale in the Army Camel Corps. Allegedly, Vásquez seduced and impregnated his own niece. Either the girl's family or Greek George's wife's family betrayed Vásquez to Los Angeles Sheriff William R. Rowland. Rowland sent a posse to the ranch and captured Vásquez on May 14, 1874. Greek George's adobe was situated near the present day Melrose Place in West Hollywood.
Vásquez remained in the Los Angeles County jail for nine days. He had numerous requests for interviews by many newspaper reporters, but agreed to see only three: two from the San Francisco Chronicle and one from the Los Angeles Star. He told them his aim was to return California to Mexican rule. He insisted he was an honorable man and said he had never killed anyone. In late May, Vásquez was moved by steamship to San Francisco, California. He would eventually stand trial in San Jose. Vásquez quickly became a celebrity among many of his fellow Hispanic Californians. He admitted he was an outlaw, but again denied he had ever killed anyone. A note purportedly written by Clodoveo Chavez, one of his gang members, was dropped into a Wells Fargo box. Chavez wrote that he, not Vásquez, had shot the men at Tres Pinos. Nevertheless, at his trial Vasquez admitted participating in the Tres Pinos raid. Since all the participants in the robbery were equally guilty of any murder that took place during its commission, whether Vasquez actually pulled the trigger was legally irrelevant.
In January 1875 Vásquez was convicted and sentenced to hang for murder. His trial had taken four days and the jury deliberated for two hours before finally finding him guilty of one count of murder in the Tres Pinos robbery. Visitors still flocked to Vásquez's jail cell, many of them women. He signed autographs and posed for photographs. Vásquez sold the photos from the window of his cell and used the money to pay for his legal defense. After his conviction, he appealed for clemency. It was denied by Governor Romualdo Pacheco. Vásquez calmly met his fate in San Jose on March 17, 1875. He was 39 years old.
The loop starts from the entrance of the park. You can park close to the information trailer. First, you walk on the dirt road for less than half a mile past another parking lot between some impressive sandstone formations to the main parking. Kirk’s Rock is the prominent, jutting formation to your right. At the main parking walk further south past a gate towards a big meadow. There are several use and horse trails criss-crossing the meadow. Just cross the meadow to the south between bushes and you will intersect a trail near a small creek. Follow this trail and eventually you will intersect the Pacific Crest Trail. If you don’t find the first trail or are not sure whether you are on the right track, just walk south across the meadow and you eventually will get to the Pacific Crest Trail.
You can follow the PCT west along a small ridge. There is a small, but beautiful narrow canyon to the south. Across the canyon is a very nice, big rock formation with an inviting steep slope leading to the top. From the PCT you can hike down into the canyon and gain access to the slope. There are great views from the top of that formation. The Antelope Freeway is immediately to your south. You can retrace your steps to the Pacific Crest Trail or hike out the canyon on its bottom to the west. Eventually both trails will intersect.
Vasquez Rocks County Park
Back on the PCT the trail leads down from the ridge at a trail sign and shortly the equestrian trail veers off north. Stay on the foot trail and hike further west passing the little canyon mentioned before. The trail now climbs a short distance before making a sharp turn to the north. You will hike north well below a grassy ridge first and then pass beautiful rock formations. There are many use-trails in this area making it difficult to stay on the “official” trail. However, the navigation is fairly easy as your views are always unobstructed and you should be able to recognize many prominent rock formations. Eventually, the trail turns east towards the parking lot and you will see “Kirk’s Rock” very shortly. If you take the equestrian trail from "Kirk's Rock" back to the entrance you will pass an archeological site with several beautifully preserved pictographs. That is definitely worthwhile looking out for.
Vasquez Rocks County Park
Exit the Antelope Valley Freeway (14) at the sign for Vasquez Rocks County Park. Exit at Agua Dulce Canyon Road and drive north into the the little town of Agua Dulce. Turn right at Escondido Canyon Road and you will see the park entrance to your right.
There is no fee to enter the park. Collecting rocks is prohibited. If you want to climb some of the rocks you should wear good boots or climbing shoes. Bring enough water in the summer as it gets very hot.