In the spring of 1874, a notorious bandido who would hide among the spectacular jutting rocks halfway between Newhall and the Mojave Desert got his comeuppance.
Fast-forward nearly 140 years, and the rocks now bear the outlaw’s name and are being transformed into a place for learning.
In his “state of the county” address May 2 in Valencia, Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich announced that a $7 million museum and interpretive center now under construction at Vasquez Rocks County Park should be completed in August.
The new Interpretive Center, designed by Gruen Associates, will include a multipurpose exhibit room and will accommodate educational and recreational activities. It will also be a LEED platinum-certified building, the highest level of “green” construction as defined by the U.S. Green Building Council.
“The 1,500-square-foot Interpretive Center will feature the park’s Native American history, geology, animals, flora and fauna, filming history and homesteading period, as well as an area displaying local artifacts from the Tataviam (Indians, the SCV’s native tribe),” said Kaye Michelson, special assistant with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess
Members of the local Fernandeno-Tataviam tribe will perform a blessing when the facility is dedicated this summer, an official said.
Michelson said the building will also house six terrariums with reptiles native to the area, and visitors will have the chance to join several interpretive programs, as well.
The county’s Arts Commission will have “an exciting, very special public art component at the park,” Michelson said.
“Because the new building itself will be ‘green,’ the Los Angeles County Arts Commission has selected an artist who is committed to integrating green technology into the artwork. This can be accomplished through content which expresses principles of sustainability as well as the direct use of sustainable materials in the artwork,” according to the Arts Commission’s website.
Didier Hess is the collaborative name of artists Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess who “strive to enliven and connect a community to the web of relationships that sustains it by making that pulse visible,” as described on the Arts Commission website. This “visible pulse” will take the shape of a rammed earth sculpture (compressed mixture of earth, gravel and some form of stabilizer) with embedded objects donated by the community, which will also serve as a time capsule. The sculpture will be completed during the Interpretive Center’s first arts workshop June 16 and 17.
The new center’s other connection to the community is the revitalization of the Nature Center Associates chapter at Vasquez Rocks. These dedicated volunteers have been advocating for the construction of a museum at the park for decades.
“A new graduating class of docents is ready to take on the important role of conducting public educational programs on cultural and natural history to the community and school groups,” Michelson said.
Preserving the Past
The visitor-interpretive center was actually proposed back in the 1970s when some of the park’s first significant archaeological finds were recorded: Native American pictographs on the rock surfaces, and remnants of human habitation, both on the surface and buried beneath.
Renowned Southern California archaeologist Chester King found some of the park’s most significant Tataviam artifacts in the early 1970s and inventoried the park’s historical sites in 1973. But without some form of preventive measure put in place, “it’s like leaving open the doors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History,” King said at the time. “Nothing would be left.”
And it was almost so. While the rocks themselves remain a steady feature along the 14 Freeway, their historical significance is not quite written in stone. Not only are the Tataviam pictographs fading, but they have also been looted and vandalized over the years. The area’s artifacts had no real preservation plan, either.
It seems the Interpretive Center is coming just in time.
Time Marches On
Vasquez Rocks are a true testimony to the continuance of time.
In “earth” time – their geological age – these southward-looking hogback ridges date to about 25 million years ago. “Prehistorical” time started ticking approximately 13,000 years ago when the first humans settled among the rocks, although the only well-known inhabitants, the Tataviam, did not arrive until 1,500 to 2,000 years ago.
Then there’s the “historical” time, filled with bandits, lawmen, pioneers, war heroes – the folks who made the area famous or infamous, depending on your view – people whose legacy is still very much alive in the Santa Clarita Valley today.
And then there is the “modern” time: the here and now and the future to behold.
Part of that future is the new Interpretive Center that will tie all of these distant times together.
“We look forward to our continued efforts to preserve, educate and share with visitors the history of Vasquez Rocks and the people who settled there,” Michelson said.
Architect’s rendering of the completed center.
Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess | Photo by Linda Chiavaroli
19th-century outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez, the rocks’ namesake.
Vasquez Interpretive Center as seen under construction in May.
Construction is underway this year on the Interpretive Center.
Architect’s rendering of the completed Interpretive Center at Vasquez Rocks.
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