The 745-acre park is located in Agua Dulce Canyon, one hour northeast of Los Angeles. Its elevation is 2,500 feet above sea level. Numerous movies, serials and television series were filmed at Vasquez Rocks. Its film history dates back to 1931, when Allied Pictures did some outdoor shots for "The Hard Hombre". In early 1935, Universal did some location filming for "The Werewolf of London".
The Mexican bandit Tiburcio Vasquez took refuge in this land after raiding and looting the local ranches.
The 1,500-acre Vasquez Rocks property was purchased by Ralph and Toni Helfer in the spring of 1955. The average summer day would get up to 115 degrees in the shade. They preferred to called it Nature's Haven where the animals were trained and lived with them. Ralph was among the highest proficient animal trainers that worked in Hollywood back then.
Several years later in 1962, the county was cutting the Antelope Valley Freeway across the south rim of their land. This resulted in the property being split in half. The Helfers objected to this and went looking for a new place to live. They found a pristine location at the summit of nearby Soledad Canyon. They bought 600-acres of land to build their new ranch and decided to name it Africa USA.
It rested at 1,400 feet in elevation in the torrid canyon that was scorched by the sun every summer. The lovely ranch was dotted with cottonwood trees and live oaks that formed a sunscreen on the land. There was a stream that sparkled through the lush acreage, whose tributary filled each of the two large lakes then weaved its way to the sea. To the back of the ranch were the Southern Pacific railroad tracks.
Filmed television series such as "Cowboy in Africa", "Daktari" and "Gentle Ben" were filmed at the ranch. There were around a dozen or more motion pictures, all held together by superior animal work. The 60's television series "Star Trek" was filmed at the ranch. In late October of 1966, producer Gene Roddenberry and company arrived at Africa USA to film segments of "Shore Leave". The other shots in the episode were filmed at Helfer's former Vasquez Rocks property. Two weeks later, the production returned to film segments of "Arena" at Vasquez Rocks in mid-November of 1966. "The Alternative Factor" was filmed immediately afterward in late November of 1966. The last "Star Trek" episode filmed there was "Friday's Child" in May of 1967.
Selected episodes of "Bonanza" were filmed at Vasquez Rocks over the 60's and 70's that include "Between Heaven and Earth", "Alias Joe Cartwright", "Ride the Wind","The Last Mission", "The Thirteenth Man", "Sound of Drums", "Erin", "Old Friends", "The Wagon" and "Shadow of a Hero".
Screen Gems Productions built a fort for their TV series, "Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers" ( 1956-57 ). It cost $117,843. 17 to build for the television series. The fort would be redressed for other television productions such as "Bonanza", "Star Trek" and "F-Troop" in the 1960's. The fort was demolished when the county purchased the land for a park. The parking lot occupies the area where the fort once stood at.
Many television series were filmed at Vasquez Rocks which include "Have Gun, Will Travel", "The Adventures of Champion", "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin", "The Big Valley", "Broken Arrow", "Buffalo Bill Jr.", "The Cisco Kid", "The High Chaparral", "Johnny Ringo", "Kung Fu", "Maverick", "Paradise", "The Range Rider" and "The Wild, Wild West".
In January of 1969, Africa USA would take a turn for the worse. A powerful storm materialized over Soledad Canyon and dropped large amounts of rainfall in the region. This resulted in severe flooding and mudslides in the canyons. The phone rang at the Helfer residence at 6:00 A.M. They were being notified of the storm and drove out to the ranch in a fruitless attempt to save the animals.
They were driving up Soledad Canyon Road and it was being washed out from the heavy rains. By the time they got in the ranch, most of their animals had been killed by the torrential flooding. The so-called 100-year flood devastated Soledad Canyon. Two years before, the Helfers had a flood channel installed for $75,000 that was said to protect the ranch from any flooding. It was approved by the county. Ironically, it couldn't stop the flooding of the property.
The Helfers relocated in San Fernando to start their life over again and continued to raise animals for TV and film productions. For the next 18 years, the flood-ravaged property would be uninhabited. In 1987, things were changing for the better. Movie actress Tippi Hedren decided to buy the 600-acre property. She knew the Helfers in previous years and wanted to live there and raise animals of her own.
The restoration of the property began in the summertime. When the landscaping was completed, she appropriately named it Shambala Reserve. Some years later, she opened the ranch to allow public tours, so the people could walk the grounds and see her animals.
From Los Angeles, take the I-5 northbound to the Antelope Valley Freeway, the 14 east. You will drive about 25 minutes and will see the Vasquez Rocks off to the left-hand side of the freeway. Exit right at Agua Dulce Canyon Road and turn left, and you will drive under the freeway and across the Sierra Pacific Railroad and wind uphill until you reach Escondido Canyon Road. Make a right turn and you will see the park off to your right and will be right in front of it, as you enter from Escondido Canyon Road. There are no park fees!
One of Ralph and Toni Helfer's later projects was Marine World/Africa U.S.A. in Redwood Shores, California
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