The Other-worldly Trona Pinnacles

According to a brochure put out by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), “a visit to the Trona Pinnacles will be a journey into one of the most unusual geologic wonders in the California Desert.  This unique landscape consists of more than 500 tufa (calcium carbonate) pinnacles rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin.  These tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, were formed underwater 10,000 to 100,000 years ago when Searles Lake formed a link in an interconnected chain of Pleistocene lakes stretching from Mono Lake to Death Valley.”

I first visited the Pinnacles on a warm Saturday afternoon with some friends. We meandered through the other-worldly landscape, stopping often to take in the breathtaking scenes.

The second time I made the 30 minute drive from Ridgecrest to Trona, we took in an hour or so of desert mountain biking. 

Both times, I picked up some more insight into Fox’s big movie hit of the summer, a remake of Planet of the Apes.

That’s right.  Hollywood has chosen the area as a set for one of this summer’s blockbuster hits.

Having never seen the original movie with Charlton Heston, this isn’t a big deal to me.

Sure I checked out the set that was being built at the Pinnacles when I was hiking and biking. 

Basically, they crafted what looks to be a crashed space ship.  One of the set-builders told me that the space ship set took about two months to build, and that it will serve as the final scene of the movie which will consist of about seven minutes.

More interesting though, the space ship looked like it was made of heavy metal.  But, it was actually made of styrofoam that was sprayed with “rhino skin” to make it look like metal.  Up close you can see the tiny holes of the styrofoam.  From a distance, it looks like a monster of a space ship.

Who’s starring in it?  Let’s see…there’s Mark Wahlberg.  You know, Marky Mark–the 80s rap wannabe.
One of my students saw him last night at a restaurant.  Steve had this to say about Mr. Wahlberg: “He’s cool Mr. Murren.  He’s a real person.  Did you ever hear of him before he became famous…see, he’s just a guy too.”


I laughed at Steve’s revelation that Mark is just a guy too.  I also wondered if Steve’s assessment of his star-meeting was told to him by Mr. Wahlberg himself.

Who else?  Excuse me if I don’t have names.  I’m not much interested in Hollywood.  I rent movies…but I care little about who’s the star in the movie.

(Tangent run.)

Who else?  Well, there’s the woman who played in the Matrix.  And, there’s also the huge African/American man who played in The Green Mile.

The scoop?

The scoop is that Charlton Heston’s old character is back on Earth.  Only he’s lost and really isn’t too sure where he is.  In the original movie, he sees the Statue of Liberty and realizes he’s on Earth. In the new version, he comes across his crashed space ship and realizes that he’s on Earth.

So there you have it.  Fox’s multimillion dollar hit for the summer will be a remake of the original Planet of the Apes. 
As for the BLM, they manage the Trona Pinnacles.  The Pinnacles were declared a National Natural Landmark in 1968 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.  The set contains several huge, cement bases that were built into the protected desert floor.  Hundreds of people (extras) will tramp the site for up to three weeks. 

It’s a truly unique natural site in our world.


(written 4 February 2001)

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