Dozens of blockbuster films and TV shows have been filmed at the Trona Pinnacles, a geological wonderland in the Mojave Desert about 30 miles east of Ridgecrest, California, and about 160 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The otherworldly landscape has made its way into our collective consciousness by appearing in Star Trek movies and TV episodes, Battlestar Galactica, Lost in Space, Planet of the Apes and countless other movies and series. The music video for Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love” was filmed here in 2020.
The Pinnacles and its namesake town, Trona, along with nearby Ridgecrest, were rocked by devastating earthquakes in 2019. A series of strong temblors struck the Eastern California Shear Zone over a two-day period, with the largest being a magnitude 7.1 centered almost directly under the Pinnacles.
The Pinnacles of Trona were created over the course of three different Ice Ages. The oldest group, called the Southern Group, is more than 100,000 years old. The youngest group, the Northern Group, is 10,000 to 25,000 years old. The Middle Group, in the heart of the Bureau of Land Management-protected land, was formed between 25,000 and 32,000 years ago. Signs of human life in the area date back nearly 10,000 years, and camel and wooly mammoth bones have been uncovered in nearby Searles Dry Lake.
Pierson visited the region as part of a weeklong West Coast road trip. “This is my favorite place in California because it’s so unique. It’s otherworldly, As you’re driving there, it just looks like very basic Southern California—mountains all around you, brown desert—and then out of nowhere you get these crazy rock formations. They look and feel like coral. These amazing formations are completely unique. It looks like Mars, like a different planet.”