Outlook for IWV 2021 Tourism, Filming & Real Estate

Outlook for IWV 2021 Tourism, Filming & Real EstateThis is the last segment covering the 2021 Outlook Conference, as delivered in the keynote address by Mark Schniepp.



Tourism represents a significant component of the Indian Wells Valley economy. Visitors account for a substantial amount of total spending at local shops, restaurants, recreational sites, and gasoline stations, all of which add revenue to the city’s general fund and support a significant number of local jobs.

The three principal forms of tourism are recreational travelers, business visitors who work at China Lake, and business visitors who work on movies, television, music videos, or still shoots.


Red Rock Canyon State Park

Red Rock Canyon State Park is located just 35 miles from Ridgecrest, in the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

The Park is known for its nighttime stargazing and planet watching, as well as hiking trails that transgress a multi-hued array of folded sandstone buttes. Also, there is the rare Red Rock poppy.

In recent years, approximately 30 to 35 thousand visitors have traveled to the park each year for day or overnight use, although attendance was lower in 2020 due to closures and travel restrictions.


Death Valley National Park

Ridgecrest is generally considered the last stop before traveling the 113 miles on CA 178 and CA 190 to Death Valley National Park.

Traveling northbound on 395, visitors taking 395 Business Route into Ridgecrest have a shorter and slightly faster route to the Park then remaining on Highway 395 until Olancha.

Consequently, many overnight stays for Death Valley destination travel occur in Ridgecrest.

In 2018 and 2019, total recreational visitation to the park soared above 1.6 million, far surpassing any previous year. In 2020, travel to the Park fell by more than 50 percent, largely due to very low number of visitors in the early months of the Pandemic. For the entire calendar year, only 820,000 visits were recorded.


The Trona Pinnacles

The Trona Pinnacles, 28 miles east of the City, is another attraction for visitors in the Ridgecrest Area that may also journey to Death Valley or Joshua Tree.

Visitor statistics are unknown because parking and hiking at the Trona Pinnacles is free.

The site is also a popular location for films and commercials. Hundreds of movies including Star Trek V, Lost in Space, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, and Fast & Furious 7 filmed at the Pinnacles (see the section below on Film Activity).


Film Activity

Many major films and TV shows have been firmed at the Trona Pinnacles. The Pinnacles are largely used for space scene shots, including Chrysalis (2016), Alien Hunter (2016), Farther (2009), and the Lost in Space television series (1965-1968). The Ridgecrest

Film Commission reports the following other major movies and TV shows:

• Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

• “War for Planet of the Apes”

• Bad Drones (Independent Film)

• Ghost in the Gun (Short Film)

• Zero Motorcycle Road (Short Film)

• 9 Minutes (Short Film)

• Solus Sizzle (Digital Short Film)

• Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

• Bulletproof (Damon Williams/Adam Sandler)

• Land of the Lost (Will Farrell)

• Westworld” (2016-2018 episodes)

• “Top Gear” Reality TV Show

• Avengers: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

• “Chernobyl USA” Russian TV Show

• Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

• Airwolf

• Alien Runner

Red Rock Canyon State Park has a long (100 year) history of filming for TV and movies. Parts of old vintage shows such as Bonanza and Lost in Space were shot there. And hundreds of movies, mostly westerns, had locational shoots in the Canyon, largely in the 1970s, but going back to the 1930s.

Death Valley’s landscape was used often by the 1952-1970 television series “Death Valley Days.” The Twilight Zone utilized the Valley for several episodes.

Hundreds of other movies and shows including Greed (1924), Tarzan (1951), Spartacus (1960), Return of the Jedi (1983), and Ride with Norman Redus (2016) had scenes filmed in Death Valley.

Filming activity declined in 2020 in tandem with other parts of the economy, but started re-emerging in the second half of the year.

There were 15 film permits issued in 2020, and 241 over the last 7 years. Fees paid by production companies on location have been substantial, totaling in excess of $18 million since 2014.

While too early to know, film activity appears to be strengthening with the advent of the new calendar year. Already, permits for 12 projects have been issued or are presumed to be issued in January and February 2021.

Having crews in the area for movies, television, music videos, documentaries, or still shoots increases overnight visitor stays in Ridgecrest and retail expenditures on food, supplies, equipment, and other goods. Consequently, filming provides a meaningful economic boost to the region.


Residential Real Estate

In the Ridgecrest Area, the median home price increased by 6.6 percent in 2020, rising to $211,400.

At the same time, mortgage rates fell to the lowest levels ever recorded, making homes more affordable and luring buyers into the market.

Even though home prices increased during the year, interest rates fell even more rapidly, causing the typical monthly mortgage payment to decline from $745 in 2019 to $719 in 2020.

Lower mortgage payments made Ridgecrest homes more affordable, leading to a huge increase in home sales. In 2020, more than 650 homes were sold in the area, the highest total in more than a decade.

Homes in Ridgecrest are more expensive than homes in neighboring areas. Compared to a median price of $211,400 in Ridgecrest, a typical home in Mojave or California City costs less.

But homes in Ridgecrest are also more affordable because residents of Ridgecrest have higher incomes. In Ridgecrest, the price to income ratio is just 2.7, placing Ridgecrest among the most affordable housing markets in California.


Commercial and Industrial Development

In 2020, almost $8 million was invested into building and renovating commercial and industrial structures.

The most prominent project was a Holiday Inn Express. Construction began in April 2020 for the hotel that will be located at 1010 North China Lake Boulevard, near the existing Marriot SpringHill Suites.

The new Holiday Inn Express project consists of a 4-story structure with 93 rooms. As of mid-February 2021, the hotel was not yet open for business.

Pictured: The Pinnacles near Trona has been the scene of the filming of many box office hit movies. — Photo illustration by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2021-04-09