17 classic Western movie sites you should visit.
- Written by TW Editors
- Published May 07, 2012
With Johnny Depp riding around New Mexico this summer for Disney’s Lone Ranger—in and around Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Shiprock and other locales—we thought it was high time for us to share some other popular locations where major Westerns have been filmed.
Cowboys & Aliens
Bonanza Creek Ranch, a working cattle ranch, lies southwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. “The bones of a town were there, and we built Absolution up around them,” explained producer Roberto Orci, talking about the circa 1875 landing place for the army of hostiles invading Cowboys & Aliens.
Sheriff Taggart has been here before, when Keith Carradine, who plays him, acted with stars Kirk Douglas and Johnny Cash in the 1970 Western A Gunfight. Hollywood first showed an interest in the ranch for 1955’s The Man from Laramie, starring Jimmy Stewart. Cowboys & Aliens viewers will recognize it from the movie’s opening scenes and from the alien attack on the town.
Another ranch near Santa Fe, San Cristobal Ranch, saw key scenes being filmed, particularly when it served as the backdrop for the high-speed chase between the horseback heroes played by Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, and the alien spaceships speeding above them.
The white sandstone cliffs and towering spires of Plaza Blanca is where Ford and Craig come across an 80-foot metal structure that temporarily houses the alien invaders. Other Westerns filmed here include The Missing, 3:10 to Yuma, City Slickers and Young Guns.
Other New Mexico backdrops for confrontations with the alien marauders included Abiquiu Lake, the circa 1550 Santa Clara Pueblo and the red sandstone cliffs along the Kitchen Mesa trail at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, the former home of Western artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
While in Santa Fe, be sure to visit the Tea House on Canyon Road. Olivia Wilde, who played the mysterious Ella, blogged how she visited “on days off to sample the extensive tea list, and soak up the sun in their garden.”
The actress also got her soy macchiato at Downtown Subscription, shipped home several boxes of books from Garcia Street Books and gathered for meals with the film crew at Pasqual’s.
True Grit (2010)
The Coen Brothers sure do like Texas.
They filmed Blood Simple in Austin in 1984, their debut feature that earned the brothers the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. They came home with an armful of Oscars for 2007’s No Country for Old Men, also shot in Texas. And for 2010’s True Grit, they returned to Austin and also shot scenes in other Texas locales: Blanco, Bartlett, Bastrop and Granger.
Some sites you’ll recognize include: Austin’s Texas Capitol and Austin Club on 9th Street for the Memphis scenes; the 1885 courthouse in Blanco; the Steiner Ranch, outside Bastrop, where Mattie visits Cogburn’s headstone; and the 1882 town of Granger itself, which the filmmakers felt most resembled Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1875. Walk on Granger’s red brick paved main street of Davilla, visit the Granger National Bank that housed the marshal’s office and an attorney’s office, and eat some chicken fried steak, like the famished crews did, at the Cotton Club restaurant and dance hall.
Filming also took place in New Mexico—Garson Stages in Santa Fe, Buena Vista Ranch in Mora, San Cristobal Ranch in Lamy, the Santa Clara Pueblo, the Pecos River at the Pecos Monastery and the Charles R. Ranch near Las Vegas.
Of course, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the national historic site of Fort Smith shares documented marshals’ stories, Judge Isaac C. Parker’s courtroom and the reconstructed gallows. Another fun place to visit is Rattlesnake Cave, near Davis, Oklahoma, which inspired True Grit’s climatic scene.
Paint Your Wagon
Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin) and Pardner (Clint Eastwood) go on a gold prospecting mission in a tent city boomtown. The twist to the story is that they both have the same wife, whom they had purchased from a Mormon—Elizabeth (Jean Seberg).
Strangely, Paramount insisted on shooting this 1969 film on location near Baker City, Oregon; director Joshua Logan would have been just fine filming on the Paramount backlot.
The gold rush shantytown of No Name City was built at East Eagle Creek, within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Jerry Gildemeister, the timber manager with the Forest Service, assisted Paramount in finding the location. Since scripting at the time called for flooding the town, he recommended East Eagle because the area periodically sustained heavy flood damage.
The set was torn down after filming, but the drive to the site is a beautiful one. Bask in the meadows, granite peaks and high alpine lakes of the Eagle Cap Wilderness that was once the summer home of Chief Joseph’s band of Nez Perces. Make your way down that winding dirt road to East Eagle trailhead, which will take you to the site.
Some exterior scenes were shot in California, specifically in Holcomb Valley, north of Big Bear Lake. This is located in the real gold rush country of San Bernardino National Forest; overland travelers from Salt Lake found gold here in 1849.
George B. Seitz may have been the first to film in Monument Valley, for his 1925 film The Vanishing American, but John Ford was the one who reintroduced the site along the Arizona/Utah border when he directed this 1939 film.
Star John Wayne was the only principal who trekked out to this striking land of flat-topped mesas within the Navajo Tribal Park. He would return to Monument Valley to star in Ford’s 1948 film Fort Apache and 1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.
Other sites worth visiting are the salt flats at Muroc Dry Lake, near Victorville, California (the Apache raid), Kern River near Kernville (river crossing scene) and the Beale’s Cut in Newhall. This wagon cut was deepened by Gen. Edward Fitzgerald Beale in 1863 and became a popular location for silent and Golden Age Westerns. In fact, Ford had Tom Mix jump over the pass for his 1923 film Three Jumps Ahead.
A bad guy makes good when Paul Newman’s Hud Bannon descended on the sleepy Panhandle town of Claude, Texas. Walking around Claude is just like walking in the Bannon family’s hometown.
Hud premiered at Claude’s Gem Theatre, which now also houses the Armstrong County Museum. This theatre also hosted the premiere for Charles Goodnight’s silent movie, Old Texas, which he filmed on his JA Ranch southeast of Amarillo. The oldest privately owned cattle ranch in Palo Duro Canyon, JA Ranch was founded by John George Adair and Charles Goodnight, with Goodnight herding the ranch’s cattle starting in 1878.
Larry McMurtry, whose first novel, Horseman, Pass By, inspired the film, found it fitting that Hud would be filmed so close to the JA Ranch. He also recalled in his essays on Texas, In a Narrow Grave: “Most of the filming was to be done around an old, abandoned ranch house a mile or so from Claude, but the pasture scenes would be filmed near the hamlet of Goodnight, in the rugged country bordering the Palo Duro Canyon.”
The cast and crew stayed at the Ramada Inn in Amarillo. While in town, stop for a burger at Hud’s on Amarillo... Registration is FREE and takes only a few seconds to complete. If you are already registered on TrueWestMagazine.com, please log in below. Get instant access to subscriber content on TrueWestMagazine.com! When it comes to keeping the lore of the West alive, nobody does it better. True West readers get the no-holds-barred, straight shootin' facts about the West from our staff of experts and historians. After subscribing, just come back here and register with us by clicking on the register link below.
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