Iconic locations of the American West in movies and commercials
It occurred to me that several of the places I’ve visited and photographed over the years have been featured on film. I thought it would be fun to do a little research and learn something about that. This is a little of what I dug up, (mostly in Utah), and is by no means a comprehensive list.
I’ll start with the oldest on record.
Lower Falls, Yellowstone
Thomas Moran painted it in 1872, Albert Bierstadt in 1881. Their work brought awareness of the need to protect public lands and supported the push for the first National Park in the US. Since then, countless gazillions of paintings and photographs have been made of the Lower Falls in Yellowstone National Park. In 1899, a short film, (very short, only 26 seconds) was made of the water going over the falls. It is thought to be part of the Northern Pacific Railway Series copyrighted by Thomas Edison, January 4, 1899. Another silent film, about 5 minutes long, was made by William Horsley, photographed by Henry G. Peabody, in the 1920’s. Both were intended as tourism documentaries. Too bad the place never caught on.
John Ford Point
This location was featured in film director John Ford’s Stagecoach in 1939 starring John Wayne, She wore a Yellow Ribbon, in 1949, and in The Searchers, also starring John Wayne, in 1956. Easy Rider took advantage of this iconic view in 1969, and more recently, The Lone Ranger in 2013. Located on the Navajo Nation of Arizona and Utah, it is one of the most photographed locations in Monument Valley. Second only perhaps to the Mittens.
The Three Gossips
This 350 foot tall formation in the Courthouse area of Arches National Park, Utah, was named for its resemblance to three 'Nefertiti' looking people presumably ‘gossiping’. A scene in Thelma and Louise, 1991, was filmed here. So were parts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989, and Hulk in 2003. The image was made during a beautiful sunrise.
Mesa Arch is arguably the most photographed location in Canyonlands National Park. I’ve heard stories of photographers 100 deep vying for the best spot when the sun comes up and lights the bottom of the arch with a vivid orange glow. I was lucky this day in October. There were two other people there. And they weren’t carrying cameras. Mesa Arch has not been featured in any movies that I know of, but it was offered as one of the standard desktop backgrounds in Windows 7. So it qualifies IMHO.
It’s not unusual to see a great number of photographers forming a line along the wall of the visitor center in the early morning hours to await what everyone hopes will be a stunning sunrise. West and East Mitten Buttes form a triangle with Merrick Butte in Monument Valley on the Navajo Nation. A scene in John Ford’s Stagecoach starring John Wayne was filmed here in 1939, and was used as the backdrop for the Marlboro Man marketing materials in the 1950’s. 2001: A Space Odyssey, was also filmed here.
Dead Horse Point
The story surrounding the name is a sad one. Dead Horse Point was used as a corral for wild mustangs. Someone left a herd of horses and didn’t return to move them. The horses died of thirst within sight of the river below. The final (airborne) scene of Thelma and Louise was filmed here in 1991, and was also featured in The Lone Ranger, 2013. This is very popular film location. A boatload of movies have been made here.
Hwy 163, Mexican Hat
This scene driving into Monument Valley from Mexican Hat is where Forest Gump, filmed in 1994, ended his cross country adventure on Hwy 163. It’s also where tourists stand on the center line to take pictures of the highway leading to the monuments. This image was not made from the middle of the road. Do be careful driving this stretch. Oddly, some of them don't see the need to get out of the way of vehicles traveling at 60+ MPH.
The Totem Pole
In the 1975 film, The Eiger Sanction, Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy were featured climbing, and then resting, at the top of the Totem Pole in Monument Valley. Xerox plunked a secretary and her desk on top of the spire for a commercial, and our Navajo guide told us a car was once hoisted to the top for a commercial, as well.
Grand Teton National Park – Mormon Row
Because the film set in California didn’t provide the necessary snow for the scene, the cast and crew of Tarantino’s Django Unchained, filmed in 2012, were packed off to the frozen confines of Grand Tetons National Park. No trouble finding snow there in February. The Grand Tetons doubled for Russia in the 1985 Stallone film, Rocky lV, and Rocky is seen jogging past the historical old structures on Mormon Row. Anyone know how the Grand Tetons were named? Never mind. Google it.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
To the best of my knowledge, no movies were ever filmed here. But in 1960 or thereabouts, before the area was protected from this kind of shenanigans, a Chevrolet Corvair commercial featured three of their cars kicking up the sand in a really big way. One wonders how many times they got stuck…
See it here: Corvair commercial
Bryce Canyon National Park
The Deadwood Coach, starring Tom Nix in 1924, was the first movie to be filmed in Utah. They had to build stairs down the sides of the canyon to get in there to photograph it. It was also the scene for Sergent’s 3, starring Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in 1962, and Bonneville, with Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates in 2006.
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