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How to See 5 Landscapes of Iconic Western Movies

Arizona, California, Utah, Wyoming

How to See 5 Landscapes of Iconic Western Movies

By: Eli Ellison

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  • States:
    Arizona
    California
    Utah
    Wyoming

You don't have to travel far in the Western United States before a rocky desert or forested mountain evokes fond recollections of a classic film such as "Shane" or "Stagecoach."

Exploring this great outdoor theater, you may wonder where some of the best Western movies of all time were filmed. Saddle up for five locations where big-screen cowboys rode.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona-Utah

Straddling the states of Arizona and Utah, is the sun-washed landscape of monolithic buttes, mesas and spires that make up Monument Valley. Hollywood icon John Wayne called the quintessential Western backdrop "where God put the West."

Movies: Director John Ford's first trip to Monument Valley was love at first sight and he'd make it his go-to location for 10 Westerns, half of them starring Wayne. Stagecoach (1939) took audiences on a perilous ride through the valley in stark black-and-white. Later, The Searchers (1956) captured the red sandstone formations and crisp blue, cloud-feathered skies in gorgeous Technicolor.

How to See It: The park is just off U.S. Highway 163, about 36 kilometers north of Kayenta, Arizona. A 27-kilometer dirt road winds through the valley, where you’ll find sweeping views from John Ford's Point.

Hang Your Cowboy Hat: Dating to 1923, Goulding's Lodge has movie history in its bones.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona-Utah

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona-Utah
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Moab, Utah

Hollywood directors have been staging cowboy gunfights around the southeastern Utah town of Moab since the 1940s. It's easy to see why. Nearby are the red-rock desert wonderlands of Arches and Canyonlands National Parksas well as filmmaker favorite Professor Valley.

Movies: Among the more than 100 movies, TV shows and commercials shot in the area, Ford made two notable features here: Rio Grande (1950) with Wayne, and Cheyenne Autumn (1964) starring Richard Widmark. Famous non-Westerns include Thelma & Louise (1991) and 127 Hours (2010).

How to See It: Professor Valley lies about 40 kilometers northeast of Moab along State Route 128. In Professor Valley, hike the moderate 7-kilometer trail around the photogenic Fisher Towers rock formations.

Hang Your Cowboy Hat: Wayne bunked at the circa-1955 Apache Motel, one of many lodgings in Moab.

Moab, Utah

Moab, Utah
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Lindsay Buckley

Lone Pine (Alabama Hills), California

When a Western calls for rugged desert scenery framed by snow-capped peaks, film crews often head for the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range, about a three-hour drive from Los AngelesCalifornia. Near the town of Lone Pine, silver-screen cowboys — from Gene Autry to Clint Eastwood — have ridden horses and fired pistols among the jumbled rocks.

Movies: Among the area's numerous credits, standouts include How the West Was Won (1962), the Steve McQueen revenge tale Nevada Smith (1966), and Clint Eastwood's Joe Kidd (1972).

How to See It: The easy Mobius Arch Loop Trail takes about 20 minutes to walk and winds through the Alabama Hills rock formations. From Lone Pine drive west on Whitney Portal Road for 4 kilometers, then turn right on Movie Road and go 2.4 kilometers, then turn right at the Y in the road and walk to the trailhead. In Lone Pine, check out the Museum of Western Film History, which offers a handy brochure with a self-guided tour of Movie Road.

Hang Your Cowboy Hat: Dow Villa Motel and Historic Dow Hotel has a rich Hollywood history and guest rooms named after famous Western actors.

Lone Pine (Alabama Hills), California

Lone Pine (Alabama Hills), California
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Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The craggy, soaring peaks of the Teton Range lend an eye-dazzling backdrop to moviemakers who film in and around the valley of Jackson Hole, located in northwestern Wyoming.

Movies: The classic Shane (1953) showcased the landscape in all its panoramic glory. Recently, Jackson Hole played a background role in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (2012).

How to See It: Scenes for Shane were shot a few kilometers northeast of Kelly, Wyoming, along Gros Ventre Road (within Grand Teton National Park); here aredetailed directions to the pioneer cabin featured in Shane. Django Unchained filmed in the National Elk Refuge, off U.S. Highway 191 between the towns of Kelly and Jackson.

Hang Your Cowboy Hat: The town of Jackson offers many lodging choices, from budget motels to luxury inns.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole, Wyoming
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Jared Lloyd

Kanab, Utah

More than 100 movies and many TV shows have played out against the red-rock bluffs and canyons surrounding this southwestern Utah town, earning it the nickname "Little Hollywood."

Movies: Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) with Henry Fonda, The Lone Ranger(1956), Sergeants 3 (1962) starring Frank Sinatra, and the Clint Eastwood classic The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).

How to See It: In Kanab, the Little Hollywood Land museum has displays on movie history. A must-see location featured in several films is the old Paria Movie Set site, an area of colorfully banded cliffs and badlands. From Kanab, drive east on U.S. Highway 89 for 56.3 kilometers to the signed turn off, then north for 8 kilometers on a gravel road.

Hang Your Cowboy Hat: Some rooms at the historic Parry Lodge have nameplates that identify famous movie cowboys and cowgirls who stayed there. From mid-April through mid-October, the motel's Old Barn Theater screens Westerns made in Kanab.

Kanab, Utah

Kanab, Utah
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