The Shepherd of the Hills was his first film in the San Bernardino Mountains. During production from September 9 till November 14 1940. Wayne crashed his car one morning coming up in a hurry from Arrowhead where he had spent the night with Marlene Dietrich.
The Shepherd of the Hills, also his first Technicolor film, was shot near Big Bear Lake, at Moon Ridge, Cedar Lake and Bartlett Lake.
He made his comeback to San Bernardino 20 years later: In the luberjack scene of North to Alaska, the mill set that was built for Shepherd of the Hills on the Cedar Lake can be spotted in the background. The log structures were standing for decades unteil they were removed.
Point Mugu near Los Angeles doubled for Nome, Alaska, for the beach scenes of North to Alaska. A set was constructed on the far end of the beach...
...with the distinctive Mugu Rock visible in some scenes. Wayne had connections to the Naval Base at Point Mugu. He used that same stretch of Californian beach for the closing scene of The Green Berets, when he tells the orphan kid "You're what this is all about".
Trekkies call it "Kirk Rock" but Wayne fans recognize the striking formation as Vasquez Rock. Wayne passes it for the first time in 1935 in The Lawless Range and...
...returned to the natural area park of Vasquez Rock in Agua Dulce 10 years later for Daktoa.
Somewhere in Sonora was shot at Deadman Hill, in the southern portion of the Granite Mountain, at the eastern edge of Apple Valley. Highway 18 runs along the southern edge of the hills. They used the then unpaved highway, heading west. When in Apple Valley, Wayne stayed at the Apple Valley Inn. When Roy Rogers and Dale Evans became residents of Apple Valley, they leased the inn and restaurant and renamed it Roy Rogers Apple Valley Inn.
The chase in Stagecoach was shot in three days on the dry lakebed, east of Victorville. John Ford had used the Lucerne Dry Lake before for the landrush scene in his silent western Three Bad Men. Highway 247 travels through it. Ford filmed the chase on both sides of the road. Yakima Canutts stunts...
...were accomplished on the left side of the road, to the South...
...while the cavalry coming to the rescue was filmed on the right side of the road (looking north), with the San Bernardino Mountains in the background. Ford, Wayne, and Canutt stayed at the Green Spot Motel in Victorville.
In Stagecoach, to make the transition between Monument Valley and the flats at Victorville, Ford came back to another location he had used before: Beale's Cut in Newhall. In 1938, the Sierra Highway was the main roadway from Los Angeles to Newhall.
The cut in the mountain suffered a partial collapse during the 1994 earthquake. Sierra Highway is now closed.
John Wayne had been to Kernville no less than ten times for B-Westerns between 1933 and 1935. He returned for the scene in Stagecoach, where the coach crosses the river. Yakima Canutt had done countless stunts at the lagoon area, south of the current dam.
The largest artifact of the Kern Valley Museum in Kernville is the "mud wagon" Cannut used to make the river crossing scene work. It is slightly different from the Concord type of stagecoach. Cannut had dressed this wagon to make it look like the stagecoach.
The Kern River was a favorite location for stunt scenes involving jumping horses into the water. One year after the river crossing in Stagecoach, Canutt was back doubling Wayne in Dark Command: he drove a team of horses over the cliff and into the river.
Old Kernville was covered by the Isabella Lake in 1953. Several of the original buildings used in westerns up to that point were moved to the present location of Kernville. Wayne's biggest movie in Kernville had been In Old California. „It was a beautiful little western town close to the Kern River,” he remembered years later, „so it had pleasant vegetation and trees in its square. It is now at the bottom of a man-made lake to keep it from interfering with progress. “
John Wayne made two films in Red Rock Canyon: The Lawless Frontier in 1934, followed five years later by Pals of the Saddle (shown here with his fellow Mesquiteers, Max Terhune and Ray Corrigan). CA-14 cuts directly across Red Rock Canyon State Park where...
...countless westerns were shot. The terrain John Wayne location hunters are looking for is on the left side, coming up from Los Angeles. From the car park, a hiking trail leads to Hagen Canyon, prominently used in the showdown of Gary Cooper's Man of the West.
Coming up on US-395, that's Convict Lake on your left. It was the scenic background for the first moments in How the West Was Won, as James Stewart arrives in the Indian camp ...
...and then paddles off in a canoe from right here.
Coming up on the north coast of San Francisco Bay, you will find China Camp, on the shore of San Pablo Bay, now a state park. In 1955, the Chinese American shrimp-fishing village became...
(photo courtesy Friends of China Camp)
...the Red China town that Wayne must evacuate in Blood Alley. The art department fabricated the shell of a castle on the hillside above China Camp (seen in this still with Lauren Bacall). Rat Rock, the disctinctive reef, where the villagers lay a trap for the patrol boat, is still visible just off the camp.
The B-movies in the 30's were usually shot within close range of the Poverty Row Studios. However, his string of Universal pictures had a bigger budget than the other quickies, that's how the lumberjack drama Conflict in 1936 could afford location shooting in Tuolumne County near Sacramento.
Donner Lake, the location for Island in the Sky, in production between February 2 to April 1953, was his highest up north in California. The valley, six miles from Truckee in the Sierra Nevadas, served as an airplane runway during the summer. When Wayne’s company acquired the movie rights, they had made tentative plans to shoot on location in Canada. Wayne also considered filming in the San Bernardino Mountains, a place he knew well. Lack of snow that year forced them to move to Northern California.
John Wayne was at Sutter’s Mill, in Coloma, California, to do a commercial for Great Western Bank, on October 28, 1977. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park marks the location of the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848.
The happy ending of The Big Trail was shot in California's Sequoia National Park, home of giant sequoias. The actual location was south of Kings Canyon. Director Raoul Walsh chose the Big Tree Grove because it seemed to him that nature hat there provided the movie with a cathedral of all ages.
At the end of his career, 53 years after The Big Trail, John Wayne returned to the Sequoia National Park. He picked the location for one of the Great Western Savings commercials himself. When he looked up to the largest trees in the world, he said in awe it's "like being in a giant cathedral."
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All pictures posted on this website are from the collection of the author, unless otherwise noted