The area around Mammoth Lakes is geologically active. Some rhyolite domes are less than 1000 years old. In the hot springs of what is now Hot Creek Geological Site, Henry Hathaway found a location in Inyo National Forest he used numerous times. With Steve McQueen for Nevada Smith, with Gregory Peck for Shoot Out. He took John Wayne there for three movies. Or was it the other way around? 'Cause Wayne had been there before.  

Coming up from US-395 turn right onto Hot Creek Hatchery Road and follow it to the car park. As you look down in the narrow valley you’ll enjoy Rooster Cogburn’s view on Lucky Ned Pepper’s hideout in True Grit – as seen in this French loby card. That exact same sight is also included in the title sequence of The Comancheros although the film didn’t include any Hot Creek scenes.

Up here, just beyond where the parking lot is today, is where Rooster sets up the ambush in True Grit...

...on top of the hill, looking down at Hot Creek

Rooster crosses the creek in 1969 to confront Dennis Hopper and Jeremy Slate in the dugout...

...same spot, 50 years later.

Sam McCord found gold in that same creek in North to Alaska in 1961. Just a little peace upstream from the True Grit location. 

The location of the cabin of the gold diggers. George built the Honeymoon cabin right across the creek. Hot Creek is an ancient volcanic region with boiling water, geysers and fumaroles. Funny enough there are warning signs about the harmful effects and visitors are advised not to get into the hot water. They didn’t think of security in the scene where Wayne dunks the hungover Fabian into the steaming water. 

Where Sam McCord's cabin stood, seen from the other side. 

A recent picture of the same location. The actual goldmine is seen just once in the movie (as Wayne surprises Fabian working in the creek). This spot is downstream, just behind the True Grit dugout.

However, John Wayne beat Henry Hathaway to his favorite western location by 15 years: John Wayne first rode this range in Flame of Barbary Coast in 1945 as he drives a herd of cattle towards Hot Creek...

...which was actually along Hot Creek Hatchery Road leading up to the geological side, with the Mammoth mountains in the background.

And if you follow the hot creek a bit longer upstream, the 2nd bend it bends, you'll find the exact spot where Wayne's cowboy jumped the train in Flame of Barbary Coast... 

...rolling down this hillside. There was no train, of course, just clever editing.

The sequence when Rooster carries Mattie to safety were also shot around the hot creek area. 

Shortly before getting into Mammoth Lakes, turn left on Convict Lake Road. Convict Lake is the scenic background of the first moments in How the West Was Won...

...as James Stewart trades furs for a canoe.

Mammoth Lakes lies west of State Route 395. The Mammoth Lakes Basin numbers six lakes and...

...the lake  John Wayne looks on in Flame of Barbary Coast, when the lovesick cowboy takes a break after driving the cattle, that's... 

TJ Lake. Wayne had been at Mammoth more than ten years before that: In The Trail Beyond, made in July 1934, the Eastern Sierras doubled for the Canadian Rockies. In one of the chase scenes, the dramatic peak of Crystal Crag appears in the background, and Wayne rescues a Mountie from going over Rainbow Falls in a canoe, the colorful waterfall on Red's Meadow.