The question of the „discovery“ of Monument Valley as a movie location will probably never be settled. Harry Goulding told the story of how he suggested it to John Ford. However, the columbus of western film, claimed the discovery for himself. And John Wayne kept his mouth shut about that he told his mentor about the place. Duke Morrison was serving as a wrangler, stunt double and bit player, back in 1929, as he was “proppin‘” for a George O’Brien western, out in Arizona when he stumbled upon it.
West Mitten Butte to the left, the East Mitten in the middle and Merrick Butte to the right make up the formation probably the most famous. In Stagecoach, Ford uses this natural composition twice, once as the voyage begins and then when the Indians finally appear on the crest which is now the location of the Tourist office. When Ford decided on Monument Valley, he set up headquarters at the Wetherill’s inn and trading post in Kayenta. Fourteen people stayed at the inn, twenty-two bunked in a Civilian Conversation camp’s barracks and twenty-six camped at Goulding’s below the Trading Post. Goulding's then wasn't equipped to house large crews.
Nowadays, the original Trading Post at Goulding's Lodge is a museum, at 1000 Gouldings Trading Post Rd. In the early years, Harry Goulding and his wife „Mike“ would try to accommodate Ford and his primary stars in their own home. In 1953, they tore down their two rock cabins and built a row of motel rooms up on the bench next to the post. Once the one-story lodge rooms were completed, Ford would always want to be in the far west room, with John Wayne in the next room. After The Searchers, in 1956, they doubled the number of rooms. Ford continued to use Goulding’s as a headquarters and always stayed in the last room along the motel row.
The same spot outside the Trading Post, shown above, was the location for the flag rising in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.
The upstairs of the Trading Post has been brought back to a close facsimile of how it appeared during the years when the Gouldings called it their home and houseguest John Ford stayed with them.
The mess-room was added on as a makeshift dining facility for the crew that shot 2nd unit footage for the motion picture The Harvey Girls in 1946 and was turned into a museum with movie memorabilia (shown in this photo is Joanne Dru's costume from She Wore a Yellow Ribbon). Today’s main dining room is standing in the same place as the old dining room building which was also the post’s general store and bar.
Ford utilized Goulding's for the first time in Fort Apache as a stagecoach relay station. He shot large portions of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon right outside the Trading Post. Yellow Ribbon was in production for thirty-one days, October 28 to November 27, 1948. Back in those days, the crew would travel to Flagstaff by train. After that, it would take another full day to get into Monument Valley by car.
Originally used by Mike Goulding as a potato cellar for storing fruits and vegetables, it became „Captain Nathan Brittles’ Cabin“, maintained just as they left it. The large stone on top of it is a prop from Cheyenne Autumn – a fake rock (used in the burial scene).
The look from Brittles' cabin on the back of the Trading Post. For Yellow Ribbon, Ford added a blacksmith shop on the backside.
While Ford utilized the buildings at the Trading Post as the cavalry headquarters, a false fort front was built miles away, at the base of the Mitten Buttes (seen in this French lobby, as Brittles leads the troop out of the fort). The film would cut back and forth from Goulding’s to this palisade.
From Goulding’s, you’ll reach the junction to Oljato Road. That‘s about where Brittles led the troops under thunder and lighting in Yellow Ribbon. The famous storm scene was shot on Rock Door Mesa.
As you turn onto Red Door Canyon Road, there’s a small pocket canyon to your left. This is where John Wayne rode into Cochise’s camp in Fort Apache, now the site of one of Goulding’s lodges (it was also the site of a little gunplay between Henry Fonda and Victor Mature in My Darling Clementine). The photo used for this German movie program shows a moment from the scene not in the film.
Just as you come up Red Door Canyon, you will recognize the place where Henry Fonda’s troop got massacred (this publicity includes Wayne in the middle of the doomed group). The very same spot was also...
... the location of the Indian Camp in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon: Nathan Brittles has a Pow Wow with chief Pony That Walks before the cavalry drives the pony herd away.
The road brings you up through Red Door Canyon to the Square Rock area. Henry Fonda insults Cochise on the plain south of Square Rock. Wayne rides to the rescue of John Agar’s troop in Ford Apache on the same flat stretch of sand where Ben Johnson stops the leaderless coach at the beginning of Yellow Ribbon. As Ward Bond „gets himself surrounded“ in The Searchers, they’re again on the Square Rock location.
When J0hn Wayne got his very first shot at producing his own movie, he used Monument Valley. Even though it wasn't the principal location of Angel and the Badman (1947), he sent a 2nd unit, headed by Yakima Canutt, to shoot a chase there which became the title sequence. This particual shot that appeared behind Wayne' producer credit was accomplished at a beautiful spot called the North Window, which was also the place...
...where Ethan finds the butchered cows. North Window is formed by Elephant Butte, Cly Butte und Camel Butt. Wayne's last stand at North Window would come as a spokesman for Datril 500.
As Tim Holt, seen here with director John Ford, is leading the cavalry down into the valley in Stagecoach, that‘s El Capitan on the horizon, near Kayenta, formed by cooled lava and basalt. It is visible from U.S. Route 163 and is also known as Agatha Peak.
In Yellow Ribbon, Brittles‘ patrol is attacked by Red Shirt on the back of West Mitten which is actually the same place...
...where Ethan discovers the Edwards farm is on fire (even though he could only spot it from there with the help of the editor).
The rough „road“ across the desert floor behind the West Mitten was dubbed Hollywood Boulevard by the Navajo because so many riding sequences were shot there; the ground was ideal to drive a cameracar along with the stars on horseback.
The „don’t ever ask me more“ scene from The Searchers was shot on a sand dune south of the Mitchell Butte.
The now-famous opening door in The Searchers was shot south of the Mitten Buttes looking north (the best long-distance shot in the area): Ethan is framed by Gray Whiskers and Mitchell Butte.
However, the set of the Edwards farmhouse was placed in front of Sentinel Mesa which is also...
...where Captain York builds a barricade of wagons in Fort Apache.
The location for Scar’s camp in The Searchers is at Yei Bi Chei, the formation with the Needles Monument tower, now called the Totem Pole. Wayne came across that particular rock formation as he was looking for Cochise's camp in Fort Apache.
Sand Spring is the place they call the sand dunes and a dry wash close to Totem Pole; that’s where Wayne tries to shoot Natalie Wood and orders Jeffrey Hunter to „stand aside!“ Also on Sand Spring, the bloodthirsty Ethan starts chasing Debbie in the final scene (before the scene cuts to Bronson Canyon in the Hollywood hills).
The arch-shaped cave in which Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter take shelter from the Comanche has been a nameless dumping ground for the Navajo tribe for years.
In The Searchers, Ethan observes Scar's camp from the rock ledge now called Ford's Point, with Merrick Butte in the background (turn to the other side and you see the Three Sisters which is actually the place where the shot the "Don't call me uncle" scene). Wayne was back standing on Ford's Point for the television special The American West of John Ford, broadcasted on CBS TV on December 5, 1971. „To me, this will always be John Ford Country,“ Wayne introduced the show.
Mexican Hat is a tiny village on the banks of the San Juan River, a thirty-minute drive from Monument Valley on US 163. Ford used it for river crossing scenes in Fort Apache, Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers. The sombrero shaped rock is visible in the scene where Ethan keeps killing retreating Indians.
US 163 takes you to another spectacular location as you turn left on Rd 316 to Goosenecks State Park. The view from that overlook offers the astonishing view of the meandering canyon carved by the San Juan River 1,000 feet below. Ford used it only once, in Fort Apache, as...
...John Wayne and Pedro Armendariz share a drink of rotgut on their way to Cochise‘s camp. The location shot cuts to a studio shot for the dialogue, then cuts back to Gooseneck as Wayne throws the empty bottle into the abyss.
John Wayne’s last visit to Monument Valley was, unfortunately, an unhappy one. He had suggested Monument Valley as the backdrop for a new aspirin substitute that the Bristol Myers Company wanted to launch, called Datril 500.
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All pictures posted on this website are from the collection of the author, unless otherwise noted