John Wayne first worked in Utah on The Big Trail, they took some canyon footage near St. George, utilizing the rimrock country of Hurricane Bluffs near Zion National Park. Wayne would return to St. George almost a quarter of a century later, for The Conqueror.
For five weeks in St. George, RKO had rented the private residence from Wendell and Betty Motter for Wayne. Ten shooting sites were chosen. Advance road crews built a road into the principal location of Snow Canyon. Five years after the filming, 7,400 acres were created as a State Park. Utah State Route 18 travels through Dammeron Valley. To get to the park, located in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, turn onto Snow Valley Drive.
They also shot at the bench near Harrisburg, 12 miles north of town, which had then been a ghost town for sixty years. The plains there became the setting for the climactic battle between Mongols and Tartars, filmed over a six-day period. They also directed the Technicolor cameras to Warner Valley, 15 miles from St.George.
In Old Oklahoma (aka War of the Wildcats, here with his old buddy Grant Withers) was in production on Utah locations between June 28 and September 4, 1943. The movie was headquartered in Kanab. The plot deals with oil drilling and Republic was able to construct a set where oil fields still existed, near the small town of Virgin, in the scenic area of Washington County. A trail winds down from Kanab into the Kanab Canyon, off Highway 89. The dirt road leads five miles to the Paria Canyon, one of the most most beautiful of western locations.
At the Union Pacific train depot, in the west of Cedar City, Wayne’s cowboy character is introduced, as he gets on the special train uninvited.
This was probably the first time Wayne stayed at the now-famous Parry Lodge in Kanab. The colonial-style hotel at 89 East Center Street with its columned structure got started in 1931. The Parrys would house and feed the movie crews for decades. A „John Wayne Room“ and more than 250 autographed photos in the lobby are a reminder to the Parry’s glory days when Kanab established a reputation as „Little Hollywood“.
John Ford had discoverd Moab for Wagonmaster. In the spring of 1950, he returned for Rio Grande and the first pairing of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. He used the same locations as in the first film, Professor Valley at State Route 128 and the region of the Fisher Towers on the Colorado River. The majority of the crew arrived on June 14, 1950 at Moab airport.
They utilized the George White Ranch for the Rio Grande fort. The fort set was reused in later westerns (like Taza, Son of Cochise, starring Rock Hudson) and then dismantled. The George White Ranch is now the location of Red Cliffs Lodge, Milepost 14, Hwy 128. The lodge also maintains the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage.
Ford built the set of the pueblo village in Castle Valley, located fourteen miles east of Moab off State Route 128. The pueblo was located between Castle Rock and Fisher Towers.
Ford often put Castletown Tower in the background. He filmed Wayne’s cavalry fording the Rio Grande (a shallow area of the Colorado) at the gravel Site at Ida Gulch (one mile east of the junction of Castle Valley Road and State Route 128, milepost 16).
Wayne leads his determined troopers through a canyon; that is the Onion Creek Narrows.
On June 18, 1961, John Wayne was back in Moab for the rousing The Comancheros. Wayne and other cast members stayed at the Apache Hotel in Moab, at 166 Fourth E St., usually in room 34 when he was alone, room 20 when his family accompanied him.
Twenty-three buildings were constructed for the Comanchero camp in Professor Valley. The largest one was the stucco-and-tile headquarters of the Comanchero boss, on a flat in the shadow of Fisher Towers, on milepost 21.
The canyon walls of King’s Bottom provided the background for the dialogue scene in which Wayne’s Texas Ranger reminds Stuart Whitman’s gambler, „Mon-sewer, words are what men live by.“ King’s Bottom is now a campground, three miles from downtown Moab.
The farm that is attacked by the notorious Comancheros was set on a plateau right on the shores of the Colorado. The Comancheros was Wayne's final Utah film.
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All pictures posted on this website are from the collection of the author, unless otherwise noted