Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

For an introduction to this blog and to the obsession a growing number of vintage film and TV fans have with the Iverson Movie Ranch — the most widely filmed outdoor location in movie and TV history — please read the site's introductory post, found here.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave comments on any of the posts.
• To find specific rock features or look up movie titles, TV shows, actors and production people, see the "LABELS" section — the long alphabetical listing on the right side of the page, below.
• To join the MAILING LIST, send me an email at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com and let me know you'd like to sign up.
• I've also begun a YouTube channel for Iverson Movie Ranch clips and other movie location videos, which you can get to by clicking here.
• Here's a link to Garden of the Gods, the best-known section of the Iverson Movie Ranch (featured in the movie "Stagecoach," the "Lone Ranger" TV show and hundreds of other productions).
• To go right to the great Iverson cinematographers, click here.
• Readers can email the webmaster at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sorting out the many "Indian Heads" found on the Iverson Movie Ranch

At least four different rocks on the former Iverson Movie Ranch have been called "Indian Head" at various times, while a number of other rocks found on the ranch look so much like Indian heads that they seem to be begging for the name. Here's a rundown of some of Iverson's Indian heads:

"Perils of Nyoka" (Republic serial, 1942): Tower Rock (sometimes called "Indian Head")

Tower Rock is one of the most famous rocks on the Iverson Ranch. This view, in my opinion, presents the rock looking its most "Indian head-like," although other observers may see it differently.

As one of the most widely filmed rocks at Iverson, Tower Rock is also one of the most widely filmed rocks in movie and TV history. The Iverson family used the name Tower Rock to refer to the feature, but in the early filming era some filmmakers called it "the Pinnacle."

John Ford's "Stagecoach" (1939): Tower Rock and the Sphinx in the background

Tower Rock is often seen in tandem with its larger and at least equally famous neighbor, Sphinx. Sphinx has its own naming issues, including once having been called "Indian Head," which we will discuss below. More recently it has been called "Eagle Beak," a name that tends to still be used at times even though it's incorrect.

The arrival at Apache Wells in "Stagecoach," looking south toward Garden of the Gods

As a pair, Tower Rock and Sphinx are considered to be the defining rock features of the Iverson Ranch's fabled and heavily filmed Garden of the Gods. The two sandstone giants made a legendary appearance during the stagecoach's arrival at the Apache Wells outpost in "Stagecoach."

The "Stagecoach" sequence at Apache Wells was just one of hundreds of movie appearances for Tower Rock and Sphinx, going all the way back to the early silent film era. Click here for more about the locations in "Stagecoach."

Tower Rock and Sphinx in modern times

Above is a recent shot showing what Tower Rock and Sphinx look like today. Their location, in the Garden of the Gods on the former Lower Iverson, is known for its large, charismatic sandstone boulders — especially these two.

"The Golden Stallion" (Roy Rogers, 1949): Wrench Rock, on the Upper Iverson

This gargoyle rock found on the former Upper Iverson is a personal favorite. In the early days of my Iverson exploration I called it "Bobby," for reasons that probably wouldn't make sense if I tried to explain them.

I eventually learned that "Bobby" was well-established as an Iverson movie rock and already had a number of other names, including Indian Head, Upper Indian Head and Wrench Rock. I finally came to accept that it should be called Wrench Rock even though it may be the least glamorous of all the choices. It avoids confusion with all the other Indian Heads, and it's plain to see that the rock does resemble a crescent wrench.

"Fury at Showdown" (1957): Wrench Rock, from the other side

Incidentally, that's also Wrench Rock at the top of the page, seen from the other side in "Fury at Showdown." This is the rock's eastern profile, and you might also notice Pyramid Peak to the west, outlining the horse's ears.

Lone Ranger Rock — once known as Indian Head

Next in our list of Iverson's "Indian Head" rocks is one of the most familiar features on the ranch, but its original name has been largely forgotten. In fact, this rock is so universally recognized as Lone Ranger Rock that it is hard to believe it ever had a different name. But it did.

"Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" (MGM, 1925): Lone Ranger Rock long before it had that name

By the time the Lone Ranger rode up on Silver in the opening to the TV show in 1949, the rock that would come to be known as Lone Ranger Rock had already been appearing in movies for at least 25 years. And before it became Lone Ranger Rock, it was known as Indian Head.

Another familiar rock with an unfamiliar name: Sphinx, Eagle Beak ... and Indian Head? Yes!

Getting back to the Sphinx, part of its name confusion goes back to the 1948 Monogram B-Western "Overland Trails," starring Johnny Mack Brown — the source of the screen shot above. One of the key plot elements in the movie concerns trying to find a hidden mine. The mine is located near a waterhole, and there's an early clue about an Indian watching over it. Later we find out the miner has written in a letter to his wife, "There's a rock above the waterhole that looks just like an Indian head." After the miner dies, the search is on to find that Indian head and thereby locate the mine.

The Sphinx in 2015

Fast-forward to later in the picture and about the time we're ready to give up, Johnny Mack Brown says to his partner, "Hey Dusty, look — look at that rock. Doesn't that look like an Indian head to you?" And Dusty says, "Well, it sure does!" And it turns out what they're looking at is the rock we now know as Sphinx. With that kind of attention being paid to it in the movie — any actual discussion of the rocks in the movies is rare — it has to be taken seriously. So Sphinx, too, has a claim to the name "Indian Head." And, well, it does look like a head, after all.

"Stagecoach": Batman Rock — deserving of the name "Indian Head"?

What about the rocks at Iverson that look even more like Indian heads than most of those seen above, but have never been called "Indian Head" (at least, as far as anyone knows)? Probably the prime example is Batman Rock, shown above in a scene from "Stagecoach." To my eye it looks as though it could have come right off the Buffalo Nickel. Its appearance in the movie is part of the "reveal" of the ruins of the Lee's Ferry station, which has been destroyed in an attack by ... who else, Indians. I suspect the irony wasn't lost on "Stagecoach" director John Ford, and that the placement of the ruins directly below the big chief (not yet known as Batman Rock) was no accident.

Batman Rock in modern times

Batman Rock is named after its appearance in Columbia's "Batman" serials of the 1940s. I can't help wondering whether the filmmakers who shot it for Westerns back in The Day had their own names for it. At any rate, it's a spectacular rock — even today, after the vegetation has grown up around it and largely blocked the view of its face. These days it presides over a driveway into the condo area just north of Garden of the Gods, and despite everything it still projects strength and a certain quiet dignity.

"The Man From Colorado" (Columbia, 1948) (promo still from the Jerry England collection)

A lot of rocks will start looking like an Indian head if you stare at them long enough. Notice the rock all the way at the left of the frame.

It seems to me this rock, which does not have a formal name that I know of (although I consider it part of the "Three Kings" formation), could also reasonably be described as looking like an Indian head.

"Little Big Horn" (1951): Filmed by Iverson cinematographer extraordinaire Ernest Miller

Sometimes changing the angle even slightly can bring out still more of the "Indian Head" in a rock.

"Rocky Mountain Rangers" (1940): Three big rocks with stakes in the "Indian Head" debate

These three sandstone behemoths, along with Wrench Rock, Lone Ranger Rock, Batman Rock and others, illustrate some of the potential problems associated with the rock name "Indian Head." Once you start finding Indian heads in the rocks, it never ends.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wild Bill Hickok's gravesite


OK, it's only his MOVIE grave, but still, it's pretty cool. Here's the grave as seen in the 1950 movie "Calamity Jane and the Texan," with a couple of characters who figured into Wild Bill Hickok's real life — Calamity Jane, played by Evelyn Ankers, and Colorado Charlie Utter, played by Lee "Lasses" White — paying their respects.


Here's the gravesite today, on the former Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. The exact location of the grave is overgrown with sagebrush, but the rocks in the background still look pretty much the same.


In the movie, which is also known by the title "The Texan Meets Calamity Jane," they spelled Hickok's name wrong on his tombstone, adding the extra "c" to come up with Hickock — presumably a common mistake. They did get other details right, including his death at the hands of Jack McCall in Deadwood, in the Black Hills, on Aug. 2, 1876.


Wild Bill, whose real name was James Butler Hickok, was 39 at the time of his death. History notes that Hickok was playing poker at Nuttal & Mann's Saloon in Deadwood when McCall shot him in the head. According to legend, Hickok was holding aces and eights, all black — a poker hand that since this infamous shooting has been known as the "dead man's hand."