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.
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• 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 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.
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Off the Beaten Path: When the "Bonanza" gang rode into the Bell Location Ranch

One of the most mysterious of the old movie ranches is the Bell Location Ranch, now hidden behind locked gates in the Santa Susana Mountains above Box Canyon, between Chatsworth and Simi Valley, Calif., just a few miles southwest of the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Bell Ranch's old Western town included a white mansion, sometimes seen as a boarding house, at the east end of town. In the vintage shot above, you can see the same strata rock formation in the background that appears in the recent shot at the top of this post.

The area is all but impossible to access today, carved up into privately owned parcels and fiercely protected by local residents who value their relative seclusion on the outskirts of the L.A. metro area.

Arrival scene from the 1971 "Bonanza" episode 
"The Rattlesnake Brigade"

A portion of the old Bell Ranch was explored recently as part of a film history expedition, and some nice insights surfaced. Among them, shooting sites were identified for the "Bonanza" episode "The Rattlesnake Brigade," which aired Dec. 5, 1971. Above is a screen shot from the episode showing Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and a couple of his buddies arriving to try to rescue a group of young people being held hostage.

Here's what that same site looks like today — still largely unspoiled, but with a lot more foliage now. I ran across some controversy online about whether these "Bonanza" scenes were taped at Bell Ranch or at the Spahn Movie Ranch, which was located several miles away, to the north, off Santa Susana Pass Road. I hope these matching shots will help settle the dispute, as the episode was definitely shot at Bell. You should be able to match up the rocks seen just above the riders in the "Bonanza" shot, while the road, despite being lined now with foliage, also matches. (Click on the photos to enlarge them for a better look.)

Here's a shot of Lorne Greene arriving at the main shooting area on Bell Ranch's lower plateau, the one relatively small section of Bell where almost all of the location work for the "Bonanza" episode was done.

The sequence seen above takes place just a few feet from where the long shot of the arrival was taped. This sequence begins to provide a look at the formidable bluffs that loomed above the Bell Ranch filming areas. The protruding rock toward the right of the shot has been nicknamed "the Three-Meter Board" by local film historians.

Here are some of those same rocks today. If the Three-Meter Board, in the top right corner, leaves any doubt about the match, you should be able to match up some of the other rocks, including the one near the lower right corner of the above shot, which is partially visible above the mane of the horse at the right in the "Bonanza" shot. The rock closest to the center of the above shot (a little left of center), which has distinctive horizontal markings, also appears near the center of the "Bonanza" shot.

More of Bell Ranch's rugged bluffs are seen in this screen shot from "Rattlesnake Brigade." The shot shows a couple of the bad guys, who at this point had their young hostages inside the wagon.

Here are those same bluffs today — not exactly the same angle, but it should be close enough to make the match.

In this shot from the "Bonanza" episode a sentry is posted atop a huge boulder, near the top center of the shot.

Here's that same rock today. This rock is also partially visible in the shot of the wagon, above, at the left edge of the shot.

This shot from "The Rattlesnake Brigade" features another section of the Bell Ranch bluffs, along with a cabin that stood at the site at the time of the shoot, in 1971. In this scene the gang, which is now keeping the hostages in the cabin, confronts Ben Cartwright and his colleagues in an attempt to collect a ransom. That's Neville Brand on the left, playing Doyle, leader of the outlaw gang. Brand, who made his last of three "Bonanza" appearances in this episode, is probably best known for his starring role in the 1960s TV series "Laredo."

This shot from the recent Bell Ranch expedition shows that same section of bluffs as it appears today. Needless to say, the cabin is no longer standing.

I couldn't find any definitive trace of the cabin, but these partially burned boards were in the area, and I suppose they could have been a part of the structure.

The hostages are brought out of the cabin to prove they're OK. Do we need a spoiler alert for a TV show that's more than 40 years old? Consider yourself alerted.

Hoss Cartwright got involved in the hostage rescue too, bringing Dan Blocker to Bell Ranch.

Little Joe — Michael Landon, on location at Bell and doing his own stunts — gets the drop on one of the hostage takers.

Happy ending, sort of: The hostages are freed as the bodies pile up.

Here's another view of the area where the drama played out, as it appears today.

Click here to see a blog post about an episode of "Star Trek: The Original Series" that was also shot on Bell Ranch's lower plateau.

Off the Beaten Path is a series of posts that are not specifically focused on the usual subject matter of this blog, the Iverson Movie Ranch. You can go directly to the Off the Beaten Path posts by looking up the term in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here.

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