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 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

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Iverson finds its "Bonanza": How the popular TV Western kept the movie ranch rocking in the 1960s — in color!

"Bonanza": Dan Blocker on the Upper Iverson in "The Last Trophy" (March 26, 1960)

Dan Blocker and the rest of the "Bonanza" gang rode the Iverson Ranch on a regular basis for much of the 1960s. Airing from 1959-1973, the wildly popular Western series produced 430 episodes during its 14 seasons on NBC. Of those, about one in ten shot at Iverson.

Michael Landon on Cactus Hill in "The Last Trophy" — the rock behind him is Cowbones

"Bonanza" and a few other TV Westerns of the period such as "Gunsmoke" and "The Virginian" helped fill a void left by the disappearance of the B-Western, both in popular culture and at the Iverson Ranch. As the business evolved, demand from the still relatively new medium of television kept the location ranch in operation.

"The Ride" (Jan. 21, 1962) — Dan Blocker and Pernell Roberts on the Lower Iverson

"Bonanza" accounted for a number of interesting shoots on the Lower Iverson in the 1960s, even as filming in general was winding down in that part of the ranch. For most of the decade, the Upper Iverson maintained a far busier schedule of productions — and "Bonanza" spent plenty of time there, too.

The screen shot from "The Ride" includes the well-known feature Hawk Rock. Filming on the episode took place in 1961 — the same year "Bonanza" became the No. 1 show on television.

Plaque near the base of Hawk Rock (2015)

Today Hawk Rock bears a plaque commemorating the designation of the Garden of the Gods as public parkland.

Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright in "The Crucible" (April 8, 1962)

In an intense episode called "The Crucible," Ben scoured the Upper Iverson's North Rim, above, searching for clues to the disappearance of his son Adam.

"The Savage" (Dec. 3, 1960) — Turtle Rock in the background

The rocky South Rim, on the Upper Iverson, was often strewn with bodies after "Bonanza" rode into town. The heavily filmed area below Turtle Rock was a favorite destination for the series.

Along with the iconic Turtle Rock, the shot features the South Rim staple the Slates.

"The Crucible": Hoss announces the family's arrival at Bobby's Bend, on the South Rim

Turtle Rock resurfaces here, in another shot taken on the South Rim. The scene was part of a major Iverson shoot for the episode "The Crucible," which premiered April 8, 1962.

While Turtle Rock again looms in the background, the shot is framed by two of the most distinctive rock denizens of Bobby's Bend: Wrench Rock, on the right, and the Aztec, on the left.

"The Beginning" (Nov. 25, 1962) — Michael Landon on the Upper Iverson

Location notes that appeared during "Bonanza's" end credits never mentioned the Iverson Ranch. For example, in the credits for the episode "The Beginning," from which the above Iverson shot is taken, the two locations mentioned are Paramount Studios in Hollywood and Incline Village, Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

"The Deadly Ones" (Dec. 2, 1962) — The Southwest Rim

The large rock tower above the tree at the left in this shot is known as Prominent Rock or Medicine Rock. You may also be able to make out Cap Rock toward the right, above the lead horses.

"The Hayburner" (Feb. 17, 1963) — The Fury Set

"Bonanza" set up shop on the old Fury Set in 1962 for "The Hayburner," which premiered early the following year. Located on the Upper Iverson's North Rim, the set was built in 1955 for the TV show "Fury," and continued to be used in movies and TV shows until being consumed by the massive Newhall-Malibu wildfires of 1970.

William Demarest on the Fury Set in "The Hayburner"

William Demarest was one of the veteran actors on hand at Iverson for "The Hayburner." Some readers may recall that Demarest, a TV fixture as Uncle Charley on "My Three Sons," was also a part of the inaugural appearance by the Iverson Movie Ranch Western street, playing Gary Cooper's sidekick in "Along Came Jones."

Ellen Corby in "The Hayburner"

Western movie and early TV mainstay Ellen Corby also popped in at Iverson for "The Hayburner." Here she appears with Michael Landon and William Demarest in the corral area of the Fury Set.

"The Hayburner": William Demarest and the Nike Missile Base

The Nike Missile Base at the top of Oat Mountain also made its way onto the screen in "The Hayburner" — albeit in background appearances that probably went unnoticed at the time.

The missile base was one reason the Iverson Ranch had become less production-friendly by the 1960s.

Charles Bronson gets the drop on Michael Landon in "The Underdog" (Dec. 13, 1964)

The "Bonanza" episode "The Underdog," featuring guest star Charles Bronson, filmed heavily on the South Rim of the Upper Iverson, where the above shot was taken. The episode also featured a tree I call the Charles Bronson Hanging Tree, which is still alive today. You can read about it here.

"The Unwanted" (April 6, 1969): Bonnie Bedelia and Charles McGraw on Cactus Hill

"Bonanza" largely steered clear of the Iverson Ranch for a few seasons in the mid-1960s, before returning near the end of the decade. The hiatus coincided with construction of the 118 Freeway, which split the 500-acre Iverson property in half. The freeway was one of the main reasons Iverson eventually ceased filming operations.

"Death on Sun Mountain" (Sept. 19, 1959): Wrench Rock

"Bonanza" began shooting at Iverson almost from Day 1. The show's second episode, "Death on Sun Mountain" — also known as "The Sun Mountain Herd" — filmed its climactic sequence on the ranch, with guest stars Bek Nelson, Leo Gordon and Barry Sullivan (left to right, above) mixing it up with the Cartwrights on the South Rim.

"Death on Sun Mountain": Little Joe and Adam in a shootout on the South Rim

Even if Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts and the others were "playin' cowboy" during their days at the Iverson Movie Ranch, the Cartwrights were NOT playing when it came to shooting it out with the bad guys. A couple of key players met their fate by the time this exchange was over.

Leo Gordon in "Death on Sun Mountain"

The always intense Leo Gordon did what he did best — being intense — on the South Rim.

Barry Sullivan as Burdette — reaching for the stars

As the typically complex "Bonanza" character Mark Burdette, Barry Sullivan sank his teeth into a role that gave him a chance to be bad ... but not ALL bad.

Bek Nelson as Glory — putting some thought into "Bonanza"

Bek Nelson helped class up the joint during the Iverson shoot for "Death on Sun Mountain." Glory was one of a number of characters who offered thoughts on the word "bonanza" during the course of the episode.

The "Bonanza" title is explained

This is the scene, shot on the South Rim, that gives "Bonanza" its title — or at least some form of an explanation for it. Responding to Burdette's death, Glory tells Adam, "He found his bonanza."

Bek Nelson and Pernell Roberts discuss the "Bonanza" series title

Here's the full exchange between Adam and Glory explaining the title:
Adam: "He came here to strike it rich, find a bonanza, and now he's dead."
Glory: "He found it. He found his bonanza. He found it just as he died. And that's better than never finding it at all, isn't it?"
Adam: "Yes, Glory. It's better."

"The Paiute War" (Oct. 3, 1959): Another episode, another body count

"Bonanza's" fourth episode, "The Paiute War," again featured extensive location footage, incorporating both the Upper and Lower Iverson. The sandstone giant in the top right corner is the Phantom, a fixture of Garden of the Gods on the Lower Iverson. A couple of especially bloody battles take place in this area during the episode.

Jack Warden as the unsavory Mike Wilson in "The Paiute War"

I blame it all on this guy — the Indian-hating Wild West archetype Mike Wilson, played with slimy panache by Jack Warden. Hey, isn't that the rock E.T. behind him? That means Elvis worked here too. Check out this previous post for more about the King and E.T.

"The Paiute War": Garden of the Gods

Here's a nice overview of Garden of the Gods in "The Paiute War," with the camera aimed more or less toward the south. Readers may recognize a number of the rock features seen here.

The foreground area today is filled with condos, but all of the rock features identified here — with the exception of E.T. — have survived and can now be found on public land as part of the Garden of the Gods park.

"The Paiute War" filmed heavily on both the Upper Iverson and the Lower Iverson. In this shot all four Cartwrights arrive on the Upper Iverson, with Cap Rock visible in the background, above Adam, on the left.

Cap Rock continues to appear just above Adam's head — in fact, it almost looks like part of his hat in this two-shot of Adam and Ben.

Brothers Hoss and Little Joe also got their two-shot during the sequence.

In a later scene shot amid the sandstone behemoths of Garden of the Gods on the Lower Iverson, guest star Michael Forest, as Young Wolf, keeps a vigil as his hostage, Adam Cartwright, awaits a chance to escape.

"The Paiute War": Saddlehorn Village

"The Paiute War" included a few shots of Saddlehorn Village, a small cluster of Iverson buildings adjacent to the Saddlehorn Relay Station on the Lower Iverson. I've done a couple of previous blog posts about this rarely filmed set, which you can find here and here.

Jack Warden at Saddlehorn Relay Station

While Saddlehorn Village stood only from about 1958-1966, the heavily filmed Saddlehorn Relay Station stood for about 30 years, going back to 1940.

"Caution, Easter Bunny Crossing" (March 29, 1970)

In a notorious "comedic" Easter episode, Hoss pranced around the Upper Iverson in a bunny costume. The location shoot for "Caution, Easter Bunny Crossing" appears to be the final "Bonanza" shoot on the Iverson Ranch, with filming most likely taking place in late 1969 for the episode's premiere in early 1970.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the ET rock photo with Jack Warden....good to see another view from the back.....Bill B.....

Ruben Zambrano said...

I really do enjoy this website. I am a big Bonanza, Riffleman and Gunsmoke fan. I always wondered where they did the
outdoor filming by looking at the rock formations in the back ground. It's good to know most of it is still around dam them developers.
Please keep up the GREAT work.