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

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Iverson Movie Ranch under attack: A fond look back at John Wayne's World War II movie "The Fighting Seabees"

"The Fighting Seabees" (1944) — Upper Iverson under attack

The John Wayne movie "The Fighting Seabees" is one of the most high-profile productions shot on the Iverson Movie Ranch during the 1940s — and the World War II movie also must have been one of the loudest shoots in the history of the location ranch, sustaining a number of bombing raids during production.

To be clear, these were "movie bombing raids" and not real-world bombing raids. Even so, the explosions were real. The area under siege in the above shot includes Cactus Hill and the South Rim of the Upper Iverson; the landmark Eagle Beak Rock is noted here.

Eagle Beak Rock appears again in this shot taken from a much closer angle, partially obscured behind a bomb blast. Also visible, near the center of the shot, is the nearby rock feature known as the Molar.

The palm trees appearing in the shot are all fake, part of the elaborate construction done on both the Upper and Lower Iverson for "Fighting Seabees."

Fake "landing strip" put in for "The Fighting Seabees"

The smooth surface at the bottom of the shot is a huge fake landing strip installed over much of the Upper Iverson as part of the shoot for "Fighting Seabees." The movie tells the story of the U.S. Navy construction teams that worked alongside combat units during the war. (Construction Battalion = CB = Seabee.)

Construction of the landing strip was part of the plot of the movie, set in the Pacific Front during World War II. This shot again shows the Molar, in the top left corner, along with a nearby observation tower built for the movie.

The Molar and the observation tower are identified here, along with some of the material being brought in for construction of the landing strip.

A bomb hits behind the Molar, and the observation tower is looking a little shaky.

Shots of warplanes flying over the Iverson Ranch are among the many highlights in "The Fighting Seabees."

Eagle Beak Rock, one of the most prominent features of the South Rim, appears again during this sequence, lurking at the far right of the frame.

Despite the frequent bombing, a massive landing strip was built. But even though the Upper Iverson Movie Ranch covered a significant expanse, it was not wide enough in reality for planes to land or take off.

In "The Fighting Seabees," as on other occasions during the filming era, takeoffs and landings were faked.

Planes could touch down, but they didn't have room to come to a stop.

After a plane was filmed "landing," it would have to take off again.

Even in this blurry shot, Eagle Beak Rock is easily identifiable. The rock can also be found in the backgrounds of countless chase scenes in B-Westerns, old serials and early TV shows.

For shots of aircraft on the ground at Iverson, the planes would have to be trucked in. A number of planes were filmed on the ground on the Upper Iverson for "The Fighting Seabees."

This early sequence takes place in the same area where the landing strip would be built — near the cul de sac, on the South Rim of the Upper Iverson.

The location is pinpointed by the presence of a rock I call either Diplodocus or Grumpy, depending on which side is seen. From this side it's Diplodocus.

Blammo! Like much of the Upper Iverson, the Diplodocus area takes a hit during a bombing raid. Luckily, Diplodocus came through it unscathed — although years later the rock would become a casualty of development.

The action in "The Fighting Seabees" takes place on the Lower Iverson as well, including shots depicting brutal hand-to-hand combat. This scene is filmed in front of Bill Rock.

Much of the combat is set in the Iverson Gorge, on the Lower Iverson. In this shot U.S. troops are positioned in the Upper Gorge, with a portion of Garden of the Gods visible in the background.

A few of the noteworthy Garden of the Gods features are highlighted in this version of the shot.

Here's the scene as it appears in modern times. This photo, taken on a visit to the site in 2011, shows approximately the same area as the "Fighting Seabees" shot above this one.

The topography has been significantly altered, with Redmesa Road now slicing horizontally through the center of the frame. However, the major rock features toward the top of the photo remain in place.

"The Fighting Seabees": John Wayne on the Nyoka Summit

The movie includes a nice sequence filmed on the summit of Nyoka Cliff in which John Wayne can be seen hanging onto the famous tree that used to stand atop the cliff.

This tree appeared in countless movies and TV shows. It has since been replaced by a different tree at the summit of Nyoka Cliff — something I talked about in a recent post that can be found by clicking here. (Much of that post talks about the Crouching Cat Tree, which is a different tree altogether; the information about the two different Nyoka Trees appears near the end of the post.)

Wayne and some of his men take shelter inside a pit that can still be found at the top of the cliff. John Wayne fans who felt strongly enough about it could go to the same spot today and strike a heroic pose in the same pit.

The Duke also put in time in Garden of the Gods during filming for "Fighting Seabees." In this shot of Wayne, at right, giving commands to his men, the iconic rock feature Sphinx appears in the background. You may recognize the man next to Wayne as William Frawley, best known for playing Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy."

A Japanese sniper, complete with his own fake palm tree, is posted atop the Devil's Doorway Cluster, although it would be hard to ID the spot based solely on this shot.

When the sniper is taken out, we get a wider view of the setting, making it possible — though still not easy — to identify Devil's Doorway in the Upper Gorge. One reason it's relatively difficult to pinpoint the spot is that these rocks today are hidden beneath a tree.

Rock Island and Crown Rock in "The Fighting Seabees"

A short distance away, troops advance on Rock Island along the Stagecoach Road. Rock Island appears in the top right corner, with Crown Rock at center left. The large fuel tank seen in the foreground — one of two such tanks built in the Gorge for the movie — figures into a major explosion later in the movie, which I talk about below.

I recently discussed this sequence in a post focusing on Rock Island, which you can read by clicking here.

The Lower Iverson took its share of bomb hits during filming on "The Fighting Seabees," including this one that landed in the Upper Gorge. Some of the rocks of the Hole in the Wall area can be seen at top right.

A relatively small blast hits midway between Bill Rock, at top right, and Stegosaurus, at top left. The proximity of soldiers to the explosion suggest that this one may have been added in post-production, but who knows?

I've noted the two main rock features in this version of the shot. We get a slightly better look at Stegosaurus in the next sequence.

An artillery team takes aim at a U.S. Navy medical vehicle, with the Zorro's Cave area in the background.

When the truck is hit, we get a look at Stegosaurus, at top right.

Here's the same shot with Stegosaurus identified. The rock feature's "face" can be elusive.

An unusual feature — a large fake rock — appears during some of the scenes filmed in the Gorge. In this shot the fake rock can be seen at the left of the frame. The fake rock was not installed for "Fighting Seabees," but was already in place at the site.

I call the large fake rock "Perils Tower," because one of its most high-profile appearances is in the 1942 Republic serial "Perils of Nyoka."

"The Fighting Seabees" — Perils Tower, center

The fake rock's origin is unclear, but it remained in place in the Gorge for a few years. It can be found in movies released from 1941-1944.

The fake rock tower is typically seen from a distance, as in this example from "Fighting Seabees." It appeared to move around, within a limited range, during its brief lifespan, but was generally located near the rock features The Wall, Crown Rock and Devil's Doorway.

The fake tower, seen beneath the crane — again near the center of the shot — was right at home among the real rock features of the Iverson Gorge. It may help to click on the photo to enlarge it for a better view.

Perils Tower appears midway between the major features Nyoka Cliff and The Wall.

A closer shot of Perils Tower shows the position of the fake rock, at top left, relative to Three Ages Rock at top center and The Wall at top right.

This version of the shot identifies the major rock features, including the fake tower.

In a famous scene near the end of "Fighting Seabees," a bulldozer driven by one of the Seabees pushes an enemy tank off Nyoka Cliff into the Iverson Gorge.

And down it goes. It has been reported that the prop tank used in filming was made of balsa wood to avoid damaging any of the rocks. Considering how many explosions went off during production, it's interesting to hear that people were concerned with protecting the filming location.

Another shot of Nyoka Cliff in "Fighting Seabees" includes the Crouching Cat Walkway area, which was recently discovered and was featured in a recent post.

You may also have spotted the tree at the top of Nyoka Cliff — the same tree that John Wayne is hanging onto in a sequence featured higher up in this post.

Some distance to the east of the Gorge, near the Cave Rocks — where the swimming pool for the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village was later put in — Quonset huts were filmed being built in "Fighting Seabees."

In this area, too, a number of fake palm trees were brought in to create the needed island flavor.

An army of extras, literally, was assembled during production on "Fighting Seabees." The Cave Rocks can be seen again in the background in this scene, which takes place after construction was completed on the Quonset huts.

Mushroom cloud in the Iverson Gorge in "The Fighting Seabees"

Near the end of the movie, the producers appear to exercise the "nuclear option" — although the mushroom cloud is produced by a fuel tank explosion. Some observers have noted that this explosion "mirrors" the U.S. use of the atom bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to help bring an end to World War II. However, the movie was released in January 1944, well ahead of the August 1945 bombing raids over Japan.

Even though the mushroom cloud shot features rocks found in the Iverson Gorge — including a portion of Devil's Doorway, as noted here — it appears that in this case the explosion was added using special effects.

"The Fighting Seabees" was a high point for Republic Pictures, which stepped up to create a movie well beyond the company's usual low-budget fare. By loosening the usually clam-tight Republic purse strings for a change, the company produced not just one of its many "great Iverson movies" — with plenty of cool rocks — but also a movie that holds up pretty well as a movie.


cliff said...

Great blog, I've never seen this movie but will have to watch now. Thanks again for the great work put in to help us understand more of the Iverson history.

Phil Bird said...

Thanks for this, Iverson sure went through it with this movie. Amazing what a different feel a few palms gives the ranch. Great work. Phil.

Bret said...

Love the balsa wood tank.

Bob Lindall said...

Lots of time and energy very well spent!
Thank You for doing this work.

Bob in NC

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. Thank you!

Mark Sherman said...

Wow! I had no idea on the amount of construction that went into that movie. Thanks as always for making the most interesting aspects of this come to life! Mark Sherman

Brian Harrington said...

Thank you once again for a job well done, this is Iconic American History and you are helping preserve it. Brian in Texas