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 iversonfilmranch@aol.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 iversonfilmranch@aol.com.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Scouring the Eastern Sierra for "Nevada Smith," "Will Penny"
and "True Grit": A movie safari with location hunter Eddie Henn

"Nevada Smith," "True Grit" and "Will Penny": All filmed in California's Eastern Sierra

I recently had the honor of joining veteran location hunter Eddie Henn on a movie safari for the ages, four-wheeling around Northern California's Eastern Sierra Nevada country in search of old filming sites.
 
Eddie Henn, now on his third 4Runner, has logged well over 1 million miles hunting movie locations

When it comes to digging up movie locations, they don't come any better or more intrepid than Eddie. He's been tracking down hard-to-find filming sites since the late '70s, using up three Toyota 4Runners in the process.
 
"Nevada Smith" (Paramount, 1966): Steve McQueen at Cerro Gordo

And boy, did we find filming locations. In most cases they were sites Eddie had visited previously — the man has been just about everywhere. And he has found dazzling movie locations just about everywhere.
 
The same site on our recent visit

I was able to get a nice matching shot for a sequence early in "Nevada Smith" that was filmed at the Morning Star Mine in Cerro Gordo. It's just one of the many stunning movie sites we hit.
 
 
"Will Penny" (1967): The Fish Slough area north of Bishop, Calif.

Featured in the Charlton Heston movie "Will Penny," the Fish Slough area provided a number of unusual movie backdrops, along with the opportunity to try to take photos that come close to matching the film.
 
The same location as it appears in 2021 — not much has changed

In most cases I don't capture the exact same angle or lighting seen in the movie, a process that takes more patience than I have. But I try to get close enough matches that you can at least tell it's the same spot.
 
"Will Penny": Snow-capped mountains frame the Fish Slough area

Topped with snow for much of the year, the picturesque mountains of Northern California's Eastern Sierra region have long been a draw for filmmakers — especially around northern Inyo County and into Mono County.
 
The same range in October 2021: capped with snow, but not quite as much

We had just enough snow on the hills during our visit to make it worth trying to match some of the snowy movie shots. Even so, I'm tempted to head back out later in the year after a little more snow has fallen.
 
This pile of rocks is what passes for a parking spot at Fish Slough (2021)

To shoot the "Will Penny" location we just pulled up to this big pile of rocks and parked.
 
"Will Penny": Horses race across our parking lot

The same pile of rocks can be found in the opening sequence to "Will Penny."
 
"True Grit" (1969): John Wayne and Kim Darby ride in to Sherwin Summit

The weather wouldn't cooperate the day we visited Sherwin Summit on the trail of "True Grit" locations — in fact it started snowing hard enough that we eventually had to give it up and head back to base camp.
 
Sherwin Summit in 2021: The same trees seen in "True Grit"

But even with the background hills wiped out, we found filming locations for the classic John Wayne Western. The trees and other features seen here are a match for the movie shot.
 
"Will Penny" (Paramount): The Buttermilk Valley, west of Bishop, Calif.

 
One of the most productive stops on our itinerary was the Buttermilk Valley, where scenes were filmed for "Will Penny," "Nevada Smith," "The Law and Jake Wade" and other Westerns.
 
The Buttermilk Valley in 2021

This shot of the valley taken in October 2021 closely matches the "Will Penny" shot, with not only the background hills but also most of the rock formations on the valley floor pretty much lined up.
 
"Will Penny": Bruce Dern, center, menaces Charlton Heston

In another Buttermilk Valley sequence, Charlton Heston's Will Penny — that's him in his long johns at the bottom of the frame — is tormented by a family led by brutal patriarch Donald Pleasence, right.
 
The same location in 2021

This recent photo of the location reveals that the main rock has a distinctive "nose," which was hidden behind Bruce Dern's jacket in the "Will Penny" shot. But the site remains essentially unchanged.
 
Bruce Dern, right, and Gene Rutherford at the Will Penny beatdown

Another shot from the same "Will Penny" sequence captures the nearby rocks in a different direction, along with what appears to be a lichen-covered section of the main rock, on the right.
 
More than 50 years later, even the "lichens" are still hanging on

Everything is just about the same in 2021, and if you look closely at the big rock on the right, you'll see that the patterns formed by the "lichens" (or whatever they are) are just about identical to how they looked in 1967.
 
Some lichens can live to be thousands of years old

In case you're wondering whether it's even possible for lichens to survive that long — I know I was — we can all rest easy knowing that clinging to a rock for a half-century is barely the blink of an eye to a lichen.
 
Buttermilk Country panorama, 2021

Elsewhere in the Buttermilk Valley — also known as Buttermilk Country — I took this panoramic shot of another rocky area with just a splash of snow on the distant hills.
 
"The Law and Jake Wade" (MGM): The same location in 1958

The snowy backdrop was quite a bit more filled in when director John Sturges filmed the same spot for the Richard Widmark-Robert Taylor Western "The Law and Jake Wade."
 
Basin Mountain in "The Law and Jake Wade"

The Buttermilk Valley provides endless combinations of striking filming angles. This shot from "The Law and Jake Wade" features the instantly recognizable Basin Mountain, one of the most prominent peaks in the region.
 
Basin Mountain takes center stage on our 2021 visit

You can't miss Basin Mountain when you're in Buttermilk Country — you just have to look toward the west. I took this photo from close to the same spot where the movie shot was filmed.
 
"Nevada Smith": Brian Keith near a burned corral in the Buttermilk Valley

Another movie that made good use of Buttermilk Country was "Nevada Smith." Not far from where the last couple of shots were taken we find Brian Keith — "Family Affair's" Uncle Bill — in his cowboy duds.
 
The same location in 2021

The place looks pretty much the same today. Pieces of that burned corral are still there too, even though they don't pop out from the brush the way they once did.
 
Some of the burned corral has survived

You might just be able to make out a little bit of the "surviving" burned corral fencing in the shot.
 
The scenic backdrop of the Eastern Sierra hides historic movie artifacts

There's more of that old movie fencing to be found at the site than first meets the eye, but the location is near a creek and these historic artifacts have been largely overrun by the area's thriving plant life.
 
More burned movie posts — almost swallowed up by the foliage

These are just a few of the remnants still in place from what was presumably once an actual corral. I imagine that if we could remove the brush we might find something close to the burned corral seen in the Brian Keith shot.
 
Buttermilk Valley, 2021: A pile of rocks with movie potential

As we criss-crossed Buttermilk Country, we continued to find locations used by director Henry Hathaway in "Nevada Smith." Hathaway was extremely knowledgeable about the lay of the land in the Eastern Sierra.
 
"Nevada Smith": Steve McQueen practices his gunplay under the tutelage of Brian Keith

We found angle after angle that Hathaway had filmed for "Nevada Smith."
 
"Nevada Smith"

In a wider shot from the same sequence, we see more of the Sierra Nevada in the background, along with the familiar rockpile in the center of the frame.
 
A rough approximation of the shot in 2021

This was a hard shot to line up on the fly, but I settled for a photo that's in the ballpark. You may notice a rock at bottom right that doesn't belong there, which is just a matter of the angle being a little off.
 
"Nevada Smith": The same rocks from the other side

Henry Hathaway also shot that same rockpile from the opposite side. It looks different enough from this side that you might not know they're the same rocks — and if I'm not mistaken, they "play" different rocks in the movie.
 
The rocks from about the same angle today

Once again, this isn't exactly a matching shot, but it gives some idea what the rocks look like from this side in 2021 — which is basically just how they looked in the '60s.
 
Looking east from Chalfant Loop Road in southern Mono County

Moving on from Buttermilk Country, here's a shot I took of the hills looking east from Chalfant Loop Road, north of Bishop, Calif. It doesn't look like much, but it turned out to be a match for a movie shot.
 
"Will Penny: The same hills in the background

The same hills turn up during a scene in "Will Penny" featuring Joan Hackett and Anthony Zerbe.
 
Steve McQueen at Convict Lake in a promo still for "Nevada Smith"

We made our way out to Convict Lake, southeast of Mammoth in Mono County, to look into some additional sites for "Nevada Smith," and happened upon the location where this promo still was taken.
 
Convict Lake in October 2021

This is about where McQueen posed for the promo still. Of course, the photo isn't nearly as interesting without Steve in it — especially on an overcast day with no reflection of the background hills.
 
Convict Lake (2021): The Steve McQueen-Brian Keith campsite

A little deeper into the wooded area along the shore of Convict Lake, we found the location where Steve McQueen and Brian Keith's characters made camp in the movie.
 
"Nevada Smith": Brian and Steve make camp

It's a challenge to line up the trees in the campsite area, but the hill at top right, with a number of distinctive nooks and crannies, is a great marker. The distant trees near the center of the shot line up well too.
 
"Nevada Smith": The boys settle in for whiskey and cards

This is another hard shot to line up. I thought I had it when we were at the site, but by the time I got a chance to sort through the photos, I wasn't sure which tree was which. After a while they all start looking the same.
 
The location of the card game (Convict Lake, 2021)

This is the general area where the card game took place, but again, I can't quite give a tree-by-tree rundown. At least this gives me an excuse to go back to this beautiful spot — and I'll pay better attention next time.
 
With all those trees around, they still had to bring in a "ringer"

One thing I'm sure about is that this is a fake tree. I mean, maybe it's a real tree, but it was brought in as a prop for the movie shoot. You can see it doesn't match the others, and there's no sign of it there today.
 
Climactic gun battle in "Nevada Smith," filmed at Hot Creek

For the big finale of "Nevada Smith," director Henry Hathaway brought the production to another wooded area, Hot Creek, a few miles north of Convict Lake.
 
Hot Creek in 2021: Site of the "Nevada Smith" gun battle

The place hasn't changed much. You can still see where the two old dirt roads diverge, at top right, even though the roads have been "rubbered up" by off-roaders in the years since "Nevada Smith" filmed here.
 
Steve McQueen at Olancha Dunes in "Nevada Smith"

Dunes can be a major challenge for movie location research, as the terrain shifts whenever the wind blows — and it blows a lot over the span of 50+ years. But this is where Eddie's 4Runner earns its keep.
 
Olancha Dunes in 2021 — the hills still match even as the sand keeps shifting

Thanks to the truck's sand-mashing capability, we made our way out to a spot where we could match up the background hills on the left even if the dune has reinvented itself countless times since McQueen rode here.
 
Eddie Henn's latest 4Runner at Sherwin Summit — another terrific filming location

Eddie's current 4Runner is closing in on 400,000 miles — and wow, has it been to some great movie locations!
 
Not just any rock

And this is one of them. You may have already spotted the jagged rock in the photo.
 
"True Grit": The same jagged rock, behind John Wayne

The same rock turns up in "True Grit" as John Wayne tends to a snake-bit Kim Darby. "Nevada Smith" director Henry Hathaway also directed "True Grit," and again makes great use of California's Eastern Sierra.
 
A movie rock amid the gathered pine cones (2021)

Here's a closer look at the rock from our Sherwin Summit stop — and no, I didn't artfully arrange the pine cones. They had already gone ahead and flung themselves into impressive piles.
 
Farewell to Sherwin Summit and the jagged rock

The rock continues to be a presence as the Duke carries off Kim Darby to get her to the doctor.
 
Steve
McQueen and director Henry Hathaway
on the set of "Nevada Smith" at Morning Star Mine

Back at the Morning Star Mine, it's worth another look at the events that launch the saga of Nevada Smith. The house seen in this behind-the-scenes photo plays a pivotal role in the film's plot.
 
Nevada Smith's parents' house, built at the Morning Star Mine

The character's parents, who live in this house, are running a mining operation when they become the victims of foul play. The set for the house was built on a plateau just outside the Morning Star Mine.
 
"Nevada Smith": The house becomes a funeral pyre

After tragedy befalls the family, McQueen's character — then known as Max Sand — burns the house.
 
A distinctive rock formation marks the spot

Notice the ragged rock formation at the right of the frame.
 
The same rock formation and plateau in 2021

I was able to capture the same rock formation on our recent visit to the mine location.
 
Movie artifacts remain at the site

The recent photo also reveals that remnants of the burned house can still be found at the site.
 
Morning Star Mine in October 2021

Here's a recent shot looking toward the mine, with some of the house remnants in the foreground.
 
"Nevada Smith": McQueen near mine entrance, amid mining artifacts and burned house

The angle of the recent photo is similar to this shot from "Nevada Smith," although the place was a much bigger mess back when they were still filming the movie.
 
"Nevada Smith": McQueen and Doucette outside the mine


John Doucette tries to console Steve McQueen near the mine entrance. Somewhat out of character for the veteran B-Western henchman, Doucette plays a good guy this time around.
 
Outside the mine in 2021

Many of the original mine artifacts remain in place. The stone structure on the right is left over from the period when this was a working mine, and is not a movie set — even though it works for this movie.
 
Headed for the mine — Eddie leads the way

It's worth noting that this was a fairly hard location to get to. Even the 4Runner wouldn't make it all the way up to the mine, so a substantial hike was involved — all uphill.
 
Eddie Henn in his "office": The search goes on

High up on a rocky slope near Chalk Bluff Road, Eddie lines up a shot from "Will Penny" — his quest to keep finding new movie sites never lets up. Thanks for all your terrific work, Eddie — keep it up!
 

Below you'll find links to some of the movies discussed in this post, which can be purchased from Amazon by clicking on the images below ...