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, June 17, 2022

Johnny Crawford event coming up June 25 at Valley Relics Museum

Tribute to Johnny Crawford set for June 25 at Valley Relics in Van Nuys, Calif.

This looks like a great way to honor Johnny Crawford, a man of many talents and a super-nice guy who most of us remember as Mark McCain, Chuck Connors' son on "The Rifleman." Mark your calendar for June 25 at Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys. We recently gave a presentation there, and it's a terrific venue.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Darby Hinton returns to the Iverson Movie Ranch, where he learned to shoot the Kentucky Long Rifle from "Daniel Boone" at age 7

Fess Parker as Daniel and Darby Hinton as Izzy in "Daniel Boone" (1964-1970)

Actor Darby Hinton, who many readers will remember as young Israel Boone on the TV series "Daniel Boone," recently paid a visit to the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif.
Daniel Boone shows Izzy how to hold the Kentucky long rifle in "Doll of Sorrow" (1965)

It was a homecoming for Hinton, who shot some memorable scenes on the movie ranch back in 1965. The beloved NBC frontier series was still in its first season at the time, but Darby was already a veteran actor at age 7.
Darby, as Izzy Boone, tries to hold up the rifle on his own

The youngster struggled with the heft of the iconic firearm, also known as the Pennsylvania long rifle. The famed flintlock weapon could be a lot to handle for even a grown man, much less a 7-year-old boy.
Darby Hinton and "Tick Licker" return to the Iverson Ranch in 2022
Earlier this month, Hinton revisited the Iverson Ranch, where he was schooled by Fess Parker in the proper use of the long rifle more than a half-century earlier. The actor surprised us by bringing along "Tick Licker."
Darby with "Tick Licker" at a key filming location for "Doll of Sorrow"
Legend has it that the real-life Daniel Boone nicknamed his hunting rifle "Old Tick Licker" — a name Hinton still uses for his own long rifle, a prized souvenir from his six seasons on the TV show.
Artist's depiction of Daniel Boone and "Old Tick Licker"

Daniel Boone reportedly once claimed the rifle was so accurate he could shoot a tick off a bear without harming the bear. The tall tale became a part of frontier lore — and the backstory behind the "Tick Licker" nickname.
Henry Fonda wields the long rifle in John Ford's "Drums Along the Mohawk," 1939

The long rifle has been a staple of Hollywood's representations of frontier life for decades.
Daniel Boone sets up an impromptu stand to help Izzy steady the rifle

But when young Israel Boone got his first chance to fire "Old Tick Licker" in the episode "Doll of Sorrow," things did not go as planned.
A wagon races out of control after the horses were startled by the shot

Izzy hit his target, but the shot frightened a team of horses driven by a traveling merchant, who just happened to be passing through the area with his wagonload of goods.
The merchant's wagon plunges down a hill

The wagon ends up crashing down a hillside in the Iverson Gorge, destroying the merchant's wares.
Edward Binns, as traveling merchant Seth Jennings, watches as his goods are ruined

The merchant, played by Ed Binns, turns out to be an especially short-tempered fellow, and he does not take it well when he loses not only a wagon, but a full load of merchandise.
It's "swing first and ask questions later" as the merchant and the frontiersman go at it

Binns' character, Seth Jennings, picks a fight with Daniel Boone before either Daniel or Izzy has a chance to explain and try to make good on the merchant's losses.
Izzy keeps a safe distance as the grownups sort things out

The two men get into a nasty fistfight as young Israel Boone finds a safe spot where he can follow the action.
A vicious punch from Jennings sends Daniel to the ground

With the element of surprise on his side, Jennings lands some good punches in the early rounds.
Izzy reacts to seeing his father take one on the jaw

Young Israel Boone grimaces at the sight of his dad in distress.
This time it's Daniel who lands a solid shot, sending Jennings to the mat

As the fight continues, the tide turns, signaling that Boone will eventually prevail.
Izzy reacts to a good punch from his dad

Young Darby Hinton shows a full range of emotions as Izzy tracks the ebb and flow of the fight.
Izzy and Daniel share a moment after Daniel's victory

Even in a fight scene, the popular family-oriented show featured moments of tenderness and father-son bonding.
The parties talk things over after the fight

The action in the "Doll of Sorrow" sequence takes place in a section of the Lower Iverson just off the main trail into the Garden of the Gods. I've been calling this area "the Arena" in my research since I first ran across it years ago.
The Arena as it appears today

The Arena remains completely intact today, with a number of the rocks being immediately recognizable.
A rock star is born

For a few years now, I've been referring to this rock in my research as "Darby Hinton Rock," because it's the spot where Darby, as Israel Boone, cheered his father on while Daniel and Ed Binns' character slugged it out.
Darby Hinton, stationed at the rock in "Doll of Sorrow"

The rock is conveniently positioned right off the main trail into the Garden of the Gods, on park property, where it is accessible to the public during daylight hours.
Darby Hinton returns to "Darby Hinton Rock" in 2022

I've been wanting to find a way to make the "Darby Hinton Rock" designation more formal for some time now, and when I reached out to Darby, he agreed to help out.
The rock's most instantly identifiable feature: the crack

One of the rock's distinguishing features is this small crack, which makes it easy to identify.
Izzy stands next to the crack in "Doll of Sorrow"

You can't miss the crack in some of the closeups of Izzy when he was standing near the rock.
Darby checks out the crack in the rock

I also got a nice shot of Darby while he was taking a look at the crack. Darby suggested it might be appropriate that a rock named after him would be a little cracked — but then, I think that would be true for yours truly too.
Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys, Calif. — where San Fernando Valley memorabilia roars back to life

If you plan to be in the Los Angeles area on May 28, you can learn more about Darby Hinton and Darby Hinton Rock as part of a special presentation we will be giving at the incredible Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys.
Famed director King Vidor oversees his town built for "Billy the Kid,"
filmed in 1930 in what today is Porter Ranch

Besides delving into Darby's film and TV career and unveiling all the details on Darby Hinton Rock, the presentation will peel back some of the secrets from the 110-year movie history of the San Fernando Valley.
"E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982): Taking flight over Porter Ranch with an alien in a basket

The presentation kicks off at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 28, but come early so you can spend some time browsing the sprawling Valley Relics Museum. The presentation is included in the museum's general admission price of $15.
"Malibu Express" (1985), starring a ripped Darby Hinton

This is your chance to find out all about the guest of honor's surprising career trajectory in the years after "Daniel Boone" — and maybe even ask Darby what it was like to star with five Playboy Playmates in "Malibu Express."
Flier for May 28 presentation, with guest of honor Darby Hinton

I hope all my blog readers will come on up and say howdy!

Monday, March 28, 2022

We will be giving a presentation Saturday, May 28, on the
Movie History of the San Fernando Valley — and honoring
actor Darby Hinton from the TV series "Daniel Boone"

Special presentation Saturday, May 28, at Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys, Calif.

The webmaster of the Iverson Movie Ranch Blog will present "Movie History of the San Fernando Valley" at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 28, 2022, at Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys, Calif., with special guest Darby Hinton, who starred as Izzy Boone, Daniel Boone's young son, on the popular TV series "Daniel Boone" from 1964-1970. I hope you'll come up and say howdy!
Please click here for tickets.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Whatever became of this gorgeous filming location seen in "Gunsmoke," "The Virginian," "Rawhide" and other Westerns?

"The Virginian" episode "The Girl in the Shadows" (1969)
This stunning filming location, where cattle were put through their paces in TV Westerns during the 1960s, was almost lost to history. In modern times this forgotten land has been nearly impossible to find — until now.
The same Southern California location in summer 2021

We tracked down this location in 2021, making our first expedition to the site last summer. Matching the angles today is tricky, but this photo includes much of the same terrain seen in the shot above from "The Virginian."
Note these two sections of the ridgeline

Breaking down the contemporary ridgeline into two sections helps bring into focus how the 2021 photo matches up with "The Virginian."
Ridges "A" and "B" in "The Virginian"

Taking another look at the shot from "The Virginian," the same two ridge sections can be identified. From this angle some of the hills farther south emerge and can be seen between Ridges "A" and "B."
A row of "fuzzy trees" appears in "The Virginian" episode "Ride a Dark Trail" (1963)

One of the location's trademark features is these unusual trees. This shot comes from the season two episode "Ride a Dark Trail," but the same footage was recycled throughout multiple seasons of "The Virginian."
"The Virginian" — "The Executioners," 1962: Up close with one of those "fuzzy trees"

The trees really show off their plumage in closeups — especially on "The Virginian." The show's nine seasons, all of them in color, have survived in beautiful picture quality that puts most of the early TV Westerns to shame.
"50 Days to Moose Jaw" ("The Virginian," 1962) — out amongst the "fuzzy trees"

The trees may be a variety of valley oak, one of the most prevalent oak trees in Southern California. However, unlike most valley oaks, these distinctive trees tend to have foliage extending from top to bottom.
"Ryker" ("The Virginian," 1964): The heavily filmed "Crossroads Tree"

One of these trees, seen here just right of center, was filmed more often than most, presumably because of its strategic location where a couple of old movie roads meet. I call it the "Crossroads Tree."
The Crossroads Tree sits in a familiar spot, below Ridge A

You might recognize our old friend "Ridge A" hovering above the Crossroads Tree.
"Gunsmoke" episode "The Hostage" (1965): The Crossroads Tree from a reverse angle

The Crossroads Tree also found its way into "Gunsmoke." If you look carefully at the tree as it appears here and in the "Virginian" photo above, you can see that it's the same tree, photographed from opposite directions.
"The Hostage" ("Gunsmoke," season 11): A closer look at the Crossroads Tree

In an action shot from the same "Gunsmoke" episode, we get a better look at the Crossroads Tree.
"Rawhide" episode "The Photographer" (1964): There's that tree again

The Crossroads Tree turns up yet again in "Rawhide." Here it is reversed again from the "Gunsmoke" angle and more or less matches the "Virginian" angle.
A future movie star heads toward the Crossroads Tree on "Rawhide"

One of the fun things about the old TV Westerns is all the famous actors who found work on them early in their careers. I wonder whether any readers will be able to ID this skinny future megastar from the back.
He turns sideways, and dadgum if it ain't Clint Eastwood

The next time we see him it's a side view, suggesting someone wanted us to see his face but didn't want to change the camera setup. Eastwood's star power surged during the years he played Rowdy Yates on "Rawhide."
Clint draws nearer (my God!) to tree

Someone must have been barking out commands to Clint, "Turn left, now turn right," so they could get shots of him from all angles as he zigzagged his way to the Crossroads Tree. I like to think a large megaphone was involved.
"The Executioners" ("The Virginian"): Same footage also seen in "Ride a Dark Trail"

The trees often appear in straight lines, suggesting they were planted. Based on their size and maturity, it's most likely that this planting occurred back in the early days of the ranch era, possibly as far back as the 19th century.
Example of a mature valley oak — thought to be a relative of the trees in "The Virginian"

While I was researching the trees in "The Virginian," trying unsuccessfully to figure out exactly what they were, I was surprised to learn that trees in the valley oak family can live up to 600 years.
"Fifty Days to Moose Jaw": Two of "The Virginian's" fuzzy trees look on at an Old West funeral

But the trees in "The Virginian" wouldn't have to worry about putting anything away for their retirement. Within a few years after location filming ended on the show in 1970, they would all be gone.
"The Big Deal" (1962): Doug McClure and the other Shiloh Ranch hands work a few cattle

"The Virginian" filmed in this mysterious location many times — far more frequently than any other show. And it's a good thing it did, because this is the only way we can get a decent look at the place today — including its trees.
"The Awakening" ("The Virginian," 1965): A valley that will soon be swallowed up

The entire valley no longer exists — "fuzzy trees," Crossroads Tree, grazing land, movie roads and everything else. But it wasn't destroyed by suburban development, the usual culprit in Southern California.
The same location today: Las Virgenes Reservoir

Instead it was destroyed to make room for something else entirely. The valley was flooded and filled with water in the early 1970s, creating the scenic Las Virgenes Reservoir in southern Westlake Village.
Two triangular peaks sit side by side in 2021

To get an idea of how things line up today with the valley as it appeared in "The Virginian" and other shows in the 1960s, we can track the two triangular peaks noted here.
The triangular peaks in 1965

You can't miss the same two peaks in the screen shot from "The Awakening." This was just a few years before they began filling in the valley with water.
By a conservative estimate, everything below the line would be underwater now

Comparing the two shots, we can take a first whack at estimating where the waterline would be in the "Virginian" photo — in other words, how much of the valley would soon be consumed by the reservoir, and it's a lot.
The view to the south of Las Virgenes Reservoir

The good news is that a number of landmarks remain in place above the waterline. Thanks to these features we can figure out, more or less, where filming took place when this was still a valley.
"Castle Mesa," looking south across Las Virgenes Reservoir

One of the landmarks I keep seeing a lot of is this flat-topped peak. I don't know whether it has a real name, but I finally had to start calling it something so I settled on "Castle Mesa."
A closer look at "Castle Mesa"

The idea is that, well, it's a mesa ... and it kind of looks like a castle with that one "tower" sticking up. I realize it's a stretch. Anyway, it keeps popping up in "The Virginian," "Gunsmoke" and other shows.
A heartbreaking farewell below Castle Mesa in "The Awakening"

A poignant scene plays out in front of Castle Mesa between Roberta Shore's character, Betsy, and her buddy Randy, played by Randy Boone, in the 1965 "Virginian" episode "The Awakening."
Castle Mesa stands as silent witness while the young'uns "have a moment"

The episode, which aired early in season four, marks Roberta Shore's departure from "The Virginian," as Betsy marries a preacher and moves away — leaving lovestruck Randy more than a little disappointed.
"Gunsmoke" episode "The Hostage" (1965): Matt's fate hangs in the balance

Castle Mesa, seen here at top center, made a habit of witnessing big TV moments. Here it oversees a high-stakes standoff in "Gunsmoke" as Marshal Dillon is held hostage by a gang of escaped prison inmates.
"South Shore Butte"

A short distance northwest of Castle Mesa, along the south shore of Las Virgenes Reservoir, stands a major rock outcropping that serves as another of the area's key landmarks. I call this feature the "South Shore Butte."
The South Shore Butte in summer 2021

With a strategically important position in the valley, the South Shore Butte could be photographed from multiple directions, making it one of the most frequently filmed background features in the area.
"The Hostage" ("Gunsmoke"): The South Shore Butte oversees the drama

Here's an appearance by the butte in "Gunsmoke," with the rock outcropping prominently featured at top right.
"The Executioners," 1962 (first episode of "The Virginian")

In a wider shot filmed from almost the identical angle, the South Shore Butte shares the screen with a line of those fuzzy trees. This was the first of many "Virginian" appearances by the outcropping.
"The Executioners": Four fuzzy trees, all in a line

The four trees can also be seen in a number of "Virginian" episodes, always perfectly lined up. It's a bit of a sad footnote that every one of those trees on the valley floor ended up submerged and ultimately drowned.
A mystery rider approaches

This shot also features a guest appearance on the premiere episode of "The Virginian" by a pretty big star in his own right. Can you tell who it is from this distance?
Hugh O'Brian, right, works the future site of Las Virgenes Reservoir

It's Hugh O'Brian, TV's Wyatt Earp, who stirred up trouble on the premiere episode of "The Virginian" soon after wrapping up his successful six-year run on "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp."
"The Executioners": Castle Mesa on the right

With the South Shore Butte being filmed from multiple angles, it sometimes swapped positions with Castle Mesa. In this shot from "The Executioners," as in most of the "Virginian" shots, the mesa is seen to the right of the butte.
"The Awakening": Castle Mesa on the left

But Castle Mesa could also be seen to the left of the South Shore Butte, as in this shot from "The Awakening."
From a contemporary vantage point, Castle Mesa is typically on the left

In the shots I took at the site last summer, the mesa was positioned well to the left of the South Shore Butte. With all that water in the way, I didn't have the luxury of roaming the valley the way the production crews did.
A key hill is hiding in the shot

Taking another look at that last shot from "The Awakening," I want to call your attention to this low hill, barely noticeable at the far right of the screen.
"The Awakening": Another shot of the low hill

This shot from the same sequence, looking farther west, cuts out both Castle Mesa and the South Shore Butte, but offers a better look at the low hill.
An island out in the reservoir (2021)

This is why that low hill is significant — notice the island out in the reservoir in this shot from my summer 2021 visit to the location. I was able to determine that this island is in fact the top of that low hill.
The island before it was an island

The valley as it appeared then and the reservoir as it exists today are so different that it's difficult to match up features like this hill. But its identity is confirmed by some of the surrounding features.
Another marker alongside the reservoir

In particular, this low hill along the shore, situated southwest of the island, can also be identified both in the 2021 photo and in the screen shot from "The Awakening."
"The Awakening": Both the island and the shoreline hill can be found

Here's the shot from "The Awakening" again, with both features identified.
Revised estimate based on the new information: Even higher than we first thought

Now that we're able to identify the island and the shoreline hill, we can take a better-educated guess at the current water level — and our new estimate comes in a little higher than the previous one.
The fate of the fuzzy trees is sealed

One thing's for sure: The trees on the valley floor never stood a chance.
The "W-Ridge," shaped like a shallow W

Positioned directly above the future island and future low hill along the shore in the same "Virginian" shot is a distinctive section of ridgeline shaped like a shallow version of a letter "W." I call it the W-Ridge.
"Ryker" ("The Virginian," 1964): The rocky W-Ridge

We get a good look at this rocky ridge in the "Virginian" episode "Ryker." While the ridge's credentials as a letter of the alphabet may be weak, its lofty elevation makes it one of the area's more important landmarks.
A yellow "W" tracks the subtle shape of the ridge

The "W" shape is subtle, but the shallow yellow "W" here underscores the shape of the W-Ridge.
"It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (1964): Another "Big W" of the movies

The big "W" at Las Virgenes Reservoir is less obvious than another famous "Big W" from the movies — the one in "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," released the same year as "The Virginian's" best "Big W" episode, "Ryker."
"The Virginian's" Big W: Still in place in 2021

But unlike "Mad Mad World's" Big W, which was located at Portuguese Point in Rancho Palos Verdes and no longer exists, "The Virginian's" Big W can still be seen today, looming over Las Virgenes Reservoir.
Las Virgenes Reservoir's star-studded South Shore

In this shot from our site visit last summer, the W-Ridge can be seen directly above the South Shore Butte.
The Virginian, left, and a guest star in "50 Days to Moose Jaw" (1962)

Here's an appearance by the W-Ridge in the season one "Virginian" episode "50 Days to Moose Jaw."
You might know his face, but do you know his name?

The actor appearing as "Slim Jessup" in that episode had a distinguished career in the movies and would later become most closely identified with a long-running role on a TV cop show.
"Barney Miller" (1975-1982): Cast photo with James Gregory as Inspector Frank Luger

James Gregory appeared in more than 30 movies and hundreds of TV episodes in a career stretching from the 1940s into the 1980s, but he's probably best remembered today as Luger on "Barney Miller."
"Beneath the Planet of the Apes" (1970): James Gregory as Ursus

Gregory also rocked the ape armor as Ursus in "Beneath the Planet of the Apes."
"The Executioners" — first episode of "The Virginian" (1962)

The floor of the valley wasn't particularly rocky as Western movie locations go, but it did have one "rock star" — a widely filmed boulder positioned at the mouth of a small canyon and shaped like a giant skimming rock.
The rock's name foretells its fate

During the course of my research into the valley I took to calling this feature "Underwater Rock," a name that provides a pretty big clue as to where this is headed.
"Ryker" ("The Virginian," 1964): Underwater Rock in drier days

The rock may have been sitting high and dry back in the filming days, but just like the rest of the features anywhere near the floor of that gorgeous valley, today it's at the bottom of the reservoir.
"The Drifter" (1964 "Virginian" episode): Shootout at Underwater Rock

Location sleuth Aaron St. John and I put our heads together in researching the Las Virgenes Reservoir area, and we probably spent more time trying to figure out Underwater Rock than we did on any other feature.
"Ride to Misadventure" ("The Virginian," 1968): Underwater Rock, center

If you think it's hard to find old movie rocks under normal conditions — and it usually is — suffice to say that when they're underwater it's a LOT harder.
Las Virgenes Reservoir (Google Maps)

To begin with, that's a big reservoir, and that rock could be just about anywhere. But before you invest in scuba gear and underwater radar, I'll cut to the chase: To my surprise, we figured out the rock's location.
The result of many hours of intense (but fun) research

After a number of false starts, Aaron and I concluded that Underwater Rock was — I mean IS — located pretty much in the spot indicated here.
"Gunsmoke" episode "Winner Take All" (1965): Action in Hourglass Pass

One reason we were able to pinpoint Underwater Rock was because of its position near the mouth of a narrow canyon that was a focal point for filming. We call this area Hourglass Pass.
A gathering place for the valley's movie rocks

Hourglass Pass was a place where Underwater Rock could blend in with other rocks. This was clearly the rocky filming location of choice for production teams working in the valley.
"Winner Take All" ("Gunsmoke"): Ambush rocks across the pass from Underwater Rock

On the other side of the pass were these rocks where would-be ambushers could grab the high ground.
Hourglass Pass: Home to Underwater Rock and a few good trees

Not that grabbing the high ground was such a great idea. It's one of those strategies that tend to look good on paper, but it can also leave you exposed.
A moment later ...

Can't say we didn't warn ya there, Pard!
"Winner Take All": Looking south through the mouth of the pass

The "Gunsmoke" sequence highlights a number of features of Hourglass Pass. Here we're looking south toward the valley floor, with a heavily filmed movie tree posted right outside the pass.
"The Big Deal" (season one episode of "The Virginian," 1962): A reverse angle

This shot from "The Virginian" captures the same tree from the opposite direction. Now we're looking north as two riders emerge from Hourglass Pass. The hills in the background are about where the dam is today.
Looking north up Hourglass Pass

We saw all of these same features in the "Gunsmoke" sequence. Since the tree is situated just outside Hourglass Pass and we need something to call it, let's keep it simple and call it the "Hourglass Tree."
"The Drifter" (1964): A stripped-down version of the Hourglass Tree

This shot from "The Virginian" makes the point that the "fuzzy trees" shed their leaves when they feel like it. The Hourglass Tree may be even more impressive in this threadbare state than it is with its full plumage.
"The Photographer" ("Rawhide," 1964)

"Rawhide" also got in on the act, filming in Hourglass Pass. In this sequence a wagon heads north through the narrow pass and we see the ambush rocks at the top of the frame.
The hills have eyes!

Anyone else see the face of a lioness here, or is it just me?
"Ryker" ("The Virginian" season three, 1964): Cattle head into Hourglass Pass

Cattle are being driven north into Hourglass Pass in this shot from "The Virginian." The two fuzzy trees we see near the mouth of the pass are both trees that we have seen before.
Two heavily filmed trees captured side by side

We know the Hourglass Tree is positioned just outside the mouth of the pass, but thanks to this sequence we also now have a good idea of the location of the Crossroads Tree — a short distance south of the Hourglass Tree.
"Winner Take All" ("Gunsmoke"): Botched ambush at Hourglass Pass

Remember the "Gunsmoke" sequence where a would-be bushwhacker gets blasted off the top of a rock? This shot looking south through Hourglass Pass gives us another perspective on the trees just outside the pass.
Two of the valley's most important movie trees

We've already identified the Hourglass Tree from this angle, but now we can also identify the tree hiding behind it as the Crossroads Tree. These two trees were probably the most frequently filmed trees in the valley.
"Six Graves at Cripple Creek" (1965): Clu Gulager finds a burned cabin

One of the rare occasions when a set was put up for a "Virginian" episode filming in the valley can be found in the season three episode "Six Graves at Cripple Creek," where a burned-out cabin is featured.
The burned-out cabin's location is pinpointed by the Crossroads Tree, on the left

A wider shot of Clu Gulager, as Emmett Ryker, arriving at the cabin site reveals that the set was built near the Crossroads Tree, placing it just outside of Hourglass Pass.
"Six Graves at Cripple Creek": Things heat up at the Crossroads Tree

The Crossroads Tree gets a number of closeups during the sequence, including when Ryker's party comes under fire and a startled horse rears up near the tree.
How did that limb get there?

Guest star Sheilah Wells takes cover behind a spare limb that has been conveniently placed near the base of the Crossroads Tree in case any womenfolk find themselves in danger. Gulager, meanwhile, plays the hero.
Sheilah and her movie prop tree limb

A closer look at the limb, with Sheilah still hiding behind it, suggests that the movie prop is an actual tree limb. But I'd still be willing to bet money that it didn't fall out of the Crossroads Tree.
Hourglass Pass and the Hourglass Tree in "Six Graves at Cripple Creek"

Moments later we also catch a glimpse of the Hourglass Tree as Gulager heads north up Hourglass Pass.
"Last Grave at Socorro Creek" (1969) — not to be confused with "Six Graves at Cripple Creek"

Most of the "sets" built in the valley for "The Virginian" were pretty minor — like the occasional mound of dirt with a grave marker, as seen in the season seven episode "Last Grave at Socorro Creek."
Shiloh Ranch on the Universal backlot in "The Executioners" (1962)

That's because "The Virginian" filmed much of its outdoor footage on the backlot at Universal Studios, where they already had plenty of sets — including the set for the Shiloh Ranch, which was used throughout the series.
Shiloh in season three's "Hideout": Same clouds as a couple of years earlier

The producers cut corners wherever they could, including recycling the original footage of Shiloh throughout the run of the show. When we see Shiloh again in season three, the clouds haven't moved an inch since season one.
"With Help From Ulysses" (1968): Those are some mighty persistent clouds!

And again in season six — the lighting keeps changing, but the clouds refuse to budge. These exact same clouds, along with the tree branch, can be found in any number of episodes, because it's all the same footage.
Where was the grave located, and who is that actress?

Taking another look at "Last Grave at Socorro Creek," we can examine where the grave was located — but meanwhile, do you recognize the actress yet who played the recently widowed Kate Burden?
The Virginian arrives, with a familiar landmark in the background

The first part of the mystery is solved when the Virginian drops in to look after the Widow Burden. The South Shore Butte places the grave location near what today would be the south shore of the reservoir.
James Drury, as the Virginian, visits the grave of his friend

As the Virginian and the widow mourn the sudden death of Bill Burden — and rekindle some of their old feelings for each other — we get a little better look at the acclaimed actress who plays Kate Burden.
Ellen Burstyn, as Kate Burden

I imagine a handful of readers will have figured out by now that it's Ellen Burstyn, still relatively early in her career. Burstyn would go on to win an Oscar and multiple Emmys, among countless other accolades.
"Gunsmoke" episode "The Hostage": The view to the west, and a famous neighbor

One rock feature adjoining the reservoir area is famous in its own right, at least among locals. But this striking outcropping is rarely associated with the valley now occupied by Las Virgenes Reservoir.
The nearby landmark maintains a low profile

This well-known rock formation not only has survived intact, but is still being used for filming.
"Six Graves at Cripple Creek": The same background rock formation

When we saw that horse rearing up near the Crossroads Tree a while back, the same formation could be seen in the background, at the right of the frame.
Wide shot of the reservoir today, looking west

Viewed from Las Virgenes Reservoir, the rock feature is positioned today at the body of water's "business end," the west end, where the reservoir's dam and operational facilities can be found.
The reservoir's "industrial" section — and its famous neighbor

Here's a better look at this rocky landmark in modern times, as seen from the shore of the reservoir. If you know the area you may have already figured out what it is, but I have to admit it took me a while to dial it in.
The Big Reveal

Time for the big reveal: It's the Lake Eleanor Sentinel, and this is about as close to it as we dare try to get to it on a hike around Las Virgenes Reservoir.
"Gunsmoke": The Crossroads Tree, center, but notice the silhouette at top right

Remember this "Gunsmoke" shot showing the Crossroads Tree? We talked about it higher up in the post.
A helpful marker in the distance

Now that we know what to look for, we can tell from just a ghostly outline that it's the Sentinel, standing watch over the goings-on in the valley. The landmark once again lets us know that the shot is taken looking west.
"Ryker" ("The Virginian," 1964): Two riders head west

The Sentinel had a habit of popping up at random moments whenever filming was going on in the valley. In this shot from "The Virginian," the outcropping surfaces near a spot where two roads diverge.
Pointing out the obvious

I probably didn't need to point it out, but that's the tip of the Sentinel at the center of the shot — the only recognizable feature in the frame as the two buddies go their separate ways.
"Tarzan and His Mate" (1934): Elephants march below the Lake Eleanor Sentinel

The Lake Eleanor Sentinel has been appearing in movies since at least as far back as the early 1930s, although it's almost always shot from the other side, as seen in "Tarzan and His Mate."
One of the earliest film appearances for the picturesque outcropping

This side of the Sentinel is usually associated with filming in the vicinity of another lake, Lake Sherwood, even though the Sentinel is named after still another lake, Lake Eleanor.
The Lake Eleanor Sentinel in 2020 (Jerry Condit photo)

Here's a beautiful black-and-white shot of the Lake Eleanor Sentinel taken in 2020 by photographer and filming location researcher Jerry Condit. This angle matches the view of the Sentinel in "Tarzan and His Mate."
Lake Eleanor and the Lake Eleanor Sentinel, along Highway 23

This photo captures the tiny but scenic Lake Eleanor along with the Sentinel rising above it. Lake Eleanor itself is barely a puddle compared with its much larger neighbors Lake Sherwood and Las Virgenes Reservoir.
The profile we see from Las Virgenes Reservoir

You might recognize this part of the Lake Eleanor Sentinel's profile from the "Gunsmoke," "Virginian" and Las Virgenes Reservoir shots above, even though the angle of this shot is a little different.
Farmers Insurance commercial "Doggone" (2021)

The Sentinel's filming career continues today, with the landmark turning up just last year in a Farmers Insurance commercial. Click on the video above to watch the 30-second spot — and be sure to click on "full screen."
The Lake Eleanor Sentinel's latest star turn

Here's the "money shot" from the Farmers commercial, showing a crashed car along Highway 23 with the Lake Eleanor Sentinel looming conspicuously in the background.
The Lake Eleanor Sentinel in 2020, photographed from Highway 23

Just by coincidence, I was out that way in 2020 and snapped this photo of the Sentinal, accidentally creating a shot that's almost a match for the commercial. Of course, the lighting is a lot different, among other things.
Google aerial view of the "Three Lakes Region," showing the location for the insurance spot

Highway 23, where the ad was shot, is also known through here as Westlake Boulevard. The highway winds its way through the mountains south of Thousand Oaks, becoming Decker Canyon before it ends up in Malibu.
The "Three Lakes Region's" three major lakes

The region's three major lakes are all manmade. Of the three, Lake Sherwood is by far the oldest, dating back to 1904. Westlake Lake — the lake so nice they named it twice — was built in 1969. And I'm being facetious when I say "so nice," as I'm holding a grudge over its displacement of prime filming terrain. Sound familiar?
A lake among lakes — and a sentinel among ... um ... well, lakes

Situated right in the middle of all this water are Lake Eleanor and the Lake Eleanor Sentinel. I don't mean to be unkind to Lake Eleanor, but it's so small it doesn't even rank as one of the Three Lakes Region's three lakes.
Trail to Las Virgenes Reservoir: Start at the Pentachaeta Trailhead in Westlake Village

As for the main lake that's the focus of this post, Las Virgenes Reservoir, the best way to access the former filming area is from the Pentachaeta Trailhead, off Triunfo Canyon Road just east of Lindero Canyon Road.
How the sausage is made

A big shout-out once again to Aaron St. John, my collaborator on this project. It sure helps to have someone to bounce my crazy ideas off of and get even crazier ones bounced back — sometimes they turn out to be right!
Follow the hoofsteps of "The Virginian" through the valley

If you'd like to see video of the valley that lies beneath today's Las Virgenes Reservoir, the best place to look is in the TV series "The Virginian." Seasons 1-4 and season 7 may be the best for location shoots in the valley (especially season 1), but it can be seen throughout the run of the show.

Check out the links below to various "Virginian" packages on DVD. There's also a link to a book about the history of the TV show. If you buy any of these items off Amazon after clicking the link, you'll be supporting future research by the Iverson Movie Ranch Blog. Thanks for your interest in old filming locations!