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

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A "Star Trek" shooting location — lost to history for almost half a century — has been found

It may come as a surprise given that "Star Trek: The Original Series" was all about exploring the universe, but the TV show rarely ventured outside the studio.

Only nine of the 79 episodes produced over the course of three seasons were shot on location, while another five episodes made it only as far as the backlot at Desilu Studios. The rest of the series, which aired on NBC from 1966-1969, was all done on soundstages.

The Gorn menaces Capt. Kirk in "Arena," 
shot at Vasquez Rocks

Those few location shoots have been a source of intrigue among "Star Trek" aficionados. Some shoots, such as the one shown above for the "Arena" episode at Vasquez Rocks, have become legendary. The episode featured an infamous fight sequence between Kirk and the rubber-suited Gorn across the distinctively tilted rocks. Vasquez was the remote location of choice for "The Original Series," with four episodes shot there.

Landscape of Planet Neural in "A Private Little War," 
shot at Bell Location Ranch

"Trek" insiders have been working for years to determine the rest of the locations where "The Original Series," or "TOS," was shot, and that work is now pretty much complete. One of the most challenging episodes to figure out was "A Private Little War," which first aired Feb. 2, 1968, during the second season. I'm happy to be able to confirm that the location for this episode has been found: "A Private Little War" was shot on the lower plateau of the Bell Location Ranch, in the Santa Susana Mountains above Box Canyon, just outside of Chatsworth, Calif.

"A Private Little War"

The location shoot for "A Private Little War" has been widely misunderstood. Through a brief online search I found sites attributing the episode separately to Vasquez Rocks and Bronson Canyon, and I've seen a YouTube clip — no longer posted — by a fan who speculated it was shot at the Iverson Movie Ranch. Not one of those theories turns out to be correct. "Star Trek: TOS" did shoot one episode at Bronson Canyon — season two's "Bread and Circuses," which aired March 15, 1968. But the series never shot at Iverson.

A March 2013 expedition by a group of film historians to the site of the former Bell Ranch, spearheaded by "TOS" location expert Larry Herdman, finally unlocked the mysteries of "A Private Little War." One of the first signs the group was on to something was the sight of these rugged cliffs looming over Bell Ranch's lower plateau.

Here's that same rugged cliff area, as seen in early 1968 (but shot in late 1967) in "A Private Little War." The shot leaves no doubt as to where the episode was taped.

In an early scene from "A Private Little War," a small band of Villagers sets up an ambush in the rocks. The scene takes place in a group of rocks near the edge of Bell Ranch's lower plateau.

This is what that same group of rocks looks like today — pretty much the same as when the episode was taped in late 1967, although the lighting conditions give the rocks a darker appearance.

A closer shot of two of the guys in the ambush shows them hiding in a small cluster of rocks.

This is that same cluster, as seen today.

Here's a wider view of the ambush area today, with the San Fernando Valley in the background. The small cluster seen above with the two ambushers is just to the left of center in this shot.

A little to the east, four Hill People walk past a rock with distinctive circular markings — unaware they're walking into an ambush.

Here's that same rock today, with the markings still easy to identify.

Pulling back for a wider view of that area today, the angular rock seen above with the distinctive circular markings appears at the far left of the frame. (For a better look at it, click on the photo to enlarge it.) The area where the Villagers would have been waiting in ambush is at the far right. Here again, the San Fernando Valley is seen in the background.

Another distinctive rock, photographed during the March 2013 expedition to Bell Ranch's lower plateau.

A portion of that same rock can be seen behind McCoy in the "TOS" episode, in the top right corner.

Here's another rock photographed during the recent visit to Bell Ranch.

And here's the same rock in another screen shot of an injured McCoy. The two angles are pretty close, and you should be able to easily spot similarities in the rock's shapes and markings between the two shots.

Spock was a part of at least one landing party during the episode and joined Kirk in romping around Bell Ranch's rocky terrain.

One of the main characters in the episode is Nona, who is being attacked by a Villager in this scene near the end of "A Private Little War." It seems to me that this shot inadvertently exposes some buildings in the background at the right — a blurry glimpse of the western San Fernando Valley circa late 1967.

This photo shows that same general area of the Valley in recent times. I don't think it's possible to match up specific buildings, as the angle is not exactly the same and the place has grown a lot in the past 45 years. But the same cliff face is seen in both shots — at the left in the above shot and at the center in the "TOS" shot, directly above the Villager's head. If you look closely you should be able to make out the same horizontal markings and "pock marks" in both shots, although this match isn't quite as obvious as some of those above.

For additional views of the Bell Ranch shoot for "A Private Little War," please click here to see a blog entry by movie location expert Jerry England.

"A Private Little War"

With the discovery that "A Private Little War" was shot on the Bell Location Ranch, the bulk of the location research for "TOS" is now done. But at least one loose end remains.

"This Side of Paradise" — widely believed to be 
shot at Golden Oak Ranch

A certain amount of mystery still surrounds the 1967 episode "This Side of Paradise" from season one, which is generally thought to be shot at Disney's Golden Oak Ranch in Placerita Canyon near Newhall, Calif. Golden Oak continues to be used as a filming facility and is closed to the public, so "TOS" historians have yet to get a look at the site to verify the shoot.

A warning about Bell Ranch: The former movie location site also remains closed to the public, hidden behind locked gates and difficult to access. While the lower plateau is still relatively undeveloped, much of the rest of Bell is now occupied by residential housing. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry about a "Bonanza" shoot on Bell's lower plateau, the area is defended by residents who don't appreciate strangers traipsing around on their turf — and other hikers who have gone into the area have received something less than a warm welcome from the locals.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Devil's Pass, Vultura's Pass and another look at everyone's favorite Wookiee from "Star Wars"

Chewbacca — rising above Devil's Pass (aka Vultura's Pass)

It's high time I update my blog entry from a few years ago on the Iverson rock I call Chewbacca.

Not everyone sees the resemblance between the rock and the beloved "Star Wars" Wookiee (often spelled Wookie), but it popped out at me the first time I saw the rock in person. Your mileage may vary, and I hope I get comments on whether readers see it or not.

"The Lone Ranger" TV show: episode "Devil's Pass" (1950)

The rock is located in a section of the former Lower Iverson I call Devil's Pass. The name comes from the title of an episode of the TV show "The Lone Ranger" that originally aired May 25, 1950. In the above screen shot from the episode "Devil's Pass," the Lone Ranger and Tonto are seen riding west through the pass.

Chewbacca is out of the picture, but would be up high on the right. Directly above Tonto's head is an often filmed rock known as Hangover Rock, which you may want to enlarge the photo (by clicking on it) to get a better look at. (You can find another shot of Hangover Rock at the bottom of this post.)

The same pass is also known as "Vultura's Pass," as it was the location of Vultura's Palace, seen above, in the seminal 1942 Republic serial "The Perils of Nyoka." The pass today remains on private property and is difficult to access other than looking at it over the brick wall that now separates this spot from the nearby condos. Some of the rocks in the above two shots are the same — you may be able to match up the rocks in the above photo that are just above the roof of the palace, near the center-top of the photo, with the same pair of rocks in the "Lone Ranger" shot, near the top-left corner. It's two rocks separated by a curved crack, and if I only had a dime for every time I've heard that expression.

Here's a shot of the evil Vultura, played by Adrian Booth — also known as Lorna Gray — posing for a publicity still for "The Perils of Nyoka" at the Iverson Movie Ranch, courtesy of Western movie expert Jerry England.

Another early shot of Lorna Gray/Adrian Booth, who apparently is still going strong at 95 — it wasn't that long ago, just a few years, that I went to an event in Hollywood to hear the longtime Republic Pictures star reminisce about the studio's Golden Age. Does she have stories!

"Buffalo Bill Rides Again" (1947)

Meanwhile, back at the Pass — Devil's or Vultura's — this is the view from a sniper's outpost up next to Chewbacca, looking west with the Upper Gorge in the background. The riders are entering the west end of the pass, arriving from the north, and will head roughly east. The screen shot comes from the Richard Arlen/Jennifer Holt B-Western "Buffalo Bill Rides Again."

Like most rocks, Chewbacca's appearance changes as it's viewed from different angles and in different light. Sadly, the thing has been hit with a little graffiti, something that has been a bit of a problem on the former Iverson Movie Ranch. It's most evident in the photo at the top of this post.

You might not think this prehistoric-looking thing is the same rock, but it is. Lighting makes a big difference, as illustrated by this shot of Chewie later in the day. Most of the character's "face" is in shade here.

This side of the rock reminds me of something out of the Broadway show "Cats."

There's that brick wall I mentioned, toward the right and down the hill. This is Devil's Pass in recent years, looking more or less southwest. On the other side of the wall are hundreds of condos.

Here's a better look at Hangover Rock, which is also seen in the third photo from the top, above. The precarious-looking feature marks the eastern end of Devil's Pass/Vultura's Pass. The African hut seen in this shot from the summer of 2008 was a set for the NBC TV series "Heroes." Partially visible in the background at the right is a non-movie house that was known as the "Old Folks' House," where Karl and Augusta Iverson, the founders of the Iverson Movie Ranch, lived in their later years. The house burned down just a few months after this photo was taken, in the 2008 Porter Ranch Fire.

NBC's series "Heroes" shot at Iverson for an Africa storyline that was a part of season three.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Back in the days before Gorge Cabin, 'twas another cabin in the Iverson Gorge — smaller, humbler and older

"Unknown Valley" (1933) — the first known cabin in the Iverson Gorge

Three years before the Gorge Cabin was built on the Iverson Movie Ranch in 1936, an earlier cabin existed briefly in the same general location. I know of only one film appearance for this much smaller cabin, in the old Buck Jones B-Western "Unknown Valley," from Columbia, as seen above. This was the first known movie cabin in the Iverson Gorge. In the above screen shot, the unusual "tower" rock in the background, near top left, provided the clue needed to determine where the cabin was located.

I was able to identify this rock, which I have at times referred to as Doglips, as the same rock seen in the background in the "Unknown Valley" shot above. The rock still stands in the Iverson Gorge, and can be seen easily from Redmesa Road in Chatsworth. The above two shots are from approximately, but not exactly, the same angle — close enough to compare the features. You may not spot the similarities at first, but a careful examination of the rock's nooks and crannies leaves no doubt. Incidentally, the dark rock to the left of Doglips in the recent photo is Lone Ranger Rock, and in the top left corner of both of the above shots is the southeast corner of Garden of the Gods.

A view of Doglips from a different angle — from the east — might begin to explain its nickname, with the left half of the rock showing canine characteristics. It's a distinctive rock from every angle, and has come up before on this blog. The rock, which has also been called Chinless Wonder, has made appearances in a number of movies and TV shows. Click here for a couple of other angles — including an even better look at the rock's "lips."

Here's another view of the circa 1933 "Unknown Valley" cabin. I believe the rock seen behind it from this angle no longer exists, with a part of the Cal West Townhomes development now occupying the space. As for the cabin itself, it may have been built just for that one movie and then torn down.

One more view of the old cabin reveals that it was next to a V-shaped tree — another Iverson feature that has been lost to development.

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 this vintage shot, you can see the same rock formation in the background that appears in the first photo. 

This distinctive strata formation is one of the keys to navigating the former Bell Location Ranch, as it sits to the east of what was once the Western town. However, no traces of the town remain in place today.

"Screaming Rabbit Rock"

Positioned atop the strata formation is one of my favorite movie rocks, which I call Screaming Rabbit Rock.

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 "Bonanza" episode "The Rattlesnake Brigade" (Dec. 5, 1971)

A portion of the old Bell Ranch was the focus of a recent film history expedition, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it. The trek produced a number of revelations, including identifying shooting sites for the "Bonanza" episode "The Rattlesnake Brigade." In the above screen shot, Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and a couple of his buddies arrive 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. You may be able to recognize many of the rocks from the "Bonanza" shot, and the road, despite being lined now with heavy vegetation, also matches. (Click on the photos to enlarge them for a better look.)

Recent shot: The same rocks seen in the "Bonanza" episode

I ran across some controversy online about whether these "Bonanza" scenes were shot at Bell Ranch or on the Spahn Movie Ranch, which was located several miles away. I hope these matching shots will help settle the dispute, as the episode was definitely shot at Bell Ranch and not at Spahn.

The rocks as they appear in "Bonanza"

I understand why some people enjoy believing things were filmed at Spahn Ranch because of the site's mystique and notoriety following the Manson Family murders. But it turns out that the majority of what has been attributed to filming at Spahn was NOT in fact filmed there — including this "Bonanza" episode.

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.

This scene 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 both "the Three-Meter Board" and "the Ten-Meter Board" by area film historians. In reality it's much more than 10 meters high, so take your pick.

Here are some of those same rocks today. If the However-Many-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.

By the way, check out this dude in the background. Is that a face only a mother could love, or what? Regardless, it's a good marker rock for figuring out where you are at Bell Ranch. I call it "Bell Boy."

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.