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

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Iverson Movie Ranch's mighty Sphinx welcomes an unexpected visitor

The Sphinx, located in the Garden of the Gods (viewed from the southeast)

Many fans of the Iverson Movie Ranch are familiar with the Sphinx, one of the former movie location ranch's most famous and most widely filmed rocks.

Promo still for "Bullet Code" (1940): The Sphinx, seen from the northeast

The Sphinx's name appears to be derived from its profile as seen from the north or northeast.

The western end of the rock has a "face" that bears a resemblance to Egypt's famed Great Sphinx of Giza. 

The Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt

Egypt's Sphinx has a few extra centuries of recorded history behind it, but the Iverson Movie Ranch's Sphinx has the advantage of still having its nose.

Egypt's Great Sphinx — front view

The front view of the Great Sphinx is a more familiar angle. But from this angle the ancient landmark loses its resemblance to Iverson's Sphinx.

"Tarzan's Savage Fury" (1952) (promo still from the Jerry England Collection)

The Iverson Movie Ranch's Sphinx strikes an especially "Sphinx-like" pose as it looms in the background of a promotional photo for "Tarzan's Savage Fury," starring Lex Barker and Dorothy Hart.

The Sphinx — at least that's what we're calling it these days

The Sphinx has had a number of other names. As recently as 10 years ago the rock was still widely known as Eagle Beak — a bit of mislabeling that has been attributed to confusion with the "real" Eagle Beak Rock.

The "real" Eagle Beak Rock — on the Upper Iverson

The real Eagle Beak Rock was a common feature in the background of chase scenes filmed on the Upper Iverson. Today it provides a backdrop for the mansions that now occupy that part of the former movie ranch.

"Calamity Jane and the Texan" (1950): Eagle Beak Rock, at top left, presides over a chase

Here's just one example of what Eagle Beak Rock looked like as it towered over hundreds of chase scenes. Readers should be able to match up the rock as it appears "then and now" in the above two photos.

"Overland Trails" (Monogram, 1948): Responsible for one of the "Indian Heads"?

For part of the filming era, the Sphinx was known as "Indian Head" — one of at least four or five rocks on the Iverson Ranch to be called that. The name appears to have originated in the movie "Overland Trails."

"Overland Trails": The rock pinpoints a hidden waterhole and mine

I've only been able to find a very low-res version of the movie, but when the boys ride up on the rock seen above (which we know as the Sphinx), Johnny Mack Brown says: "Hey Dusty, look — look at that rock. Doesn't that look like an Indian head to you?" And Dusty, played by Raymond Hatton, answers: "Well it sure does!"

The Sphinx, identified as "Indian Head Rock" in Leon Smith's movie location books 

That's probably why some researchers started identifying the Sphinx as "Indian Head," as author Leon Smith does in his movie location books.

Lone Ranger Rock — once known by another name

Many of the major rocks at Iverson have multiple names — and the most common of those names is "Indian Head." Even the ranch's most famous rock, Lone Ranger Rock, used to be called "Indian Head." That was long before Clayton Moore came along on Silver and established the rock's new identity.

The Sphinx: Intrigue at the west end

Getting back to the Sphinx, each corner of the rock has its own movie history and its own stories to tell, but I'd like to call attention to the rock's complicated and rarely talked about bottom half at its western end.

"The Lone Ranger" TV series: "War Horse" episode (1949)

I was watching some early episodes of "The Lone Ranger" when I noticed what appears to be the entrance to a cave. A few days later I found myself on the Iverson Ranch searching for the cave.

The "War Horse" episode premiered on Oct. 20, 1949, back in the earliest days of television as a mainstream medium. These early episodes of "The Lone Ranger" were filmed heavily on the Iverson Ranch. They also occupy an important place in TV history, with "The Lone Ranger" being one of the medium's first hit shows.

The same location on a visit to the Iverson Ranch in 2018

Based on the context in the TV episode I had a good idea where to look for the cave, and as it turned out, it was pretty easy to find. Of course, when we find these sites in the real world, they rarely look the same as they did in the movies and on TV, and this location is no exception.

As usual, it's the little details that make the match. This shot identifies some of the common reference points between the photo I took on my recent visit, seen here, and the "Lone Ranger" screen shot, seen below.

Here are the same reference points in the "Lone Ranger" screen shot.

Should we be talking about the "elephant in the room"?

Have you spotted the "elephant in the room" yet? There's one big, glaring difference between the site as it appeared in "The Lone Ranger" and the site as it appears today.

Intruder alert! What the heck is that thing doing in there?

The glaring difference is a big rock that wasn't there back in 1949. This monster is one of the best examples I've seen lately of what I call an "intruder rock."

Intruder rocks we have known and loved: The "Love Me Tender" filming area at Bell Ranch

My initial reaction whenever intruder rocks show up is typically along the lines of: "Get outta there — you're ruining the shot!" But the truth is intruder rocks often add something to the story. If nothing else, they demonstrate that rocks don't necessarily have to sit still all the time.

Photo from the "Love Me Tender" expedition to Bell Ranch in 2015

These intruders provided a fun twist back in 2015 when we went "Off the Beaten Path" to Bell Ranch to track down an Elvis Presley filming location from his first movie, "Love Me Tender." You can click here to read the full report.

As for the Sphinx intruder, a look at that corner of the Sphinx provides clues to where it may have come from.

Considering how gravity works, we know the intruder rock must have come from somewhere up above. And directly above the rock's present position we find evidence of rock movement.

Just above the intruder we can see some new rock surface — an indication that something did break off from here. We also find a distinctive curved edge to the new surface area.

The curved edge up above appears to match an edge on the intruder rock. The evidence strongly suggests that we have identified the spot where the intruder rock was hanging around before it broke away.

Factor in that the intruder rock is positioned RIGHT BELOW the target area of the "mother rock," and we have a mountain of evidence supporting the proposed point of origin.

Damage from the Northridge Earthquake (Jan. 17, 1994)
The intruder most likely snapped off during one of the region's two big earthquakes of modern times — either the Sylmar/San Fernando Quake in 1971 or the Northridge Quake in 1994.

"The New Adventures of Spin and Marty" (1957): The western edge of Sphinx

Delving further into the rock's origins, I tracked down this shot from the "Spin and Marty" TV serial that aired in 1957. Here we see that corner of the Sphinx as it appeared before the rock took the plunge.

The area where the fresh rock surface is visible today is located roughly here in the "Spin and Marty" shot.

As I studied the available "then" and "now" shots, I became increasingly focused on the rock noted here.

The west end of Sphinx on a recent visit

It's hard to duplicate the angle seen in "Spin and Marty" when visiting the site today, in part because the lower sections are now blocked by foliage. But this recent shot offers a reasonable approximation.

Notice the rocks marked "A," "B" and "C" in the recent photo.

The same rocks are indicated here in the "Spin and Marty" shot.

The possible intruder rock is positioned in the space between rocks A, B and C.

The intruder rock appears to be missing from the recent shot.

I'm reluctant to say this analysis "proves" that we've correctly identified the intruder rock, because just when we think we have rocks figured out, they can surprise us. But I have a feeling we've found our culprit.

It seems as though these two surfaces may have originally been attached. The rock would have twisted as it fell, and what was previously the rectangular front "face" of the rock is now hidden in back.

Back side of the intruder rock (2018)

Taking a look at the back side of the rock, yeah, I can believe this was the part that formed the rectangular "face" of the rock as it appeared in "Spin and Marty." Again, nothing conclusive here, but it seems to work.

Seeing the intruder rock in its contemporary setting, I can't help thinking the rock has settled in nicely. If nothing else, it's appealingly framed by the rocks around it.

It's almost as though the rock finally arrived home — the place where it wanted to be all along. And its journey provided hours of diversion for some among us who already spend way too much time thinking about rocks.

"Dick Turpin" (1925): Promo still helps clear up the mystery of the intruder rock

Update: About six months after this item was originally posted, this promo still for the 1925 Tom Mix movie "Dick Turpin" surfaced, adding clarity to the intruder rock's origins. Click here for the full update.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Dinosaur Claw found in Chatsworth, Calif. — with dead guys all over the place

"Wagon Team" (Columbia, 1952)

I've been intrigued by a rock formation that reminds me of a giant dinosaur claw since I first spotted it a few years ago in the Gene Autry movie "Wagon Team."

It's in a heavily filmed area, but the formation itself is not commonly seen in productions. Maybe filmmakers thought it looked too much like a dinosaur part to be believable as a background rock in the Westerns.

"Fast on the Draw" (Lippert, 1950): The front "toe" of "Dinosaur Claw"

It did pop up in a promo shot for "Fast on the Draw," one of the "Lippert Six" Westerns discussed in a recent blog post. The angle is rotated about 90 degrees from the "Wagon Team" shot, with the camera aimed west here.

They ran a color version of the same shot as part of a lobby card for "Fast on the Draw," only they cut the dead guy out of the picture.

Well, I should say they "kind of" cut the dead guy out. You can still see part of him.

"Dinosaur Claw" in 2018 — minus the dead guy

The giant claw turned out to be pretty easy to find in the real world. However, it's hard to get a decent photo of it because these days a tree is blocking a lot of its light.

But even in the shade, a couple of the rock's markings, along with its overall shape, make it easy to recognize.

The same round hole and diagonal gash noted in the 2018 photo above can also be found in the promo still for "Fast on the Draw."

Dinosaur Claw in 2018: Letdown-osaurus

This is probably the formation's most "Dinosaur Claw-like" angle. I was disappointed when I finally saw it because the feature doesn't look nearly as much like a dinosaur claw in person as it did in the movies.

Hidden Valley — on the former Upper Iverson's South Rim

The rock formation is located on the former Upper Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., in an area known as Hidden Valley, on private property in the fringes of a gated community of high-end estates.

"West of the Brazos" (Lippert, 1950): Tom Tyler with a fallen "co-henchman"

Those Lippert Westerns tend to have a lot of dead guys lying around among the rocks. This shot was taken not far from the Dinosaur Claw dead guy, about a stone's throw to the west down a dusty old movie road.

Here we find the same rocks on a recent visit — and wouldn't you know it, there's yet another dead guy draped over the rock. No wait, it's just Iverson researcher Cliff Roberts taking a break from our strenuous hike.

Here again, the promo shot can also be found as part of a color lobby card.

"West of the Brazos": Tom Tyler and his ill-fated co-star

Another shot from the movie offers a slightly different angle on these rarely filmed rocks. In the background we get a glimpse of the much more prominent Totem Rocks or Totem Pole Rocks.

Here's another look at the same rocks from our recent expedition.

To point out something that's probably kind of obvious, the rock in the back has a distinctive hole in it.

The same hole keeps turning up in the "West of the Brazos" shots.

The Totem Rocks, or Totem Pole Rocks

Pulling back for a wider shot from an expedition a few years ago, we get a better look at the Totem Rocks. I've also referred to these rocks in the past as Easter Island or the Easter Island Committee.

The rocks in "West of the Brazos" are located near the base of the stone pillars that form the Totem Rocks.

"The Tomb" (1986): Camels on the Upper Iverson, below the Totem Rocks

The Totem Rocks turn up all the time in movies and TV shows. Here's a shot of them in "The Tomb," one of the later movies to film on the Upper Iverson — and quite possibly the last time anyone brought camels there.

Joe Iverson rides a camel in the Iverson Gorge in 1934

There's a long tradition of camels on the Iverson Movie Ranch, something we touched on last month in a post about Colonial India movies and "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer." (Click here to see that post.)
It can be weird seeing Iverson rocks in later movies where they're not only in color but also extremely clear. Good thing the actors and camels are there or this might look just like a photo someone took on a visit to the site.

Here's a shot I took of the same rocks just a few years ago. It's not that much different from the camel shot ... other than not having any camels in it. It also looks as though someone might have mowed the lawn.

I suppose eons ago — and this is one time we can use the term "eons" literally — some of those rocks strewn about on the ground might have been hanging around up here. Be glad you weren't there when this thing fell apart, because it probably would have woken you up.

"Tarzan and the Slave Girl" (1950): Lex Barker on Notch Rock

You may have seen this shot on the blog before. It's Tarzan — played in this case by Lex Barker — not fooling anyone into thinking he's in Africa as he stands on top of Notch Rock.

"Seminole Uprising" (1955): Hard to miss Notch Rock

Notch Rock may be TOO instantly recognizable. Almost anytime it's in the picture, the eye is drawn to it.

"Cripple Creek" (1952): The Reflecting Pool, Wrench Rock ... and oh yeah, Notch Rock

Even with a lot of other interesting stuff in the shot, Notch Rock commands attention.

All of these "attractions" have been featured previously on the blog. You can look them up in the long index on the right of the page, or click here to see a really old and confusing post about Wrench Rock and the Reflecting Pool.

"Wild Horse Ambush" (Republic, 1952)

Even from halfway across the Upper Iverson, we can still pick out Notch Rock. This shot provides a look at the rocks of "Bobby's Bend" from the north.

Take a bow, Notch Rock ... and no, I don't mean that literally.