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.
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• 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).
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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ancient movie steps near Lone Ranger Rock may be the oldest surviving artifact on the Iverson Movie Ranch

Filming "They Died With Their Boots On" in the Iverson Gorge in 1941

The Iverson Gorge continues to cling to secrets from its glory days as a filming location, but we got one step closer to unlocking one of those secrets on a recent expedition to the site.

The journey begins with this terrific behind-the-scenes shot from the filming of "They Died With Their Boots On," taken with the camera facing southwest, with Garden of the Gods and Lone Ranger Rock pinpointing the spot.

Almost unnoticed is a set of old stone steps near Lone Ranger Rock. Their origin is unknown — and may never be known — but my hunch is they date back to the silent film era.

Zooming in on the shot, this is about the best view of the steps that I've ever seen.

Also visible is an interesting flat slab. It looks manmade to me, but it's hard to be sure.

"The Luck of Roaring Camp" (1937): The steps make an appearance

Sightings of the steps in productions are rare, but I did spot them in this gravesite sequence in the old Monogram B-Western "The Luck of Roaring Camp," filmed a few years before "They Died With Their Boots On."

The steps are not a part of the action in the movie, but they're visible in the background. It strikes me that the steps had probably already been lying around for years without much to do.

Lone Ranger Rock and the Iverson Gorge's "Indian Village" (circa 1944-1951)

Lone Ranger Rock and its surroundings turn up again in a behind-the-scenes photo showing some of the adobe structures that were in place in the Gorge throughout much of the 1940s.

"Black Arrow" (Columbia serial, 1944): The "Indian Village" first surfaces

The adobes were part of a larger group of buildings the Iverson family called the "Indian Village," which filled much of the Upper Gorge and dated back to the 1944 Columbia serial "Black Arrow."

The behind-the-scenes photo offers a rare look at Lone Ranger Rock against the backdrop of the Indian Village.

The photo also provides another view of the steps near Lone Ranger Rock, although they're hidden in the shadows and are a bit hard to make out.

Zooming in on the photo, we get a better look at the steps.

We can also see what appears to be the slab, although it's less than crystal-clear.

Opening to "The Lone Ranger": Lone Ranger Rock's famous closeup

Lone Ranger Rock is most famous for its appearance in the opening sequence of the "Lone Ranger" TV series — a sequence that was filmed twice, in black-and-white in 1949 and again in color in 1956.

Lone Ranger Rock in modern times: The Iverson Movie Ranch's top "tourist attraction"

Lone Ranger Rock today remains a magnet for fans of the "Lone Ranger" TV series.

Lone Ranger Rock in December 2018

Lately the area below Lone Ranger Rock, like much of the undeveloped terrain of the former Iverson Ranch over the past couple of years, has become overloaded with dried brush, making access a challenge.

Below Lone Ranger Rock: The old movie steps can still be found

You have to look pretty carefully through the brush to find the steps, but they're still there.

Until recently, the steps below Lone Ranger Rock had been pretty much lost to history. I doubt that anyone ever looked for them until late 2018, when we made a trek into the area specifically in search of the steps.

All things considered, the steps were pretty easy to find. They were right where they "should" be, based on the various screen shots and behind-the-scenes production stills.

The Lone Ranger Rock Steps, at bottom right

They're not much to see, really, after being buried under decades' worth of dirt and brush. They're just a series of flat rocks, arranged into a crude stairway leading up toward Lone Ranger Rock.

There's just enough evidence to determine that the rocks were arranged this way on purpose. As far as why they were placed here, or when, or by whom, these may all be unanswerable questions.

While I was in the area, I also searched for the slab.

I figured if the round rock just above the slab could be found, it would pinpoint where the slab should be.

I was able to find the round rock without any trouble, but found no sign of the slab. The slab's disappearance bolsters the argument that it was manmade, because otherwise, why would it have been removed?

French poster for "Ben-Hur" (MGM, 1925)

The best theory I can come up with to try to explain the steps — and I suppose, the slab too — is that they were set up back in the spring of 1925 during production on the silent feature "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ."

"Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ": A crowd gathers at Lone Ranger Rock

The steps could have been installed to help position the extras and cast members who crowded into a relatively small area below Lone Ranger Rock for this scene in "Ben-Hur." The steps themselves are not visible in the scene.

The color footage shot in the Iverson Gorge was innovative in 1925. Much of the movie was filmed in black-and-white, but parts of it — including the Lone Ranger Rock sequence — are in early Technicolor.

The silent "Ben-Hur" also includes an early visit by at least one camel to the Iverson Ranch. While this may have been the first camel on the ranch, it wasn't the last — other camel sightings can be found here and here.

Are these the oldest movie artifacts on the Iverson Ranch?

It's pretty cool that the steps managed to survive all this time — and considering that they're probably close to 100 years old, they may well be the oldest surviving manmade artifacts on the former Iverson Movie Ranch.