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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• 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.
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• 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.
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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Famous footprints in the Iverson Gorge, where John Wayne arrived in "Stagecoach," Shirley Temple waged peace in "Wee Willie Winkie" and Tarzan's Jane waved goodbye to civilization

"Wee Willie Winkie" (1937): Khoda Khan's mountain stronghold (behind-the-scenes photo)

The Upper Gorge has been the focus of some of the most challenging research into the history of the Iverson Movie Ranch, and during the past year we've been taking an especially intense look at the area.

It was in the Gorge — also known as the "Steep Canyon" — where legendary director John Ford oversaw construction of Khoda Khan's mountain stronghold for the Shirley Temple feature "Wee Willie Winkie" in 1937.


Fortifications built onto the tops of rocks

The massive rock features of the Upper Gorge were tranformed into a maze of crumbling walls and "stone" fortifications, with much of the set built high atop the site's natural sandstone features.

The mountain stronghold included an ornate gate and a number of other structures. Only a small portion of the set is visible in this shot, but the photo showcases some of the Upper Gorge's most important movie rocks.

John Ford directs "Wee Willie Winkie" in 1937 (promo still)

A promotional still for the movie shows more of the gate and the main tower area, while also revealing a long set of steps descending from the gate down into the Gorge.

A note on the back of the photo says John Ford is "hiding under the umbrella," but I've never been sure which of the people in the photo is him.

Zooming in on a section of the promo still we get a better look at the gate, in the center, along with the main turret and fortifications on the left, which were built on top of a movie rock known as Three Ages Rock.

Promo still for "Wee Willie Winkie" (Jerry England collection)

A similar promo still offers an alternate view of the steps and other parts of the set. The photo is taken from almost the same angle as the previous promo shot, but the crew has cleared out, revealing more of the landscape.

The two major rocks framing the gate, Three Ages Rock to the west and Wyatt Earp Rock to the east, are well-known from their many other movie and TV appearances.

The area above the stairway and north of the gate (behind-the-scenes photo)

This shot depicts the gate from the opposite side, looking south, with Wyatt Earp Rock right up next to it. We're fortunate in that a number of nice behind-the-scenes photos of the "Wee Willie Winkie" sets have surfaced.

Zooming in on the right side of the photo, we get a good look at the north side of the gate. We know from previous shots that the long stairway descending into the Gorge is just on the other side of the gate.

A number of noteworthy features can be found in this part of the shot, including still more fortifications.

The eastern end of the gate is attached to the formidable Wyatt Earp Rock, which I've blogged about in the past. I'm willing to admit it was my idea to start calling it "Wyatt Earp Rock."

Wyatt Earp and his brother take cover behind Wyatt Earp Rock (1960)

The origin of the rock name "Wyatt Earp Rock" has a lot to do with the TV series "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp." If you click here you'll find a post that sort of explains how things went down.

Nyoka Cliff makes an appearance in the background of the "Wee Willie Winkie" set photo, along with a familiar tree that was always seen at the top of the cliff. If you squint you can also make out a bridge.

A short distance northeast of Wyatt Earp Rock we find Lancer Arch — a smaller but still distinctive rock feature. The arch's name comes from its appearance in the 1935 Gary Cooper movie "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer."

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935): The main tower at "Mogala"

In "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," the main tower in the movie's "Mogala" set stood between Lancer Arch and Wyatt Earp Rock — right in the middle of where the "Wee Willie Winkie" set would later stand.

The "Bengal Lancer" tower bears a resemblance to the "Wee Willie Winkie" set. I did a post back in May 2018 focusing on "Bengal Lancer," which you can read by clicking here.

Camel saddles on the "Wee Willie Winkie" set, 1937

A reference point in the "Wee Willie Winkie" set photo is this group of camel saddles parked on the set, awaiting their closeup. These saddles would get plenty of use in the movie.

The camel saddles and a large boda bag hanging above them connect the previous behind-the-scenes photo with this one taken in the other direction, and now we can see that the set extended farther north.

Along the western perimeter of the mountain stronghold, the major rock features The Wall and Crown Rock are largely hidden behind structures butted up against the rocks. This shot looks west from the Upper Gorge.

The shot also provides an improved look at the fortifications built atop The Wall. These are the same structures that were barely visible in the distance in the photo at the top of this post, near the center of the frame.

Speaking of that photo at the top of the post, here it is again, with Potato Rock noted. Potato Rock was perched precariously atop the rock feature The Wall.

Potato Rock can be seen again in the photo of the western perimeter.

"Wee Willie Winkie" set looking southwest

Another behind-the-scenes photo, looking southwest this time, ties together a number of the features seen in previous photos.

Still another behind-the-scenes shot offers what is probably the best view of the "Wee Willie Winkie" gate with its doors open, revealing the rock feature Chinless Wonder to the south, farther down in the Gorge.

Along with the gate, main turret and fortifications, the shot provides views of three major movie rocks.

"Stagecoach" (1939): John Wayne's Ringo Kid arrives in the Iverson Gorge

Two years later, director John Ford would return to this spot for "Stagecoach." The iconic sequence introducing John Wayne's character, the Ringo Kid, includes this shot taken from almost the same angle.

Once again, the western slope of Wyatt Earp Rock is seen at the left of the screen. While "Stagecoach" filmed extensively on location at the Iverson Ranch, for this shot the background was added using rear projection.

This behind-the-scenes photo of the "Wee Willie Winkie" set also holds a connection to another major movie. Notice the area in the yellow rectangle, which features the north end of Three Ages Rock.

Zooming in on that area of the photo reveals manmade steps between the two main boulders that make up the north end of Three Ages Rock.

These are the two boulders.

Between the two boulders we can see a series of manmade steps. These steps were not put in place for "Wee Willie Winkie," but go back at least five years earlier.

"Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932): Tarzan and Jane head for those same steps

The same steps are seen in 1932, near the end of "Tarzan the Ape Man," as Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan rush toward Three Ages Rock in one of the movie's closing shots.

Tarzan and Jane use the steps to climb to the top of Three Ages Rock

It's likely that the steps were put in place specifically for "Tarzan the Ape Man," although it's hard to be sure. We do know that the actors used the steps to get up on the rock.

Even Cheeta found his way to the top of Three Ages Rock, although it's unclear whether the steps were in place at the time his scene was filmed. The shadows add ambiguity to the shot.

The set was dressed up with palm trees during filming of the Cheeta sequence. The palm trees were not in place when Tarzan and Jane climbed the rock, even though it was part of the same movie shoot.

It was an important sequence for the "Tarzan" franchise. As the couple stood at the highest point on Three Ages Rock, Jane symbolically waved goodbye to her old life, having chosen to remain in the jungle with Tarzan.

The Tarzan and Jane rock today ("Three Ages Rock")

The rock on which Tarzan and Jane stood during this historic movie sequence can still be found today, and is readily identified by its large vertical crack. The steps they climbed, however, no longer exist.

The Upper Gorge as it appears today, in a Google Maps 3D image

When the Cal West Townhomes were built on the former movie ranch in the 1980s, some of the movie rocks of the Upper Gorge survived while others perished. The first two rows of condos are visible here above the Gorge.

The condos drastically alter the aesthetics of the modern-day landscape, but a number of the most important movie rocks can still be found below the condos, in what's left of the Gorge.

This shot pinpoints the position at the top of Three Ages Rock where Tarzan and Jane stood during the farewell sequence in "Tarzan the Ape Man" in 1932.

The Iverson Movie Ranch's Upper Gorge (Google aerial)

Here's a satellite shot of the same area from directly overhead, highlighting what can be thought of as the "frontier" between the historic movie rocks to the south and the Cal West Townhomes to the north.

The same area before condo development (1971 aerial)

This is what the same area looked like before the condos were built. Taken at a time when filming at Iverson had all but shut down, the 1971 aerial provides one of the last good overviews of the original rock formations.

Footprint of the first two rows of condos, outlined in red

To get an idea of the impact condo development had on the Iverson Gorge, we can examine the footprint of the first two rows of condos.

The condo footprint superimposed over the 1971 landscape

The footprint translates roughly to what you see here in the 1971 aerial, when the rock features of the Upper Gorge were still intact.

Everything inside the footprint has been destroyed. For the purposes of this discussion, we will examine the impact of just the first two rows of condos on the east side of Redmesa Road.

Surviving movie rocks near the first two rows of condos

Just outside the condo footprint we find an abundance of movie rocks, some of which, notably Rock Island, have been partially buried. Others, such as Three Ages Rock and Crown Rock, have been "downsized."

The same surviving formations in the current layout

The contemporary aerial view of the condo footprint area reveals where the major surviving rock formations are positioned around the condos in the modern landscape.

Rock Island: Mostly buried, but still in place

We examined Rock Island in a recent post, which can be found here. Material on Lone Ranger Rock, Three Ages Rock, Crown Rock and Devil's Doorway can also be found by clicking on the links in this sentence.

The Iverson Gorge in 1971: Prepare to turn left

This version of the 1971 aerial shot offers a slightly better view of the rocks that would later fall within the condo footprint. I've also noted the "normal" orientation of the shot, with north on top.

Rotating the image 90 degrees: A "horizontal" view of the Upper Gorge

To examine the Gorge in detail it's helpful to rotate the image 90 degrees counterclockwise — in part because the 1971 aerial photo is in reality a bird's-eye view, taken at a slight angle looking east.

Bird's-eye view of Iverson's Upper Gorge in 1971

In the aerial views that follow, we will default to looking at the Gorge from this direction: west to east, with east on top. Keep in mind that you should be able to click on any of these photos to see a much larger version.

Behind-the-scenes photo of the "Wee Willie Winkie" Gorge set in 1937

Many of the same rocks seen in the 1971 aerial photo also appear in the behind-the-scenes photo from 1937, taken with the camera looking north. This is a wider version of the photo seen at the top of this post.

To understand how these rocks were oriented in the Gorge, it helps to identify the individual rocks. As a starting point, I've numbered the major rock formations "G1" (for "Gorge 1") through "G5."

Sandstone soldiers, marching in formation

You'll notice that the rocks run parallel to each other. Because they're sedimentary, the rocks form in layers and therefore tend to line up — a process dating back to the Cretaceous period about 100 million years ago.

The same rock formations, G1 through G5, are identified here in the 1971 "horizontal" aerial photo of the Gorge.

Zooming in on the photo provides a better look at the rocks. I've identified north and east to remind readers that this is not the "normal" orientation, where north would be on top.

The parallel alignment of rocks G1 through G5 is evident again in the 1971 aerial.

This parallel configuration extends to the neighboring rock formations to the north and west, and we can see in some places how the layers have "bent" over the millions of years it has taken to form the rocks.

The major rock formations positioned between the light-blue arrows have their own impressive movie careers. The two main formations in this area are "The Wall" and the "Devil's Doorway" group.

Looking again at the footprint of the first two rows of condos, we can see that The Wall falls inside the footprint, and we know that means it was destroyed to make way for the condos.

Devil's Doorway fared better than The Wall when the condos were built. The formation falls outside the footprint, and so Devil's Doorway survived — a piece of movie history now hidden among the condos.

In the current layout, this is where the Devil's Doorway formation can be found, tucked in among the residences along Sierra Pass Place.

"Land Beyond the Law" (Warner Bros., 1937): Devil's Doorway (Jerry England Collection)

The most famous part of the rock formation is the "Devil's Doorway" itself, a rock arch that was seen in countless movies and television shows, often serving as the gateway to an outlaw hideout.

Devil's Doorway today

It's a little bit out of the way these days, but the look of the rock formation remains pretty much the same as what it looked like throughout the filming era. You can see more about Devil's Doorway here.

"Devil's Wall" (attached to Devil's Doorway): Another survivor

Less well-known than the rock arch is the attached rock wall, which I call "Devil's Wall."

"Oh, Susanna" (Republic, 1936): Devil's Wall

Devil's Wall, too, had its movie moments — here it is in the old Gene Autry B-Western "Oh, Susanna." Rock walls tend to all look the same, but you may be able to ID it by the small diagonal crack near the left end.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1958)

A short distance south of Devil's Wall is Crown Rock, seen here in an episode of the "Wyatt Earp" TV series called "Four," which premiered near the end of the show's third season, on May 27, 1958.

Crown Rock in "Saga of the Viking Women" (1957)

Crown Rock pops up in movies and TV shows all the time. Here it is in Roger Corman's Iverson Movie Ranch masterpiece "The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent."

"Have Gun Will Travel": Warriors lie in wait on top of Crown Rock

This shot from the TV series "Have Gun Will Travel" offers a close look at Crown Rock from the east.

Historians tend to think of Crown Rock as having survived, but I always want to add "sort of." In reality only about half of it survived, with the section noted here having been removed to make way for Sierra Pass Place.

This is what's left of Crown Rock — still recognizable ("sort of"), even after being cut in half.

It may not be obvious how the "now" shot of Crown Rock compares with the "then" shot from "Have Gun Will Travel," so I've identified a number of the components of the rock formation, labeling them as "A" through "E."

The same elements, "A" through "E," are identified in "Have Gun Will Travel."

Signs of a messy divorce

The most common view of Crown Rock today is looking north from the driveway, where one can't help but notice that the south face of the rock bears the scars of having had its better half chipped away.

Here's a diagram of the three main surviving elements of the Devil's Doorway/Crown Rock group as they stand today at Cal West. Crown Rock is the most visible of these rocks, with the others lined up behind it.

As difficult as the arrival of the Cal West Townhomes was for Crown Rock, it was far worse for The Wall, which disappeared without a trace.

"Tarzan the Ape Man" (MGM, 1932): The Wall

We talked a little bit about The Wall near the top of this post, but we hadn't yet seen it without movie sets in front of it. The above shot from "Tarzan the Ape Man" shows what The Wall looked like in all its glory.

We also previously mentioned Potato Rock, balanced along the edge of The Wall, and here it is again. It's easy to confuse "The Wall" with "Devil's Wall," but they're two different rock walls.

Three Ages Rock: Another rock wall once located near "The Wall" and "Devil's Wall"

A third rock wall, Three Ages Rock, can also be found in the same area. The proliferation of rock walls is attributable to their sedimentary origins, as is their inclination to all point in the same direction.

As we noted before, this is the spot, on top of Three Ages Rock, where Tarzan and Jane stood as Jane waved goodbye to her old life at the end of "Tarzan the Ape Man" in 1932.

Three Ages Rock is the same rock we've been calling G1 in our diagram of the Upper Gorge. Unlike rocks G2 through G5, much of G1, or Three Ages Rock, extends beyond the footprint of the condos.

Because only about one-third of the rock falls within the footprint, about two-thirds of Three Ages Rock was spared and remains in place today.

G2, which was located immediately to the east of Three Ages Rock, was the same rock we've been calling "Wyatt Earp Rock," and it was another heavily filmed movie rock. For the story behind the name, click here.

G1 through G5 in 1937

Three Ages Rock and Wyatt Earp Rock are both "players" in the lineup of five prominent parallel rocks we keep referring back to, G1 through G5.

Promo still for "Wee Willie Winkie" (1937)

Three Ages Rock and Wyatt Earp Rock are also key players in much of the construction and filming that took place in the Gorge in the 1930s, some of which we've discussed higher up in this post.

Promo still of the "Wee Willie Winkie" staircase area

I found another promo still of the "Wee Willie Winkie" set taken from a similar angle, and this one's colorized. The colorizing is a little weird, but the photo provides another interesting view of the area's rock features.

I want to call your attention to a couple of features on the east side of Three Ages Rock. Notice the curved rock and the hole in Three Ages Rock identified here.

Here's a zoomed-in version of the same shot, which provides a better look at the curved rock.

The curved rock in 2016

I spotted that same curved rock on an expedition into the Gorge a few years ago. The terrain is radically changed since the filming era, and nowadays the area is riddled with poison oak, rattlesnakes and other hazards.

The hole in the east side of Three Ages Rock is a significant marker.

The same hole in 2016

I happened to snap a photo of the hole on that same expedition into the Gorge in 2016.

The hole helps identify a natural curve in the rock.

The same curved section of Three Ages Rock can be identified in "Wee Willie Winkie" promo stills from 1937, along with the distinctive hole in the rock.

The promo stills also feature what might be described as a "tubular" section of Three Ages Rock, which was where the main turret was built for "Wee Willie Winkie."

Three Ages Rock in modern times

Today the tube marks the spot where the northernmost section of Three Ages Rock was removed to make way for condo construction.

Changing the angle slightly, we get a good look at the area where the rock was chipped away during construction of the Cal West Townhomes in the 1980s.

Everything from this point extending north, including the part of the "tube" where the main "Wee Willie Winkie" turret stood, has been removed.

Virtually all of the rocks in the 1937 behind-the-scenes photo have their own interesting movie histories. For example, notice the rock I've been calling "G3."

Set for "Flight Into Nowhere" (1938): Behind-the-scenes photo

It's a little hard to recognize here, but G3 figured prominently in a shoot for the movie "Flight Into Nowhere," which I blogged about in October 2018. (Click here to see that post.)

G3, which is otherwise unnamed, appears at top right in the photo of "Flight Into Nowhere's" idyllic pond set, while G2, which we also know as Wyatt Earp Rock, can be seen at top left, behind the adobe building.

The easiest way to recognize G3 is by what I'm afraid I have to call the "camel toe" section of the rock. We're all grownups here, right? I hope we can use the expression "camel toe."

G3's identifying, if slightly immodest, camel toe feature is seen from a different angle in the 1937 photo.

An actual camel toe — the origin of the term (Get your mind out of the gutter!)

In this case the use of the term "camel toe" has nothing to do with Miley Cyrus or her "Wrecking Ball" video. It's more about what you see here, which is an actual camel toe ... and the rock's uncanny resemblance to it.

A "G-rated" alternative identifier

If modesty still prevents you from appreciating the "camel toe" references, here's an alternative that, while less colorful, will also suffice. The small horizontal depression reminds me of the destination sign on the front of a bus.

The SFW marker is a little less obvious in the 1938 photo, but it's there if you look for it.

G4 also holds at least one big secret, if you haven't figured it out yet — and I'd be surprised if many readers have, because it sure snuck up on me. But it came as a delightful surprise when I eventually figured it out.

"Marshal of Heldorado" (1950): Gorge Arch, on the right

You may be familiar with a rock feature of the Upper Gorge known as the Gorge Arch, which can be seen at the right of the frame in this promo still for the B-Western "Marshal of Heldorado."

"The Silent Man" (Famous Players Lasky, 1917): Gorge Arch

The use of the Gorge Arch in movies goes back to the earliest days of filming on the Iverson Ranch. Here's a shot of the rock feature from more than 100 years ago, in the 1917 William S. Hart silent Western "The Silent Man."

"King of the Jungle" (filmed in 1932, released in 1933)

We get another good look at the Gorge Arch in this lobby card for the Buster Crabbe movie "King of the Jungle," filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch in 1932.

Now meet the Gorge Arch from another angle — also known as G4. It turns out the Gorge Arch was a part of that lineup of parallel rocks we've been admiring in the 1937 photo.

Of course that also means the Gorge Arch was yet another famous movie rock whose bad luck it was to be situated right where someone wanted to build condos. Like the rest of them, Gorge Arch was wiped off the map.

Counting bodies in the Upper Gorge

Summing up the devastation that was unleashed upon rocks G1 through G5, we see that only a section of Three Ages Rock survived.

Gorge Cabin and Gorge Arch in a promo still from the early 1940s

Since we've been discussing the Gorge Arch it's worth also mentioning the Gorge Cabin, which stood near the arch from 1938-1944.

We published an in-depth feature on the Gorge Cabin back in March, which you can see by clicking here.

Former Gorge Cabin location (1971 aerial)

With the location of the Gorge Arch pinpointed, we can also note with some degree of accuracy where the Gorge Cabin stood — and we can see that it, too, was within the footprint of the condo complex.

This diagram shows the approximate spot where the former location of the Gorge Cabin would line up against the modern layout of the Cal West Townhomes.

Since much of what we've explored in this post is based on the Shirley Temple movie "Wee Willie Winkie," I thought it might be fun to see a clip of young Shirley out among the rocks in 1937 — check it out ...

Until you hit the 4:48 mark there's not much in the way of rocks, as it's mostly dialogue — mainly between Shirley Temple and Cesar Romero. But from 4:48 on, the clip pays off in glorious Iverson Gorge sets and scenery.

Good luck moving that rock, gents!

Did you notice the amusing shot at 5:55? Khan's men use "levers" to try to pry loose the main boulder on top of Three Ages Rock to use it to crush their enemy — as if those twigs could budge that monster!

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer": Building a template for the Gorge set in "Wee Willie Winkie"

This post is the third in a series of posts published since May 2018 that take a deep dive into the Iverson Gorge, which I've long considered the most challenging section of the former Iverson Ranch to research.

"Flight Into Nowhere": More insights into Iverson's mysterious Gorge

Previous posts examining the Gorge have focused on the 1935 movie "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" and the 1938 movie "Flight Into Nowhere." Please click on the links in the previous sentence to see those posts, and click on the links below to go to Amazon to buy DVDs of some of the most important Iverson Gorge movies.


Cliff said...

Wow what a post, you've outdone yourself on this one. This brings a lot of things into focus for me on the rocks that are lost forever. Thanks again for the hard work..

Mark said...

This was the one I was waiting for! I wanted to see some before and after overlays of the condo project and I got my wish in spades with this one! Thanks for all your effort...Greatjob!

Rob said...

Fascinating post. It's hard to see from the Google Maps view but were these rocks actually destroyed or were they mostly buried? It looks like the ground level is higher around the condos. It seems like a lot of rock to blast away to build a few houses!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this :)
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