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(Credit: Ganapathy Kumar)


Travel to five iconic landscapes from Western movies


Few genres are as indebted to America’s unique and varied landscape as the Western. The warped arches of the Sierra Nevada mountains range; the sandstone monoliths of Utah; the snow-capped peaks of the Tetons: each have served as theatres for countless gunfights and wagon chases. At the same time, they each have served as memorable characters in their own right, spectral reminders of America’s untameable wilderness.

Early Westerns were mostly low-budget affairs filmed in studios. But as the genre gained popularity and the Epic Western emerged, directors began venturing into the frontier lands to capture America in all its panoramic glory. By the 1950s, the landscape of the American West had become far more than a simple backdrop; it was a star of the ever-expanding big screen.

The invention of widescreen formats such as Cinemascope and VistaVision allowed directors to capture the full expanse of landscapes like Monument Valley and Jackson Hole. In doing so, they curated a mythic vision of the American west which endures to this day.

Indeed, It’s hard not to think of America without also thinking of Stagecoach, Once Upon A Time In The West or A Fistful Of Dollars. The locations in those films are undoubtedly some of the most iconic in the history of American cinema. Here, we’ve bought you five locations that live up to their reputation.

Five iconic landscapes from Western movies:

Moab, Utah

Moab has been a popular spot for cinematic gunfights since the 1940s – and no wonder. The town sits between an incredible array of landscapes, including the otherworldly deserts of Canyonlands and Arches and the Professor Valley. The latter boasts a network of eroded waterways, intricate rock formations and pockets of dense, low-lying vegetation.

Over 100 movies, TV shows and commercials have been shot in the area. John Ford came here to make his 1950 film Rio Grande with John Wayne and 1964’s Cheyenne Autumn. If you’re travelling in the footsteps of Mr Wayne, you’d do well to check out the Apache Hotel, where the actor stayed during the filming of Rio Grande.

Monument Valley, Colorado

This sun-baked expanse nestled between Arizona and Utah clearly made an impression on John Wayne, who once called it the quintessential Western Backdrop, claiming Monument Valley was “where God put the West”.

The area was also a favourite of director John Ford, who filmed ten Westerns here, almost 50% of which starred Wayne. Thanks to films like 1939’s Stagecoach and 1956’s The Searchers, and 1967’s Once Upon A Time In The West, Monument Valley’s lofty rusted buttresses form one of the most recognisable landscapes in American cinema. Although it is only five square miles, the area has defined the world’s image of the American West.

Kanab, Utah

There’s a reason this little town in southwestern Utah is known as ‘Little Hollywood’. Countless movies have played out against this swirling, alien landscape, including, Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) with Henry Fonda, The Lone Ranger (1956), Sergeants 3 (1962) starring Frank Sinatra, and the Clint Eastwood classic The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).

With its sensuously carved sandstone cliffs, sagebrush vistas, and labyrinthine canyons, Kanab is one of the most magical landscapes in America. It also boasts the Little Hollywood Land museum and the old Paria Movie Set site, a once-popular shooting location characterised by undulating sculpted stone.

Alabama Hills, California

Located in the eastern portion of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the town of Lone Pine has hosted everyone from Gene Autry to Clint Eastwood, both of whom have galloped their horses along the rock-strewn landscape of the nearby Alabama Hills.

The soft contours of the Alabamas stand in stark contrast to the razor-edge ridges of the western Sierra Nevadas, making the Hills a popular location among the likes of Steve McQueen, who shot parts of How The West Was Won (1966) here, and Clint Eastwood, who came to these parts to film 1972’s Joe Kidd. One of the area’s standout features is the Mobius Arch, just one of the dozens of natural arches that loom over the landscape.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The valley of Jackson Hole is defined by the looming presence of the Tetons, a towering slow-capped cluster of peaks that form part of the Rockies and were originally named Les Trois Tétons (the three nipples) by a french mountaineer.

Many moviemakers have taken to Jackson Hole to capture the area’s sweeping vistas, including Quentin Tarantino, who filmed here for his blood-spattered 2012 feature Django Unchained. Geroge Stevens also shot much of his 1956 film Shane a few miles northeast of Killy, Wyoming. The bulk of Tarantino’s shooting, meanwhile, took place in the National Elk Refuge.