A Western Movie Fan’s Guide to Monument Valley

by on October 12th, 2010
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In American cinema there is nothing more iconic then the classic western. And if you’re a fan of the silver screen shoot-em-ups then you, no doubt, are familiar with one of the most legendary film locations in the world: Monument Valley. Maybe you didn’t know the name or where it was but you knew instantly when those famous mittens of rock came into focus that you had been here before and it’s always a great ride.

Monument Valley is located on the Arizona and Utah border in the four corners region of the southwestern United States. The valley lies within the confines of the Navajo Indian Reservation and is recognizable by the towering sand-stone buttes seen in so many classic films. The credit for the discovery of Monument Valley by Hollywood is usually given to legendary director John Ford after valley resident Harry Goulding came to tinsel-town in the late 30’s to promote the area and inject life into the sagging economy on the Navajo Reservation. However, a little known western called ‘The Lone Star Ranger’, based on a Zane Grey novel, filmed there in 1930.

John Ford filmed the 1939 classic ‘Stagecoach’ in Monument Valley and went on to direct many other movies there including ‘The Searchers’, ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’, ‘Fort Apache’, ‘Rio Grande’, ‘My Darling Clementine’, ‘Sergeant Rutledge’ and ‘Cheyenne Autumn.’ He loved this location so much that he even has one of his favorite camera locations named after him: ‘John Ford’s Point.’ Ford’s movies shaped much of our modern day image of the old west.

Italian director Sergio Leone came to Monument Valley in the late 60’s to film his epic western ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ and Charles Bronson’s harmonica has haunted us ever since. Other notable films: ‘How the West was Won’, ‘Mackenna’s Gold’, ‘Wagon Master ‘, ‘Billy the Kid’ (1941 version), ‘Laramie’ as well as many others.

Now we can’t finish up without mentioning a few more. How can we forget ‘Back to the Future III’? I mean really, Thomas Wilson’s turn as ‘Mad Dog Tannen’ made the movie. How about ‘The Three Amigos!’? Will Smith’s ‘Wild, Wild, West’? And check out ‘The Villain’ with a very young Arnold Schwarzenegger paired up with Kirk Douglas and Ann Margret.

Many A-listers took their turns in the saddle down in the dessert: John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark and Ben Johnson are a just a few who helped make Monument Valley a part of the myth of western cinema.

Monument Valley will forever be associated with the image of the old west. It’s rugged and lonely landscape picture the lone cowboy in his endless quest for home and hearth. If you get a chance to make it to the Valley take a minute to stand out on John Ford’s point and I swear you’ll see the Duke down there in the shimmering heat staring up at the sandstone buttes. Then you’ll know what I mean.


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