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Arches National Park

Iconic Western Landscapes of the Silver Screen

by Brook Long

February 18, 2019

4 minute read

Slot canyons. Vertical rock walls. Mesas. Spires. Arches. Overlooks. Horseshoe-bend rivers. Twisted junipers against an endless blue sky. Utah is awash in the cinematic set dressing that defines the mythic West. If you ever want to feel like you've stepped into a Hollywood cowboy flick, get out there and explore Utah's national parks.

Utah's parks region is one panorama after another begging for John Wayne to be front and center. But long before The Duke appeared in any of the five films he shot in nearby Monument Valley, Tom Mix rode up on Tony the Horse in The Deadwood Coach (1924), a black and white silent movie set in Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.

Odds are you've never even heard of that dusty piece of celluloid. But you're sure to have seen Utah's most celebrated vistas in some of these:

Canyonlands National Park

1 Canyonlands National Park

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) with an all-star cast, including John Wayne and Charlton Heston, shot in Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park and Moab, among other locations.

In 127 Hours (2010) starring James Franco, the main character falls into Bluejohn Canyon in Canyonlands. The movie is replete with gorgeous shots of the region.

Bryce Canyon

2 Bryce Canyon National Park

Or perhaps you spotted Bryce Canyon in The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973) with Burt Reynolds?

Arches National Park

3DoubleWindowArchArches

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), which opens with River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones, was filmed in Arches - great shot of the majestic Double Arch at 1:15.

Hulk (2003) starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly and Sam Elliott, was shot at Arches and nearby locales. Spoiler: Hulk smash.

Dead Horse Point State Park

4 Dead Horse Point State Park Canyonlands

The epic Grand Canyon scene in Thelma and Louise (1991) where Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis drive off the cliff? That was actually shot in Dead Horse. I've gazed over the rim in person… it's 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River.

The Macgyver TV pilot starring Richard Dean Anderson (1985) opens high above Dead Horse Point, which we're supposed to believe is somewhere in Central Asia for this story.

Mission Impossible II (2000) is famous for its adrenaline-filled, free climbing scene at the beginning of the movie, in which Tom Cruise swings by one arm from the harrowing cliffside at Dead Horse Point.

Cruise also turns up in the opening scene of Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), once again performing all his own stunts at Dead Horse Point.

Zion National Park

5 Zion National Park Valley

The most famous scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), has Paul Newman as Butch showing off on a bicycle for Kathrine Ross to the soundtrack of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." In the background: the jagged profile of Zion as seen from the Mormon ghost town of Grafton. Additional scenes were shot in Zion's Cave Valley.

Robert Redford, the eponymous Sundance Kid, returned to Zion a few years later for his lead role as mountain man Jeremiah Johnson (1972), and yet again in the Electric Horseman (1979) with Jane Fonda.

Capitol Reef National Park

9 The Castle in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

Capitol Reef National Park's sci-fi landscape stands in for the red planet in John Carter of Mars (2012), starring Taylor Kitsch.

Moab

10ColoradoRiverMoabUtah

The Lone Ranger (2013) with Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer features locations in Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point and Moab. The Spirit Platform scene truly makes the most of Dead Horse Point's commanding views.

These are just a few examples of Utah's parks on screen. My recommendation is ditch the popcorn, join a Utah National Parks tour and make yourself the star of your own Western adventure. Maybe there's a ride-off-into-the-sunset scene in your future?

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