Moab’s Movie Museum
Where Westerns were Born
Since 1925, nearly 200 feature-length films have been made in the “Moab to Monument Valley region” of southeastern Utah.
The first 3 films made here were based on novels by Zane Grey.
When Zane Grey first visited the region in 1906 he became inspired to write stories about the landscapes and local characters he encountered. He returned frequently and generated dozens of novels that became the cornerstones of “Western” fiction.
An important location in Navajo, Hopi, Ute, and Paiute belief systems, this formation also inspired some of the first “Western” novels Zane Grey ever wrote. Those works became the first movies made in southeastern Utah, spreading images and scenery from the Moab to Monument Valley region around the world.
Image courtesy the New York Public Library.
10 of the movies made in this region were classic Westerns made by the celebrated director John Ford, including the picture that made John Wayne a Hollywood star: Stagecoach (1939).
A decade later in 1949, Moab ranch owner George White brought John Ford to a picturesque stretch of the Colorado River with a view of red rock spires and snow-capped mountains. The director didn’t hesitate to use the location for almost every scene in his next Western, Wagonmaster (1950).
In 1949, the White’s ranch became the epicenter of Moab’s early film industry when George White, along with other locals interested in attracting filmmakers to the region, formed the Moab Movie Committee.
The organization evolved to become the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission in 1993, and is considered to be the longest continually operating film commission in the country, if not the world.
Thanks in part to their efforts, within a year the legendary director John Ford filmed several movies at the White’s ranch or within a few miles of the property, ushering in a wave of filmmakers and studios eager to utilize the region’s picturesque landscape for their latest motion picture.
John Ford returned to the Moab area to use the White’s ranch as the setting for Rio Grande in 1950 and his last Western, Cheyenne Autumn, in 1965.
Although controversial and contrarian, “Pappy”, as he was called, undoubtedly defined the Western film genre. His use of landscapes southeastern Utah in nearly a dozen films gives the Moab to Monument Valley area the nickname “John Ford Country”.
Image of John Ford (left) on set at the White Ranch during the filming of Rio Grande courtesy of Harold B. Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collection Photo Archives, BYU.
In total, John Ford directed nearly a dozen notable Westerns in the Moab to Monument Valley region, and he remains the most celebrated director in Academy Award history.
His classic films tied the landscape of southeastern Utah to the mythos of the American West and engrained the iconic red rock formations into the hearts of moviegoers around the world.
In 2002, the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission and Red Cliffs Lodge established the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage on the White’s ranch property.
The first Westerns
The first “Western” movie was a silent film called The Great Train Robbery (1903). The twelve-minute moving picture is also credited with the first stunt performance. Although it wasn’t filmed in Utah, the movie was inspired by a real train robbery committed just a few years earlier by Utahan Butch Cassidy, who frequented the Moab to Monument Valley region.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Location, Location, Location
After John Ford filmed Rio Grande at George White’s Ranch, a handful of movie productions used the location. Visitors to the ranch have included John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Rock Hudson, Clint Walker, Roger Moore, Ricardo Montalban, Henry Fonda, Sal Mineo, Joel McCrea, Yvonne De Carlo, and more.
Coconino Sun (9/14/1923) via the Library of Congress.
Film Industry Pioneers
George White, rancher and founder of the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission.
When he wasn’t promoting the area to movie producers, he supported the productions – George was a stunt double in Blue, Gold of the Seven Saints, and Canyon Crossroads, and had a small speaking role in Ten Who Dared.
MFWH celebrates the local characters who helped bring films to life!
“It’s our Shakespeare, the Western.”
Western Heritage Imagined
Indigenous Cultures | Pre-colonial Legacies, Indigenous Resistance, Cultural Pluralism
Transportation | Animal Powered, Mass Transportation, Unique Vehicles
Outlaws and Law Enforcement | Gun Fights, Countercultures, Code of the West
Natural Resources | Living off the Land, Minerals, Exploration/Adventure, National Parks
Comradery | Friendship, Loyalty, National Service
Autonomy | Independence, Rugged Individualism, Lone Heroes/Heroines
Landscapes | Scenescapes, Local Character, American Exceptionalism