Since they were first ‘discovered’ as a movie location by director John Ford back in the 1950s, Utah’s national parks have attracted many more movie producers. Hundreds of movies have been made in Utah – from High School Musical to Forrest Gump and The Lone Ranger.
Following the movie trail is a great way to explore the state and the best place to start is its capital, Salt Lake City.
Here you’ll find the school that featured in High School Musical. East High is pretty easy to find in Salt Lake City – all roads run east, west, north and south from the big Church of the Latter Day Saints in the city centre. Scenes from Dumb and Dumber, Fletch and Legally Blonde 2 were also filmed here.
Two hours west of Salt Lake City are the Bonneville Salt Flats, close to the Nevada border.
This is were Johnny Depp appeared in a surreal dream sequence in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, where Will Smith shot down an alien in Independence Day and where most of The World’s Fastest Indian was filmed.
A few hundred kilometres south of Salt lake City is Arches National Park, just outside the town of Moab, which is where Steven Spielberg chose to shoot scenes for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Scenes from The Hulk and Thelma & Louise were also shot here.
Even closer to the town of Moab is Professor Valley, where many of the scenes in The Lone Ranger were filmed. Jon Bon Jovi also shot the music video for Blaze of Glory here, on top of a sandstone tower or ‘mesa’ called The Rectory.
In nearby Castle Valley, back in the 1960s, Chevrolet even helicoptered a car to the top of Castleton Tower to feature in a rather flamboyant advertisement starring Dinah Shore.
The best way to see the valley is on a rafting tour down the Colorado River with Moab Adventure Center. Your knowledgeable rafting guide will point out where some of the more famous movie scenes were shot.
Train fight scenes in The Lone Ranger were shot along Highway 128, which runs from Moab along the Colorado River and Austin Powers also landed in his Jaguar here via parachute in the opening scenes of Goldmember.
A short way up the highway you’ll find Red Cliffs Lodge, former home of George White, one of John Wayne’s best friends. Wayne was a frequent visitor here while shooting Westerns, and today the lodge is a 3-star resort with stunning views of the Colorado River along with horse riding and fairly decent winery.
Downstairs in the resort, there is a free movie museum featuring memorabilia collected by George White and the current owner, including the dummy of Thelma, used in the closing scene of Thelma and Louise where the car plunges over a cliff.
That very cliff can be seen from Dead Horse Point, a 30-minute drive from Moab. The first episode of Magyver was also shot here, as well as The Lone Ranger, and the memorable opening scene in Mission Impossible II, where Tom Cruise is seen scaling a scary-looking cliff.
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In case you’re wondering: Tom Cruise did almost all of those stunts, which is impressive even considering the fact that he was strapped into a harness, which was digitally removed later.
Further south near the border of Arizona is Monument Valley, another favourite location of John Wayne’s, where seven of his films were shot.
On the way into Monument Valley, you’ll recognise the spot on the highway where Forrest Gump stops running (in case you don’t – there’s a flag and a signpost).
Scenes from Back to the Future III were also shot here as well as Transformers: Age of Extinction and a few episodes of Dr Who.
Clint Eastwood even helicoptered a crew to the top of a tower here called the Totem Pole, to film a scene for The Eiger Sanction.
The best way to explore Monument Valley, which is located inside Navajo Tribal Park, is on a 4WD tour with a Navajo guide from Goulding’s Trading Post, now a 3-star hotel.
There is another movie museum here more focused on the older Westerns, as well as John Wayne’s old cabin, which he stayed in while filming.
A movie tour of Utah is really not complete without a visit to Park City, where each year independent films are celebrated at Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival.
Park City’s Main Street is chocker with funky bars and fine restaurants including Robert Redford’s own; Zoom, and the world’s only ski-in whiskey distillery; High West.