Get the picture with a tour of Moab-area movie sites
In the final scene of the 1990 film “Thelma and Louise” the protagonists chose certain death, driving their Thunderbird over a towering cliff.
Stop. Watch that again. But this time, ignore the characters and look at the scenery. That rocky, cavernous space the Thunderbird flies toward is not, as you assumed, the Grand Canyon. It is actually Dead Horse Point State Park outside Moab, Utah.
For nearly 75 years, Hollywood has used that area’s intriguing rock formations, canyons and open spaces in the filming of dozens of movies ranging from John Ford westerns to more contemporary films such as the 2010 drama “127 Hours.”
On an overcast and rainy day, features writer Rachel Sauer and myself, along with intern Sarah Rose, put ourselves in the shoes of movie stars with a free, self-guided tour of several Moab-area film locations.
Information on Moab movie sets can be found at discovermoab.com/movie.htm.
Although the movie crews are long gone, what remains is even better: the natural beauty that lured filmmakers to the area in the first place.
The first stop on our tour was Arches National Park. At $10, the entrance fee is, I would argue, one of the best bargains around.
Several filmmakers have utilized the red rock towers inside Arches, but the three of us focused our attention specifically on the Double Arch area where opening scenes from 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” were shot.
It is part of the Windows Section of the park.
We parked the car, grabbed our cameras and walked the short, easy trail toward the scene. Sarah and I pretended to flee from armed robbers, just like a young Indiana Jones.
After Arches, we drove to Dead Horse Point State Park, about 25 miles outside Moab off Utah Highway 313. That park’s entrance fee also is $10.
The funny thing about the Dead Horse Point is, if you’ve never been there before, as was the case with Sarah and me, it would be easy to doubt it’s really even there. Driving up Highway 313 toward the park, we passed shrubbery and dozens of grazing cattle but little else.
Then, all of a sudden, we arrived.
For lack of a better description, Dead Horse Point is a miniature Grand Canyon, so it’s easy to understand why filmmakers used this more accessible backdrop for “Thelma and Louise.”
We stepped up on rock ledges to get a better view of the expansive canyonbelow.
Next, we drove into Moab for lunch, some caffeine and to visit the Sand Flats Recreation Area where scenes were filmed for “127 Hours,” the movie about Aron Ralston getting his arm trapped while mountaineering solo.
If accessing Sand Flats from the north, which is likely how you would get to Moab from Grand Junction, take a left onto Center Street, a right on 400 East, and a left onto Mill Creek Drive toward Sand Flats Road.
With three movie locations crossed off our list, the three of us headed home along Utah Highway 128, which follows the Colorado River through a narrow, steep gorge and opens into an area called Professor Valley.
Professor Valley has the Colorado River on one side and views of both canyon walls and the La Sal Mountains on the other and was the location for westerns such as “Wagon Master” and “Rio Grande.”
Professor Valley also boasts the Fisher Towers, two rock formations that rise from the valley floor. The towers are in scenes from “John Carter” and “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” the third in the Austin Powers trilogy.
There were turnoffs and access roads all along Highway 128 for those wishing to get closer a look at the sites or take photos.
Moab’s proximity to Grand Junction — it’s less than two hours away — mixed with its recreational and entertainment opportunities, makes it an approachable day-trip. It’s one I consider a must-see for any local.
In the spring, the weather is likely to be nice and the temperatures lower than in the summer.
Just make sure to pack enough water, some sunscreen and snacks because there are few places between Moab and the Grand Valley for a pit stop.