In October 2010, we were fortunate to visit two of New Mexico’s “movie ranches” on another tour sponsored by the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM). It was the first and only time they have offered the tour.
The Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch
The Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch is located in the foothills eight miles south of Santa Fe and about an hour from Albuquerque. With over 12,000 acres, it’s also a working cattle ranch, raising primarily Longhorns. The first movie filmed at the ranch was The Man from Laramie (1955). Since then, more than 60 movies have been filmed at the ranch, which has five sets: the Movie Town, the Mountain Homestead, the Pond House, the Prairie Homestead, and the Fort. Unlike most sets, which are merely facades, all buildings have four sides and many of them have usable interiors. We visited all of the sets, except the Fort.
The Movie Town location is set in the 1800 to 1900s era and features views of plains, mesas, and rolling hills with mountains on three sides. It has 24 utility type buildings, four streets, a saloon, bank, hotel, blacksmith shop, train station, large barn, and connecting shops. The last movie filmed at this location was Cowboys & Aliens (2010).
The Mountain Homestead location features an 1800 to 1900s house, log cabin, small barn and outhouse situated at the base of a mountain. In the rear of the house, thick forests border on two sides. The last movie filmed at this location was Appaloosa (2008).
The Pond House location features a 1920s two-story house with a fresh spring-fed pond at its back door. The site also features two barns, an adobe house, a large church, and two smaller houses. Two-hundred-year-old cottonwood trees surround the site and make for a fabulous backdrop of gold as summer gives way to fall. The last movie filmed at this location was Astronaut Farmer (2006).
The Prairie Homestead location features a stucco house with its own fireplace. The site also features a log cabin, two corrals, a cellar, and outhouse. Plains surround this homestead to allow for 360 degree shoots. The last movie filmed at this location was 3:10 to Yuma (2007).
The J. W. Eaves Movie Ranch
The J.W. Eaves Movie Ranch is located near Santa Fe about an hour from Albuquerque. In 1958, Eaves bought “Rancho Alegre.” The first production filmed at the ranch was the CBS television series Empire (1962).
In 1969, Gene Kelly, the famous dancer, showed up. He wanted to make a move called The Cheyenne Social Club with James Stewart and Henry Fonda. (It was the only western that Gene Kelly directed and produced.) Eaves and Kelly made a deal that they would split the costs for the movie set. It was agreed that the buildings would be built full-scale and that the replica of the 1800’s western town would remain on the J.W. Eaves Ranch. Over the years, the ranch grew to more than three dozen buildings, including a church used for weddings.
Since the early 1960s, over 250 other productions have filmed here, including Chisum (1970), Silverado (1985), Lonesome Dove (1989), and Wyatt Earp (1994).