Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab Utah
I was as anxious as a child on Christmas Eve when we turned off the highway and drove down toward the reservation office at the Red Cliffs Lodge, about 14 miles outside of Moab, Utah. We’d stopped there many times in the past to simply tour and take pictures in the free Movie Museum of Film and Western Heritage downstairs. Then, back upstairs we always walked through the restaurant, admiring the cowboy chandeliers and the western decor and pictures on the walls, until we stepped out onto the outdoor deck overlooking the mighty Colorado River.
Our eyes inhaled the fantastic scenery of eastern Utah as we watched adventurous rafters floating silently on the grassed and sand-banked flowing waters below towering, majestic, red rocks looming in the background. We vowed to stay overnight “sometime” and to eat dinner at sunset on the expansive, wonderful, wooden deck outside. Today was our wedding anniversary, a reason to celebrate, so armed with a room reservation and packed suitcases, this was the day!
It wasn’t just the building that meant so much to us. We are western film buffs and movie history was created here on this land. John Wayne led his troops into the Cavalry fort in “Rio Grande” (torn down years ago). The lodge was built on the site of the old George White working ranch. The White family’s pioneer cemetery, fenced and protected, is located at the entrance to the property but is not part of the Lodge and may be admired from outside the iron fence surrounding it.
Studios had been filming in this area since 1926, and people called it “John Ford country.” Director John Ford named Moab “little Monument Valley.” The most famous movie filmed in Monument Valley was “Stagecoach” (1939). This movie turned John Wayne, a former B-movie western actor, into a big star overnight. “Stagecoach,” based on a Collier magazine short story by Ernest Haycox, had all the basic characters of a morality play:
It was on this Utah ranch that the infamous, gruff director, John Ford, directed his 1870’s Cavalry trilogy, “Fort Apache,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” and “Rio Grande.” It was on this site that a tall, dynamic, John “Duke” Wayne, dressed in Cavalry uniform strode the dirt road with fellow frontier “soldiers.” It was on this site that the boyishly handsome Harry “Dobe” Carey Jr., joked with his fellow cowboy actors, Ben Johnson and Ward Bond between takes. And it was on this site that the lovely, Irish actress, Maureen O’Hara, strolled about in costume, while her fellow actors turned and gawked admiringly at her unchanging, natural beauty. Ford would always stage her love scenes with Wayne last, and all the actors would gather around and watch the filming.
Ward Bond starred in “Wagonmaster” (1950), with Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. and was filmed at the White ranch. They were part of Ford’s stock company of actors. Bond met John Wayne when they were fellow football athletes at USC. The young, strong students were hired by John Ford for grunt tasks at the movie lot, moving sets, etc. The three maintained a lifelong friendship.
In 1957, the television show “Wagon Train” was based on the movie featured Ward Bond as the wagonmaster of a Mormon wagon train. It was the most popular, award-winning TV show of its time, running for nine seasons, even after Bond’s death in 1960, when John McIntire was hired to replace him in the role.
Wardell Bond, born in Nebraska in 1903, died of a heart attack in Dallas in 1960. John Wayne gave the eulogy at his service, which preceded Bond’s ashes being scattered in the Pacific Ocean somewhere between Newport Beach and Catalina Island.
Harry “Dobe” Carey Jr., in his book, “The Company of Heroes,” describes his Moab days filming on the George White ranch and in Monument Valley. In his later years, Carey owned a Durango ranch but subsequently sold it. He and his wife, Marilyn, moved back to California to be closer to their children. (Marilyn is the daughter of Paul Fix, veteran actor whose most memorable role was that of Marshall Micah Torrance in the TV show, “The Rifleman” (1958-1963) with Chuck Connors).
Both Marilyn and husband, Dobe Carey, residents of a town near Santa Barbara, have graciously answered my letters and e-mails over the years. My most recent e-mail from her read, “We really miss Durango and being able to hop in the car and drive to Monument Valley etc. Keep in touch. Regards, Marilyn and Dobe”
Will we keep in touch? Ya darn betcha, pilgrim.
Part II coming soon …
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