The Lone Ranger stars Depp, Hammer … and the Santa Fe National Forest

Lawrence Lujan, Kathryn Sosbe
Santa Fe National Forest, Office of Communication, U.S. Forest Service
June 25th, 2013 at 6:00PM

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, stars of Disney’s The Lone Ranger debuting July 3, join a long list of formidable Hollywood greats, including Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne, who have acted on the nation’s outdoor soundstage – a national forest.

Last year during 10 days of filming on the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico, the Gilman Tunnels served as the backdrop for a scene in The Lone Ranger where a train passes through the tunnels.

The tunnels, originally blasted out of rock in the 1920s for a railroad, are now used for cars. That meant the filmmakers had to put a railroad engine and rails cars onto separate flatbed trucks, which were driven at moderate speeds through the tunnels during filming. While moving, the actors shot a gunfight scene that also shows them ducking to avoid the roof of the tunnel. Part of the action (enhanced in the editing room) can be seen in the movie’s trailers. The explosion near the entrance of a tunnel was not shot at the Gilman Tunnels.

Jeff Harris, a natural resource specialist on the Santa Fe, had a front row seat on the 10-day shoot in the tunnels. Prior to joining the Forest Service in 2010, he gained experienced working on the set of a few shows, including Grizzly Adams, a 1970s television series.

“You go in not really understanding what you are getting into, but you need to be there because there are conditions in the special-use authorization that they have to live by,” he said. “For this particular movie, they were filming in a pretty narrow gorge with a stream cascading down on one side and some old railroad tunnels that were historic but converted to a narrow paved road to get to the boxed canyon.

“But it was pretty easy, really. When they wanted to bolt some of their blue screens into the walk you just say, ‘Well, is there any other way to do it?’ And there are always ways.”

The Lone Ranger is a modern remake of the classic adventure series of the same name, which aired on radio for 21 years beginning in 1933 and on television for 10 years starting in 1949. All were based on scripts created by Fran Striker, who also created The Green Hornet and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. Hammer plays the Lone Ranger, played by Clayton Moore on most of the television episodes, and Depp is Tonto, played by Jay Silverheels throughout the televised series.

The 2013 Jerry Bruckheimer version of The Lone Ranger included outdoor scenes shot in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, California and Arizona, including at the Canyon de Chelly National Monument. But it’s the magnificently high tunnels on the Santa Fe National Forest that helped to add the drama to that one scene that also featured Rebecca Reid as Ruth Wilson.

Requests to film on national forests and grasslands are somewhat routine. However, producers are required to apply for a special-use permit and follow strict guidelines to ensure that film production and related activities – feeding the crew, dressing rooms, etc. – do not hurt the natural environment. Visitor safety also is a concern. If any part of the proposed filming would cause harm to forest resources, those activities are not allowed. During filming, Forest Service employees are on hand to monitor the activity.

“Ultimately, it is our job to make sure that the forest and all of its wonderful resources are made available to future generations,” said Maria Garcia, forest supervisor on the Santa Fe.

National forests have long been at least bit players in a variety of movies and television shows, whether the genre is traditional cowboy (How the West was Won, 1962, Shawnee National Forest), family (Homeward Bound, 1993, shot on four national forests in Oregon) or science-fiction (The Hunger Games, 2012, Pisgah National Forest).

Sometimes the appearance of a national forest is part of one scene. Other times, the national forest plays more of a supporting role, offering breathtaking scenery as people raft down a roaring river or ride horses at break-neck speeds.

In 1969, Paul Newman and Robert Redford are train robbers in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, filmed in part on the San Juan National Forest. A few years later, Redford’s “co-stars” were the Ashley, Uinta and Wasatch-Cache national forests in Utah in Jeremiah Johnson (1977), about an American soldier who goes west to escape the Mexican War. And Redford’s stunningly shot A River Runs Through It (1992) contains scenes on the Gallatin National Forest in Montana.

National forests also played host to other world-class actors, such as Daniel Day-Lewis (Last of the Mohicans, 1992, Pisgah National Forest); Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves, 1990, Black Hills National Forest): Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon (The River Wild, 1994, Kootenai National Forest);  and the wonderfully funny trio of Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short (Three Amigos, 1986, Coronado National Forest). Lassie Come Home (1943) showcased a youthful Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall as well as the San Bernardino National Forest

Movies filmed on national forests

Since Hollywood started making movies, national forests have often been a bit player if not played a significant supporting role.

Television movies and series also have filmed on national forests, especially the San Bernardino National Forest in California because of its close proximity to Hollywood. At least one scene from episodes of “Adventures of Superman,” “Bonanza,” “Columbo,” “Hill Street Blues” and “The Wonder Years,” among others, were shot on the San Bernardino.

Here is a partial list of big-screen movies that had location filming on a national forest:

Angeles National Forest

1994: Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult

1996: Star Trek: First Contact

Black Hills National Forest  

1965: Deadwood ‘76

1977: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

1990: Dances with Wolves

2004: Hidalgo

Boise National Forest  

1989: Always

Bridge Teton National Forest  

1971: The Homecoming: A Christmas Story

1980: The Mountain Men

Carson National Forest

1975: Bite the Bullet

1994: Lightning Jack

2003: Off the Map

Coconino National Forest  

1965: The Rounders

1975: Movin’ On: Landslide

1978: Comes a Horseman

1989: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

1992: Hard Hunted

2006: Sasquatch Mountain

2011: Holbrook

Coronado National Forest

1967: Hombre

1980: Tom Horn

1986: ¡Three Amigos! 

Custer National Forest  

1993: The Ballad of Little Jo

Deschutes National Forest

1975: Rooster Cogburn; The Apple Dumpling Gang

El Dorado National Forest  

1999: Bicentennial Man

Gallatin National Forest

1992: A River Runs Through It

Idaho Panhandle National Forests

1997: Dante’s Peak

Inyo National Forest

1940: The Return of Frank James

1946: My Pal Trigger

1948: Silver River

1950: Frenchie

1957: Night Passage

1962: How the West Was Won; Ride the High Country

1966: Nevada Smith

1969: True Grit

1971: Shoot Out

1972: High Plains Drifter; Joe Kidd

1975: The Other Side of the Mountain; The Grizzly and the Treasure

1981: First Monday in October

1991: For the Boys

1992: Big Girls Don’t Cry … They Get Even

2007: Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Kootenai National Forest  

1989: Always

1994: The River Wild

Las Padres National Forest

1975: The Apple Dumpling Gang

Mt. Baker National Forest

1997: Dante’s Peak

Nantahala National Forest

1991: Nell

National Forests in Oregon (Deschutes, Mount Hood, Wallowa-Whitman and Willamette)

1993: Homeward Bound

Pike-San Isabel National Forest

1978: How the West Was Won

Pisgah National Forest

1992: The Last of the Mohicans

2012: The Hunger Games

San Bernardino National Forest

1915: Birth of a Nation

1920: The Last of the Mohicans

1937: Heidi

1939: Gone with the Wind

1942: King of the Mounties

1943: Lassie Come Home

1945: Dillinger

1946: The Yearling

1953: Shane

1954: Creature from the Black Lagoon

1956: Giant

1957: Old Yeller

1960: North to Alaska

1963: It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

1965: The Great Race

1968: The Love Bug; Dr. Doolittle

1969: Paint Your Wagon

1979: The Main Event

1983: War Games

1989: Troop Beverly Hills

1995: The American President

1996: Space Jam; A Pig’s Tale

1998: City of Angels; The Parent Trap

1999: The Insider

2001: Dr. Doolittle

2002: Mr. Deeds

2007: Next

2008: Valkyrie

Santa Fe National Forest

1988: The Milagro Beanfield War

2007: 3:10 to Yuma

2013: The Lone Ranger

Shawnee National Forest

1962: How the West Was Won

Stanislaus National Forest

1954: Apache

Tongass National Forest, Alaska  

1982: The Thing

Tonto National Forest

1962: How the West Was Won

2001: Winged Migration

Uinta National Forest  

1976: Baker’s Hawk

Umpqua National Forest  

1993: Fire in the Sky

Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

1962: How the West Was Won

Wasatch National Forest  

1989: Halloween 5

1982: Mountain Charlie

1976: Baker’s Hawk

White River National Forest

1983: Copper Mountain