John Ur returns with the latest edition of Cinematic Road Trip. This time, he's leading us through Colorado.
If you’ll allow me for the second week in a row to journey back to my childhood memories.... I was 13 years old when I took off in an airplane for the first time and headed west of the Mississippi. I landed in Colorado and as we rode in a bus from Denver to Colorado Springs, I sat fixated at the window, thinking 'Look, there are mountains out there!' What I was seeing was the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, which includes Grays Peak and Pikes Peak, which was the inspiration for "America, the Beautiful."
Colorado has a mean elevation of about 6,800 feet—a higher average than any other state (fun fact for nerds like me—Alaska's average is only 1,900). But the eastern two-fifths of the state is mostly flat, thanks to their place on the western edge of the Great Plains, which stretch from Canada to Mexico through ten U.S. states.
But plains are just plains. Mountains are MOUNTAINS. When John Ford made The Searchers in the 1950s, he wanted mountains to serve as the backdrop for a winter scene with John Wayne and a large unit of cavalry. He chose Gunnison as his setting, a city nestled in the valley between the Sawatch and Anthracite Ranges and the Arkansas River. Some second unit filming (which normally does not involve actors, or at least none with speaking roles) took place in Aspen and southwestern Colorado. Other footage features Utah, New Mexico, and California.
Fast forward about a decade and speed west down 50, then head left onto 550 South and we’ll hit Durango, Colorado—where some scenes in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were filmed. The movie that shot Robert Redford into fame (in a role rumored to have been offered to Warren Beatty) is the anti-Western: It has little violence and its heroes/outcasts run from fights. But Butch and Sundance is a travel movie par excellence, with its protagonists hopping trains throughout the American West, jumping off cliffs (Baker’s Bridge in Durango) into rivers, and ending up in Bolivia (actually shot in Cuernavaca and Taxco, Mexico).
Unfortunately, Colorado is another state with Washington Syndrome. Their lack of tax incentives keeps production companies from coming en masse to set up shop and film. But that shouldn’t stop you from heading to the mountain region of western Colorado. Take a hike up one of the 54 peaks at least 14,000-feet high and see if you can write something more inspiring than "America, the Beautiful."
Read More: Check out a list of more films in Colorado, and the Colorado Film Commission's history of movies made in the state. Previous stops on the Cinematic Road Trip: Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas.
Photos: Colleen Grady