My You Tube Video, “True Grit :: Then and Now,” has become popular and I’m frequently asked how and where I found all those movie locations 40 years later. Well, now you can find out! Retrace my steps and see where the Duke filmed his famous scenes!
Much of the 1969 western “True Grit” was filmed in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and the movie lead to John Wayne’s only Academy Award. The amazing natural scenery of Colorado’s southwest corner was a huge part of the film. I happen to spend a lot of time down there, and after stumbling across a few of the filming locations, I decided to create a “Then and Now” video highlighting the locations from the movie, and what they look like today. Who knew it would be a You Tube hit?
The Ross Ranch
The Ross Ranch is located on Last Dollar Road, which can be found off Highway 62, which runs from Ridgway to Telluride. The cutoff for Last Dollar Road, if you’re traveling from Ridgway, is past the Dallas Divide, and on the left. There’s a sign at the intersection, so you won’t miss it. (GPS: lat=38.0834180156, lon=-107.924766506).
Travel this road until you reach a fork. A road sign shows Last Dollar Road turns off to the left (and it will take you on a spectacular journey through aspen groves and over mountain passes to Telluride), but if you stay right, you will immediately see the Ross Ranch up ahead on your right (it’s set back off the road though). You can pull into a short parking area, jump the fence and trespass in order to go up to the houses…or you can drive a bit further up the road and look back for a nice view and photo opportunities. It’s private land, so be sneaky about it, if you decide to hop the fence! I’ve been told by locals that MANY people hop that fence to get a closer view, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. If you want to recreate the shot from t he first frame of the movie, it will require a bit of a climb to the top of a hill overlooking the houses. This is where the cemetery scene was shot, but nothing remains up there now, except for cow pies. Also, in the summer, cattle are often grazing on this hill.
Since this location is close to Last Dollar Road, it’s best to do these two locations at the same time. Also located off Highway 62, and just a few miles further up the road from the Last Dollar Road cutoff, is the road you need to take to go to the McAllester’s Store location. This area is called Horsefly Mesa. This road is a little tricky to describe how to get to, since I’ve never seen any road names on it. But, basically, from the Last Dollar Road cutoff, continue on Highway 62 a few more miles until you see a road cut off on your right. There are only a few roads that go to the right, so that helps to narrow it down a bit. You’ll see a cutoff to your right and the road takes an immediate sharp cut up and to the right. There will be a private residence to your right and then immediately after that, you’ll see a private driveway on your left with a huge ranch sign and gate. If you see those two things, you know you’re on the right road!
You’ll continue on this dirt road with aspens on both sides and finally you will round off to the left and come into a clearing and the views open up behind you. Up on your left, you’ll see a clearing and a crumbling old homestead. That’s the homestead that is behind John when he first rides up to the store. Turn in here (GPS: lat=38° 6’56.79″N, lon=107°57’37.34″W) and park near the homestead and you can rummage around. This is where you’ll find the old hitchin’ post and the planks on the ground. If you continue through the trees, you’ll discover an old corral back near the fence line.
The Lone Pine Tree
This is the pine tree that is behind Rooster, La Boeuf and Mattie as they ride their horses down a “trail.” the trail is actually this same dirt road you’ve been traveling on to get to McAlester’s store. Once you pull back onto the road from the McAlester’s Store location, head back the way you came (heading back to Highway 62) and you will immediately see the lone pine tree on your right around the 1-mile marker. (GPS: lat=38° 6’55.90″N, lon=107°57’36.41″W). You can’t miss it; it’s the only pine tree in a grove of aspen.
Deb’s Meadow (Shootout Field)
The famous shootout scene at the end of the movie was filled in Deb’s Meadow, near the summit of Owl Creek Pass. From Ridgway, travel toward Montrose on U.S. Highway 550 and turn right on County Road 10 (GPS: lat=38°10’25.86″N, lon=107°44’30.97″W). Follow the signs for Owl Creek Pass; you will pass through many ranches and private residences along this dirt road. The views are spectacular and just keep getting better as Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Peak (featured prominently in the shootout scene) come into view. It’s about 13 miles from the Highway 550 cutoff to the summit of Owl Creek Pass, and Deb’s Meadow is on the left, about a quarter of a mile before you reach the summit. You can’t miss it though…as you near the summit you will complete a very loopy switchback and curve back to the left. Right after you complete this switchback, you will see a large field on the left with a turn in (GPS: lat=38° 9’43.40″N, lon=107°34’4.21″W). Park and get ready to relive the scene that was made famous by the line, “Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!”
As you walk down the faint trail that threads through the center of the field, look to your left and head toward the large boulder. This is the rock the Duke was next to when he and his horse was shot. Looking up, you’ll Chimney Peak, which is what was above Robert Duvall’s head when he first entered the field. In summer, the field will be covered in Corn Lilies and can also be a bit swampy.
If you go back to the turn in, and face the road, to your left you will hear and see a small stream. This is the stream they camped next to. Follow the stream through the trees and you’ll find their streamside camping place.
The rock that Mattie slept in is at the summit of Owl Creek pass, which is literally only a few minutes further up the road from Deb’s Meadow. Follow the road until you reach the summit sign for Owl Creek Pass and turn into the little loop, which also has a port-a-potty. You’ll see the Sleeping Rock immediately and will be shocked at how close it is to the road! In the movie, the way it’s framed, of course looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but the rock is literally feet away from the road! The smaller rock that the Duke leaned against while drinking coffee is also located right next to the Sleeping Rock (GPS: lat=38° 9’28.25″N, lon=107°33’43.94″W).
The Hanging Scene
True Grit’s Hanging Scene was filmed in Ridgway’s Town Park, also know as Hartwell Park. It is right downtown and you can’t miss it. It’s a great place for a picnic and they often have concert series there during the summer and fall. To find the park, simply turn off Highway 550 into downtown and it will be on your right, off Lena Street. Also, when you turn off to head downtown, turn in to your left and you’ll see the old Paddy Wagon from the beginning of the movie, when the Duke was bringing in prisoners. It’s parked there near the highway and downtown.
If you walk around the park, you will see the famous old trees used in the scene. The beautiful red building with the steeple is on the back end of the park, just down the road from True Grit Cafe (a must-see, great food). That red building is the old firehouse. Also, take time to look at the building to the left of the True Grit Cafe, and notice it is the Fort Smith Saloon, also used in the movie.
The True Grit Cafe is filled with True Grit and John Wayne memorabilia and has a great menu. Visit their web site and be sure to notice the wall to the left as soon as you enter. You’ll see the Chambers Grocery Store sign still painted on the wall, the same one used in the movie when Duke pulls up with the Paddy Wagon. There’s lots to look at and you can also purchase True Grit memorabilia from their store.
Chen Lee’s and Other Town Scenes
Chen Lee’s place is on Clinton Street in Ridgway. From the True Grit Cafe, just walk down the boardwalk next to the street, pass the Firehouse and turn left on Clinton Street. You’ll see a Natural Grocer’s across the street, this was a building that was shown behind John Wayne and Kim Darby when they were talking in the street. If you continue up Clinton Street, on the left side you’ll see a building that was part of the front of Chen’s. It’s the door Rooster and Mattie walk through to go into Chen’s.
Some of the scenes that showed Rooster in court were shot in the Ouray County Courthouse, and some of the courthouse scenes were built sets. I did find the staircase that Mattie chased Rooster on, and it was indeed in the Ouray County Courthouse. From Ridgway, take Highway 550 10 miles to Ouray. The courthouse is on the left side of the main street. Turn left on 6th street, then turn right onto 4th street and the courthouse will be on your left. If you go inside, the staircase is on your right.
The snakepit scene is located on Camp Bird Road outside Ouray (as you’re leaving town and heading toward Silverton on the Million Dollar Highway, you’ll see the sign for Camp Bird Road, just take a right). Camp Bird takes you to beautiful Yankee Boy Basin and is worth the trip alone for that. You can’t reach the snakepit scene, unfortunately.
The ferry scenes were filmed over at Blue Mesa Reservoir, which is between Montrose and Gunnison. The actual locations are now under water, but you can see the rocky cliffs that were shown in the movie.
When in doubt, please visit the Ridgway Chamber of Commerce, which is located on the left side of the road when you enter downtown Ridgway. They have True Grit DVDs for sale and also offer some directions to various True Grit related areas…but I have to admit, I believe my compilation is more comprehensive!
The most amazing time of year to visit these locations is the last week of September. The aspens are at their peak colors and are simply stunning. On your way from Ridgway to Last Dollar Road and Horsefly Mesa, you have to stop at the Dallas Divide, a very picturesque area that shows the San Juan Mountains in all their autumn glory. Another great time to visit is mid-July, when the wildflowers are blazing. The San Juan Mountains played a vital role in the movie for good reason: they are one of the most beautiful places on earth!
Have fun! Long Live the Duke!
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