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Thursday July 18th 2024

Cowboys And Aliens| 2011

Cowboys and Aliens filming location: Plaza Blanca, New Mexico
Cowboys and Aliens location: site of the alien ship: the spectacular cliffs of Plaza Blanca, New Mexico | Photograph: istock / gypsygirl505

Daniel Craig does ultra-cool, while grizzled patriarch Harrison Ford appears to be limbering up for a gunslinging King Lear. Given the most preposterously high-concept title since Snakes On A Plane, it’s surprisingly straight-faced.

Apart from the usual interiors filmed on the Universal backlot in Los Angeles, the film was made in northern New Mexico, mainly in the area around Abiquiu and Santa Fe, on US84.

The rundown Western town of ‘Absolution’ was built at Bonanza Creek Ranch, 15 Bonanza Creek Lane, about eight miles southwest of Santa Fe itself.

Bonanza Creek is a working cattle ranch (so not open to visitors), spanning several thousand acres. Plenty of movies have been filmed at the ranch, since Anthony Mann’s 1955 The Man From Laramie, with James Stewart, followed by Billy Wilder’s scabrous Ace In The Hole and The Cowboys, with John Wayne.

The first set was built in 1980 for William A Fraker’s Legend of the Lone Ranger, starring Klinton Spilsbury (in his first and last screen role) as the masked hero. Although this was torn down after the production, a more permanent one was constructed in 1983 for Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado. The town for Cowboys & Aliens was built up from the pre-existing set.

The camp where amnesiac Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) runs into his old posse, as well as the Apache camp, were filmed on the San Cristobal Ranch, 90 San Cristobal Ranch Road, west of Lamy, about 20 miles south of Santa Fe.

Another screen veteran, the ranch has been seen in The Cowboys (again); Seraphim Falls; and the 2007 remake of The Hitcher.

The red sandstone cliffs can be seen north of the town of Abiquiu, about 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe, along the Kitchen Mesa Trail, part of Ghost Ranch, one-time home of painter Georgia O'Keeffe, now an education and retreat centre, on US84.

The 21,000 acres of Ghost Ranch were given to the Presbyterian Church in 1955 – part of a land grant called Piedra Lumbre (“Shining Rock”), from the King Charles III of Spain in 1766. The name ‘Ghost Ranch’ was inspired by the numerous tales of ghosts and hangings in the Ranch's history.

Among other films featuring the spectacular scenery around Ghost Ranch are Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; Jim Sheridan’s Brothers (2009) with Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal; James Mangold’s 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma, Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp (1994) with Kevin Costner; The Missing, City Slickers and others – you can take a Ghost Ranch Movie Tour.

West of Abiquiu is Abiquiu Reservoir, formed in 1963 by the damming of the Chama River. It’s here, on the western shore where the reservoir merges into the the Chama River, that the alien craft splashes down into the water.

The vertical-sided canyon to which the alien creature is tracked is Diablo Canyon on the Rio Grande, Old Buckman Road, back down towards Santa Fe. A popular rock climbing area (for experienced climbers), the canyon is also featured in the 2007 version of 3:10 to Yuma.

The aliens set up their gold mining operations among the striking white sandstone cliffs and towers of Plaza Blanca, in the hills of the Rio Chama Valley. If you have sturdy boots, plenty of water and can cope with the dazzling glare, you can hike the spectacular area, which you’ll find to the north of County Road 155, off US84, just east of Abiquiu.