Ever since Thomas Alva Edison aimed his camera at a group of children at the Indian Day School on Isleta Pueblo in 1898, filmmakers have found New Mexico to be an enchanted place in which to make movies.
The state’s temperate climate, quality of light, stunning geography, and abundance of undeveloped, wide open spaces have made it especially popular with Western filmmakers. The first film of the genre ever filmed here was D.W. Griffith’s 20-minute love story titled A Pueblo Legend. Made in 1912 and staring Mary Pickford, it was also shot on location at Isleta Pueblo. Since then, filmmakers from John Ford and John Wayne to Billy Bob Thornton and the Coen Brothers have flocked to New Mexico to tell their tales.
Although some critics assert that the golden era of the Hollywood Western ended in the 1960s, the genre nonetheless endures as one of the most popular of all time. Each year, directors and writers bring fresh perspective to classic Western film conventions—and New Mexico’s breathtaking landscape and authentic movie sets continue to be their locations of choice. Built on sprawling Central New Mexico ranches amid panoramic scenery, these sets embody the ambiance of life in the Old West.
Above: The Doc West film crew working at Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch, just south of Santa Fe. Starring Terence Hill and Paul Sorvino and released in 2009, Doc West was a made-for-Italian-television production that did not show in the United States. Photos by Linda Carfagno.
Above: The barn at Bonanza Creek was built specifically for The Astronaut Farmer, starring Billy Bob Thornton.
Above: The several-thousand-plus-acre property has served as a site for filmmaking since 1955 and features over five ponds and two sets. Photos by Linda Carfagno.
The Eaves Movie Ranch was established in the 1960s as part of the 1,500-acre Rancho Allegre cattle ranch owned by J.W. Eaves. It first hosted production on the television show Empire and several years later was the location for The Cheyenne Social Club, starring Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda. It was for this movie, in fact, that the sets were built, and over time, various production companies added their own buildings. Eaves has been the location for hundreds of television shows, commercials, and films, including The Cowboys, Silverado, and Wyatt Earp.
Cerro Pelon Ranch
Formerly the Cook Movie Ranch located just outside Galisteo, New Mexico, the Cerro Pelon Ranch was originally built as one of the main locations for Silverado. The set has since been completely rebuilt after pyrotechnics raged out of control on the set of the movie Wild Wild West and burned the existing set to the ground. Photos by Michael Meyer.
Cerro Pelon Ranch town and train station were used for the final shoot-out scenes in the movie 3:10 to Yuma, starring Christian Bale and Russell Crow. You can see it in the background of the movie still shown above right. Photos by Michael Meyer.