Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bad Day at Black Rock Location Hike

(GPS: N36 38.040 W118 02.390)
(EDIT: I have taken down this video. I will put up a new one at a later time).

I was tempted to call this one Bad Days at Black Rock. This is a blog entry I wanted to do over 6 months ago. Each time I went to this location there would be a few technical problems, and the weather was not always what I had wanted in getting some video and pictures. My latest trip was not too fun either with mosquitoes trying to get as much blood out of me as possible. It was a case where I had to keep moving they were so bad. What you are going to see in this entry is a combination of three trips to this location.

Honestly, this is not the location I would take someone to if they have not seen the movie and have no interest in the area. There are much better areas to check out compared to this one. Not all locations I go to are that inspiring to go to. Still, since this movie is a classic, I am sure there are some out there that might want to see where it was filmed at.

A little about this movie, Bad Day at Black Rock is probably my favorite of the post-western or modern westerns that has been made. In many ways it is very much like a western, but since the time frame is post-WW2 it is way out of the frontier era of the old west. It is often said that the western is dead, but we do get a few westerns out as big screen movies every few years and made for tv westerns come out each year. I do think we may start seeing more of these types of modern 20th century post westerns era movies due to the success of the recent No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. BTW, just as an aside, I see why people liked those movies, but I did not really care for them that much. No Country had some really good suspense in it, but after I watched both movies I felt like, “Wait, what was the point of this?”

Bad Day at Black Rock is very film nourish with the mysterious Spencer Tracy coming to the isolated town of Black Rock and being “welcomed” by equally mysterious Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Walter Brennan. They are trying to figure out why he is there and Spencer Tracy is trying to figure out why they do not want him there. There is much more to this, but if you have not seen the movie then I suggest you DO NOT read any reviews about this online or anywhere. Just watch the dvd or see it when it comes out on cable (TCM just showed it) or your local tv station (PBS is listed as playing it). I am starting to get more and more like this, but I usually do not read many reviews online. I used to write a few myself, but sometimes people write these long rambling things and spoil some of the good stuff you should see before you read about. There are some reviews and general descriptions of the movie that spoil some of the keys to the story that you are not supposed to know until later in the movie. I found out it is best just to watch something rather than read about it since only you can decide what you really like.

In the video I show how to get there. You have to take Narrow Gauge Road just outside of the main part of town in Lone Pine. Eventually, you encounter a gate on the northern side (to your left on the other side of the road). If the gate is closed you just open, drive through it, and then close it again. I usually just park here, pass the gated area, and start walking. It is about a mile.
Originally, there were a few real trains that traveled through here. The train and tracks used in the movie were taken down a long time ago. In the movie, don’t blink; you see the train crossing over a bridge. The following is where the bridge was at:
There is a gas station or garage that a few crucial scenes take place at. From the movie:

This area that I am standing at is where the garage would have been.
I mention this in the video and wanted to mention this a little more here. It is quite possible this is rubble from that garage. I am not going to say it is or is not. I have seen too much from other locations that could have been added much later. Many things can happen over the years with people traveling and visiting certain areas and making them dump spots. On the other hand, there are locations that I have seen something like this and I am virtually certain it is from the movie set.

I think when some people visit areas like this they have this idea that something must have remained from some set some 30+ years ago. They come, and to their great disappointment there is nothing there. So, they start searching the area for traces. They might find a piece of wood, etc. and think they have found something from the set when all it is something someone threw on the ground two months earlier. In many cases it is unlikely one would find something after all these years because people were hired to take down movie pieces.

I have noticed this on documentaries on cable channels too. I have seen people go out in fields claiming a medieval battle, never before revealed to the public, took place at some location just by looking at a map. I have seen crack pot adventurers look for lost treasure in these types of documentaries. With the recent Indiana Jones movie there was a real screwball one about a guy trying to find crystal skulls. I taped it, watched it while I was out of town, and wanted my two hours back. Somewhere in it they revealed that the skull the guy owned was originally purchased through an auction and was probably fake. A lot of these documentaries like to ham it up for the audience like you might see in a “reality” show. When the facts are known you have to wonder what you can believe about them. You get the idea.

Here is probably the best shot I have looking at what would have been the main street of Bad Rock. The main town building would have been on the right side of the road.

This is looking toward the north side. You can see where the train track would have been at one time here:
A few tidbits about this movie:

Ernest Borgnine was acting in this movie when he auditioned for the title role for Marty. He was at the Lone Pine Dow Villa where he gave a heart breaking script reading. When he saw that the people who were auditioning him started tearing up from his emotional acting he knew he had the part.

Supposedly, Spencer Tracy and Walter Brennan did not care for each other too much during this movie. Politically, there were on different sides of the spectrum with Tracy being more liberal and Brennan being more conservative. The story is that right before a scene would be filmed Brennan liked to throw three fingers in the air at Tracy and say, “THREE!” He would time it right so that Tracy was supposed to get irritated right as they started filming. It was a way of taunting Tracy as he had two academy awards compared to the three Brennan had earned.

As I said a bunch of times in the video and here, this is not really one of my favorite areas since it is so isolated with nothing really to see. It is just like the feeling in the movie of an isolated area in the middle of nowhere apart from civilization. It is not as scenic as other nearby areas. Not every location I visit I feel is gold, but I still like to show them anyways. I do have a few other locations from this movie I will show at a later time.