This is an area I have covered before. Normally, I do not like to rehash the same areas in my blog, but this is one of those areas that I tend to get occasional e-mails about so I thought I would update it. I am keeping the original blog up and linking this new blog entry in it. Those pictures and blog reflect a period of about 10 years ago when I was not as "hardcore" about movie locations and knowledge of how to find them as I am now. There were some simple mistakes I made in that blog that I hope to correct in this one. Keep in mind I have visited and lived many summers near Mono Lake from as far back as I can remember. I always knew the movie was made there, but it would be like, "Oh, High Plains Drifter was made just over there." Then, "That's nice. Let's get out here because it is so hot at the South Tufa!"
In this blog I want to add some other tidbits about the area that you might not pick up in the movie or even if you went to the location. In this first video I mention Mt. Dana. It is seen in the movie and my video a few times when the looking west. Here is a zoom of it. At first glance, especially in the video and movie, the mountains look connected. This picture should help show it a little better from down below from the east. It is in the very back there. There is a another smaller mountain in front of it from this point of view. When the video was made I had climbed Mt. Dana from the eastern road entrance of Yosemite. From the popular route it is a 3,000 foot climb that takes a few hours to get to the 13,000 foot elevated summit. A future blog will cover the video, pictures, and my story of that hike.
In the movie, this the first shot we get of the town of "Lago" in the movie.
I hiked up the hill to get a close enough shot for our purposes. This is not exactly where the camera was in the movie. The way I know this is that you have to line up the mountain peaks in the background with some of the features of the island out there. Long story short, there were some issues with sun and my cheap equipment. To avoid glare I just stayed here rather than move more to the north west (probably a few hundred feet or so to the left of my picture from what I can tell). With something like this I am just trying to get the general "feel" of the location rather than be obsessed with the exact location. So, this should get the job done for our purposes.
The hill I walked up is like walking up an incline of beach sand. Of all the terrain I hate walking on, it would be scree infested mountain peaks. Two steps forward and then one step back, or one step forward and two steps back. It did not take too long, but after climbing Dana I wanted to get this short little incline hike out of the way as soon as possible without sweating too much from the now warming sun. Of course, I always get sand in my shoes from stuff like this. Now check this out:
There are a lot of chunks of obsidian out there. This one was a pretty good size chunk. There are a lot of crators nearby that have had volcanic activity in the past. I visited one that I will do a video and pictures for soon. So, you will be seeing a lot more obsidian in the near future. Clint comes down from the hill and takes the road you see from the above pictures down to the town. Again, close enough for our purposes here. The main thing I wanted to do this time was be sure I got most of the background right. The following is where the town begins. You can see the rocky formation where my backpack is at that you see Clint ride by. It is obviously decayed over the years. When I was here ten years ago something did not feel right about to me. Keep in mind I was doing this off of memory rather than take movie stills. I expected it to look just like you see in the movie. I said some stuff in the video about it being level in the movie, but I am not so sure about it looking at it now. Movies, pictures, and then actually seeing it there can give you three different views about it. All I can say is there is enough there to know it is what you see in the movie, but it has changed. As I have mentioned in the video and blog a bunch of times I always look for the rocks because they tend not too change very much and are usually the key to the locations.
I mention in the video there is, what I assume, a tufa rock formation that you can see extending from the land in the movie and then you see one of those rocks remaining these days. Here is a zoom that makes it look like a viking ship.
The following is one of the pieces of wood you can find there. As I mention in the video, something like this could be remains from the movie set. I have seen pieces of wood from sets that are still around after almost 70 years. So, that really isn't an issue. However, I would caution someone from looking at the piece of wood below and saying they are certain it is from the set of High Plains Drifter. The reason being is I have seen wood and charred wood not only here, but in other areas around Mono Lake, not to mention other nearby areas. There are a lot of reasons you might find wood like this here that may not have anything to do with the movie. Usually, most productions are required to pick up all set pieces at the end of the filming. Keep this in mind, not just for this movie, but any time you see someone declare something is from some movie set. I will list some further links below about Mono Lake if you want more information. One thing I mentioned in the second video is about the Daly gang of Aurora. I refer you to Roger McGrath's Gunfighters, Highwaymen, & Vigilantes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984) chapter 5 which gives you the history of how the outlaw gunfighers took over the town of Aurora. Aurora is on the other side of the lake behind the mountains in the above pictures. It was a major mining area during the early 1860's. There is not much there these days, and the reasons for that is another story for another time. But, this is one of those things that people that have seen the movie or even visited the location may not know the coincidental history of the area.
You should read the chapter, but long story short, the gunfighters took over the town. Like a lot of gunfighters of the old west, no one really cared if they killed each other or other undesirables, but once a well thought of citizen was killed then mobs formed. One of the members of the Daly gang, with the last name of Buckley, was caught not very far from this location. He was taken back with the gang, and there they received death by a slight elevation change in Aurora (they were hanged).
Now, this is not the exact same story as High Plains Drifter, but some of the same ideas about revenge, the take over of the town, and even a few tidbits of the supernatural are involved in the story. So, even though one is fiction and the other real history, whenever I see High Plains Drifter or read that chapter about the Daly gang I feel like they are very much related. Please take a look at that chapter and tell me what you think after you read it. The book is a good read about the ghost towns of Bodie and Aurora, as well as, the Owens Valley War of the 1860's. McGrath deserves a plug for his old book so here it is. :)
The Return to Lago (Youtube Version)
The Return to Lago (Vimeo Version)
A few links:
Some old blogs that give different views of Mono Lake: