A devastating fire swept through Universal Studios last June, destroying the sets for Back to the Future‘s Courthouse Square and Clint Eastwood’s forthcoming Changeling — but it wasn’t the first studio to watch its backlot go up in smoke.
That fate was shared by Arizona’s Apacheland Movie Ranch outside of Phoenix and home to countless gunfights, saloon brawls, and horseplay in the imaginary West. A misplaced cigarette in 1969 made a bonfire of its clapboard collection of churches, barbershop facades and hitching posts — along with the historic sets for the TV show Gunsmoke, and the movies Ballad of Cable Hogue and Blood on the Arrow.
The blaze could have been symbolic. Westerns were falling out of
fashion, and by the 1970s, these ranch studios were gradually
shuttered, turned into museums, or swallowed into suburbia. The vein
had dried up.
It wasn’t always that way. During its Golden Era, more than one
Middle of Nowhere location pinned its hopes on riding the Western boom
— often for a second time. Rhyolite, a former gold mining town in
Nevada, found its coffers filled as a set for B-Westerns. But like the
Gold Rush pioneers, their dreams of striking it rich never quite panned
out. Even when Apacheland was rebuilt, it didn’t help its luck any: The
self-proclaimed “Western Movie Capitol of the World” was consumed by a
fire again in 2004.
Nevertheless, you can still see the famed movieland setting in 1964’s Blood on the Arrow. See if you can make out the mountains in the distance: They’re called the Superstitions.Read More