Facebook Twitter

When Hollywood disliked Southern Utah’s brightly colored terrain — and even got stranded

The red rocks were too bright for using Technicolor in 1940 for ‘Western Union’

SHARE When Hollywood disliked Southern Utah’s brightly colored terrain — and even got stranded

Just off Interstate 15 south of Cedar City, the Kolob section of Zion National Park offers a lovely sidetrip into remarkable red sandstone canyons with towering cliffs and pinnacles. The district also has several hiking trails.

Ray Boren

Southern Utah is world famous for its brightly colored rocks. However, there was a time when Hollywood disliked the Kanab area’s landscape.

Colored rocks of Utah plague film company” was an Oct. 6, 1940, headline in the Salt Lake Tribune. (Subscription required to see article on newspapers.com.)

The hues of Kanab area rock were simply too bright for the Technicolor filming process Hollywood was using at that time.

“Thousands of tourists visit Utah every year to gaze with wonder and delight at the brilliantly colored rocks dotting the landscape,” the story stated. “But these same rocks are a source of annoyance and expense to Twentieth Century-Fox now on location here for the filming of Zane Grey’s ‘Western Union.’”

What did Hollywood do?

“A crew of men had to be hired to ‘redecorate’ the rocks along Paris Creek, which cameramen said are too bright for technicolor filming,” the story reported.

The extra cost of the painting before filming was not reported, but was believed to be only a small part of the $100,000 (more than $1.8 million in today’s dollar value) that the film studio was expected to spend in the Kanab area for the movie.

And, that wasn’t the only problem Hollywood encountered in the area.

“While scouting for the Paria (Creek) location, director (Fritz) Lang and his technicolor staff were marooned when a sudden rain filled the arroyos between Paria and Kanab, blocking their return. They spent the night waiting for the waters to recede while a rescue party tried in vain to reach them,” the Tribune story stated.

(This may have been the first public notice that Utah’s slot canyons can be dangerous during storms.)

The studio had 470 employees in town for the movie, as well as using about 300 Kanab residents for extras, cowpunchers and wranglers, etc.

Robert Young, Randolph Scott and Dean Jagger were among the stars in the “Western Union” movie. The Gap and Johnson Canyon were among the other filming locations.


Johnson Canyon Arch in Snow Canyon State Park in southern Utah. Johnson Canyon was one of the filming locations for “Western Union” in 1940.


A similar scenario happened about 10 years later in 1950, when a headline in the Aug. 12 Ogden Standard-Examiner was, “Mountain ‘Flash Flood’ Maroons Hollywood Unit.”

A Hollywood crew of 64 members were stranded after a torrent seven feet deep filled Buckskin Creek, about 40 miles east of Kanab. A heavy rain and hail produced the flood and the crew was delayed about eight hours, until after midnight.

The crew, which included actors Robert Ryan and Walter Brennan, plus actress Claire Trevor, were hungry, but there were no injuries. The RKO movie “Best of the Bad Men” was being filmed.

More history: Paved highway in Zion National Park, a ‘Ghost ship’ on the Great Salt Lake and Goblin Valley’s original name

• The Kolob Canyon Road is a scenic drive at the far western edge of Zion National Park. The first mention of a possible paved highway into this area was back in 1955.

The Parowan Times newspaper of May 26, 1955, carried the headline, “Highway into Zion Monument ‘possible.’”

The story stated that Zion Park Superintendent Paul R. Franke had visited the Kolob Terrace area and said a road would open up an area even more beautiful than Zion Canyon itself.

In pre-I-15 days, the prospective road was mentioned as leaving U-91 and entering the “finger” canyons of the Kolob Terrace through Taylor/Dry Creek. The road was built in the early to mid-1960s and opened on Sept. 30, 1967.

• There was a “ghost ship” on the Great Salt Lake in the late summer of 1887. The Salt Lake Herald of Sept. 4 that year published the headline, “A strange affair. Mysterious appearance of a Fisher Boat near Lake Park.

A 12-foot-long rowboat was found unmanned, between “Church Island” (today’s Antelope Island) and Lake Park (forerunner to Lagoon on the shores of the GSL, west of Farmington). The boat was found drifting south, several miles from shore, full of provisions for an extended trip.

With some difficulty it was towed to shore at Farmington and included clothes, utensils and fishing supplies, but no food.

Where the ship came from was never determined and whether its owner met with an accident, or the boat just slipped out of reach was never publicly recorded.


Goblin Valley is from within the current boundaries of Goblin Valley State Park in April 2016.

Dave Cawley, Deseret News

• Goblin Valley is a well-known Utah State Park, established in 1964. However, the area was known by earlier titles. “Mushroom Valley” was its first name, given to it by its discoverer, Arthur Chaffin in 1949. (He had first spotted it in the 1920s, but didn’t return for decades.) According to the Richfield Reaper newspaper of Oct. 1, 1953, the area was also known by a different name — “Little Gnomeland.”

The article also referred to the formations as goblins, but expressed concern over how easily the shapes could be vandalized, with nearby U-24 being completed, though there was not yet a direct road to the valley itself.

Lynn Arave worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 40 years. He is a retired Deseret News reporter/editor, from 1979-2011. His email is lra503777@gmail.com. His Mystery of Utah History blog is at http://mysteryofutahhistory.blogspot.com.