It seems that the Roaring Fork Valley has always been ready for its closeup.
Like cinematic outlaws of long ago, films have been “shot” on location here for decades. With dramatic peaks, sparkling rivers, picturesque valleys and an iconic Rocky Mountain landscape, it’s no surprise that Hollywood came knocking soon after this area was settled. Over a century later, films are still being shot locally and sparking the imaginations of moviegoers worldwide.
It all started with a few classic, silent Westerns. The first production to feature our corner of Colorado was a silent film called The Runaway Stagecoach in 1902, just a few years after Glenwood Springs was incorporated. Later, in 1926, the original gun-slinging, trick-roping cowboy superstar Tom Mix brought a trainload of workers, horses and equipment to film The Great K&A Train Robbery in Glenwood Canyon. Mix performed his own stunts; he even obtained a permit to shoot a scene riding his horse Tony over Shoshone Dam.
Locals were captivated, if skeptical, of Mix and his colorful gang of actors and crew members. “People here were unfamiliar with Hollywood at that time,” says Cindy Hines, director of the Frontier Historical Society. “They weren’t sure what to make of Tom Mix.” Mix and his crew organized community events to appease residents who had offered up their town for three weeks of filming. People turned up by the thousands to attend a rodeo sponsored by the production team and a live vaudeville-style song-and-dance show featuring the film’s cast. Today, history buffs can check out clips of the movie at the Frontier Historical Society’s museum in Glenwood and surely point out familiar views of the Canyon.
Other films quietly shot on location, or at least partially shot here in the Roaring Fork Valley, over the next several decades, included Red Stallion in the Rockies (1949), Vanishing Point (1971), A Change of Seasons (1980) and Messenger of Death (1988).
It wasn’t until Flashback in the 1990s that the Valley again saw Hollywood crews descend upon the area as fully as they had in 1926. During four weeks of filming, residents saw an indoor movie set pop up in West Glenwood and a fictitious hippie commune constructed for scenes shot on Cattle Creek Road. Some locals even took up roles as extras and star-sightings around town seemed commonplace for a time. Cindy Hines reported that she had a brush with fame at City Market one afternoon: “I saw this man wearing the funniest plaid pants,” she recalls. “But when I looked closer I said, ‘that’s Dennis Hopper!’”
The 1990s and early 2000s brought more filming to Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Aspen, with such projects as Aspen Extreme (1993), Tall Tale (1995) and Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) featuring scenes of various familiar spots.
In over a century of filmmaking, it’s clear that Hollywood still has a thing for the fabled American West – and if movies are the stuff that dreams are made of, well…we’re living in a dreamland.