Come with us as we visit the front range mountains of Alberta to duplicate some scenes from the 1987 TV movie, Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. Incredibly, we are supposed to believe the setting is Kansas. Really? Kansas? Mountains? What in the world? It doesn’t matter anyway. The location is gorgeous and we’re drawn into it for that reason alone. Any chance to shoot in the Rockies is welcomed, even if the subject film is, well, pretty much an unknown for most, if not all of you. We first heard of it only a couple weeks ago. It’s pretty obscure.
The iconic TV show Gunsmoke ran from 1955-75 and was naturally, quite popular. The movie we’ll be exploring, not so much. It was produced some dozen years after the show was last cancelled and was the first of of several follow up films made. Some of the original cast appeared in Return to Dodge, most notably James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon and Amanda Blake as Kitty.
The movie plot is quite simple and perhaps a bit cliched: a convict is released from prison and searches out those who sent him to jail to exact revenge. As you may have guessed Marshall Dillon is one of his targets. The various scenes shown in this report all take place around a fictional First Nation’s village or emcampment located on the shores of a small lake, and involve Dillon, a long time friend, a native girl and her tribe and a government official. Or something like that. Watch the movie if you need to know more about the storyline. Admittedly, I didn’t pay enough attention to describe it here. Watching the film I…often…found…my…mind…waaaan…dering.
The locations however kept me interested…
Where the filming took place was once known as the Yamnuska Natural Area and is now called the Bow Valley Wildland Park. Below two towering mountains there are rolling hills and moraines, broad meadows mixed with dense forests and many ponds and lakes. If you add it all up, it’s the perfect setting for a cowboy movie.
Featured prominently in many scenes is Mt Yamnuska or simply Yam to those who know and love it. Its flat face, understandably, is popular with rock climbers and the more gently sloped backside (not seen from our position) makes it a scrambler’s delight. On a summer weekend it’s a crazy busy place!
In the local Stoney language the mountains is known as Iyamnathka. Officially is referred to as Mt John Laurie, although I have rarely heard that name used. Seen in some shots is Goat Mountain to the west. Also identified in the movie are Door Jamb Mountain (the south high point of Goat) and Mt McGillivray roughly to the southwest.
Also playing a role in the film (and in our pictiures) is tiny Meadow Lake. It’s pretty shallow, more of a pond really, and I bet dries up a lot come summer. It’s one of many bodies of water in the area and was no doubt chosen by the producers given its outstanding views, plus that it was easy to get to.
In spite of looking remote we are close to the highway. A now partially overgrown road comes in from the east which allowed the crews access to the site.
We came to this area not only to record this then and now, but also to hike. What you see in this report was recorded during our lunch break at the lake. The rest of the day we were lost under Yamnuska
You recall us mentioning that this mountainous setting was supposed to double for Kansas. What were they smoking? That error is geography aside, the location sure is stunning. Interestedly, the region here is known as Kananaskis – hmm, Kansas, Kananaskis, sort of similar sounding…I guess. Had they required a plains-like setting, the producers only needed to travel a few dozen kilometres to the east and they would have all the flat prairie they wanted.
If it’s so obscure, how did we hear of the film? While researching another movie shot in the area, we stumbled across a reference to it. How did we find the location? Simple (simple, simple) detective work. This one was quite easy, in fact too easy, given we immediately recognized Yamnuska. It’s distinctive and unlike any other mountain in the region. From there we simply had to search out the lake, which took no time at all.
There are other scenes from the movie that were shot in the same region of Alberta. Some we have been identified by us and others not. Future reports on this subject may be forthcoming.
I can’t say this was a great movie, and it only held our interested because it was filmed in the area. Those who are bigger fans of the franchise will likely think better of it then us.
The screen caps from Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge are copyright CBS Entertainment.
To see more of Yamnuska, go here…
Lost under Yamnuska.
To see other movie then and now posts we’ve published, follow these links…
Silver Streak movie then and now – walking the tracks.
Then and now, the National Dream.
Superman 3 then and now – bar scenes.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: April, 2014.
Location: Near Exshaw AB.