Sunday, April 29, 2007

Enlightening Eastwood's Pale Rider

Enlightening Eastwood’s Pale Rider

By Jim Banholzer

With special lights from Brad Nottingham & Professor Tom Trusky
Click here for revised versions

Watching Clint Eastwood movies, particularly his well-crafted Westerns are almost like enrapturing religious experiences for some people. Each of his movies project priceless lessons, even when he plays an antagonist such as the callous elephant hunter in White Hunter, Black Heart. Astoundingly enough, Clint filmed much of Pale Rider right here in Idaho with a theme as ageless as the Boulder Mountains. Clint plays a nameless preacher protecting a poor prospecting town from a gang of ruffians sent by a greedy mining corporation, to intrude on their claim. This striking film -the first of Clint’s that he produced -was created in 1984 around Boulder City north of Ketchum and over by the Vienna Mine near Smiley Creek. Pale Rider was the predecessor to Clint’s 1992 Academy award-winning Unforgiven.

Each time I watch Pale Rider, I focus on the recognizable background terrain, sometimes freezing specific frames to find my way around in the mountains. As Brad Nottingham was a local then he reminds us, “For Pale Rider, there were some filming issues evident in the film as you see it today, which brought comment: it was filmed in our typically beautiful late Indian summer, and some of the riding scenes were filmed just before and after an unpredictable early season snow, which frosted the upper parts of the ranges, while quickly melting off the lower elevations. As a film viewer, a period of time that seemed to be about a week, appeared to toggle from summer to winter, which brought some criticism, I remember, but any of us mountain folk wouldn't give it a second thought.
In addition, Clint made tremendous effort to restore the site that was disturbed by the building fronts, construction crew, and later the feet pounding of the actors and production crew on the little ridge and river drainage near the quaking aspen groves. Winter seemed to come quickly that year and for a bunch of us, it was hard to spot evidence of the film set trampling that next spring, though we tried. We also tried to find some kind of film crew item or something. Lon and I located "the rock" that one of the miners was chipping on in an early scene from the film.
When it finally came out, Pale Rider sort of stunned people, because it was a break from the Eastwood tradition. He played an even quieter, low-key character, and I remember people being confused about connecting a "preacher" role to him. Others, expecting the active dashing and violent Dirty Harry traditions found this movie kind of slow and spacey, features I didn't mind at all this time. I just soaked in the scenery that I knew was almost in my backyard. I had driven my old Buick Wagon up there, and forded the rocky river crossing half a dozen times, hiking up to some of the "real" old mining cabins and diggings.
Soon afterward, a local man, David Butterfield had us typeset and produce an exhausting field guide to good locations across
Idaho, including information about accommodations, prices, in order to drum up more filmmaking interest from Hollywood. After the book was published, I remember that there wasn't much response, until the Bruce Willis engine began churning up sleep Hailey in the 90s. I still have not rented that weird, forgotten-about movie (Town & Country (2001)) filmed in Bellevue that included Warren Beatty that had a fly-fishing connection, nor the one about Hemingway, but I did see that odd Twin Falls picture(Breakfast of Champions (1999)) that Willis was working on when his marriage to Demi was fast unraveling.”

While I read Brad’s insights, it occurred to me that filming of this motion picture was a significant enough event that it should be commemorated with a historical sign. Folks I spoke with at The Idaho Transportation Department were receptive to this idea and may soon designate a spot along Highway 75, once the historical committee approves proper text for the legend.

I passed this suggestion on to Tom Trusky, Head of the Idaho Film Collection, and Professor of English at Boise State University. Tom was enthusiastic about the potential Pale Rider tribute and expanded it with a “Statewide Movie Signage Proposal”. To quote Professor Trusky, “The tourist / publicity value of such signage is apparent – and locals might appreciate such knowledge, too, if they are unaware of their cinematic heritage. As well, given the recent interest in bringing film production to the state, such signage would not only be public acknowledgement of Idaho’s considerable contribution to the film industry but also serve as a reminder to contemporary filmmakers of the Gem State possibilities.”

It would be nice if the Idaho Department of Transportation eventually expands Tom’s Statewide Movie Signage Proposal with a further plan. As technological -capabilities continue to advance in affordable ways; it would be uplifting to see Idaho embrace the next generation by attaching to our historical signs, interactive items. For instance, when traveling up Highway 75 past the North Fork Store, when reaching the perimeter of interest where Marilyn Monroe’s Bus Stop was filmed, an alert could be made available for interested traveler’s “duzz-all” digital devices. A short holographic film of Marilyn hypnotically dancing with a billowing skirt on driver’s dashboards would keep dozing dad’s chipper and alert, lending to driver safety. Then, for the next fistful of history, when reaching Pale Rider’s phantom hill, the sounds of bullets whizzing by ears could be the subsequent alert, then up to Galena Lodge, for a quick passerby browse over some books about the area’s rich history. Proprietors of the Sawtooth valley could smilingly profit by making related material available to help satisfy recently whetted travelers appetites. Inexpensively solar powered Kiosks could develop from these informative signpost-pullout areas. They could be further engineered to include emergency communications devices. A camera-eye imbedded within the untouchable hologram could help prevent vandalism and if tampering is detected, could be set to announce, “Go ahead, make my day!” Stranded drivers in remote areas where cell phones don’t work could come to know these signposts as secure places. One might even hope that drivers passing the Pale Rider signpost would be reminded to take after the nameless preacher and help their fellow man in need.

Certainly, ITD already has some technologically savvy leaders aboard. This is the third time I have had a positive experience with ITD leadership, which leads me to believe that innovativeness is embraced in their daily working environment. These leaders could take our ideas to the next realm by showing us how signpost pullouts could transformed into something that truly enhances the landscape.

By merging the information superhighway with our back road signage, Idaho could show the world how we are on the cutting edge along with being able-bodied enough to cut through bureaucracy in the meantime.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

More of Brad Nottingham’s insights on “Good Guys” can be found in the Idaho Film Archive on Pale Rider:


  1. latest update5:25 AM


    Thanks for keeping me posted about the updates for various historical Idaho signs. Certainly, I did seem to have a more quixotic vision for this particular sign, being such a big Clint Eastwood fan and all. I suppose that I was dreaming that there would be a sign commemorating in a poetic manner the timelessness of the Boulder Mountains in a context of how these scenic mountains relate to the ageless theme of Pale Rider (and its lessons). In fact, here is a link to some of my further thoughts on this (which I have also, submitted a draft to a local newspaper):

    However, even if the good people of the transportation department and historical society, do not put a mention of this movie on as high as a pedestal, as I was imagining, I believe that any mention of Pale Rider is pleasing, will interest tourists and evoke good memories for many locals. Although your proposed signage is almost forty miles from where the movie was filmed; it did involve many of the locals from the south valley and does fit in with the context of Mining Days, although that might not be clear to some passerby immediately -unless they remember that the movie was centered on mining days.

    Again, I thank you and your colleagues for your extra efforts here and look forward to pointing out and stopping off at these wonderful signposts of yours.

    Best regards,

    Jim Banholzer

    -----Original Message-----
    From: Bruce Christensen []
    Sent: Monday, April 30, 2007 11:54 AM
    To: Jim Banholzer
    Cc: Carl Horn
    Subject: FW: Two more signs


    Please let me know when you get this email so I can make sure it went through. I'm not sure the sign changes are exactly what you had in mind, but this is what the State Historical Society has come up with.

    Hope this helps,



    From: Steve Holland
    Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 2:52 PM
    To: 'Suzi Neitzel'; Brett J Purvis; Mike Mcguire
    Cc: Carl Horn; Larry Bolton; Bruce Christensen
    Subject: FW: Two more signs


    Ok we will put the two in the works.

    Steve C. Holland

    Transportation Staff Eng. Asst.

    Office of Highway Operations and Safety

    P.O. Box 7129

    Boise, ID 83707-1129

    208-334-8565 (Phone)
    208-334-4440 (Fax)


    From: Suzi Neitzel []
    Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 1:34 PM
    To: Steve Holland
    Subject: Two more signs


    I revised the Wood River Mines sign to include a sentence about Pale Rider. I also had Ken Reid, our state archaeologist, revise the Prehistoric Man sign. We want to rename that one “Prehistoric Hunter.” Please see attached and let me know what you think.

    We are still going to wait to revise the Bison Jump sign outside of Challis. They are going to be doing more archaeology up there and some interp at the site that we should be compatible with.



  2. Current & proposed signage5:27 AM


    Wood River Mines



    Rich strikes in 1879 led to a rush to the lead and silver mines of this valley Eventually, the famous Minnie Moore Mine alone produced a total of $8.4 million worth of ore.

    Mining quickly brought a railroad and prosperity, and for a time this was the leading region of Idaho. Hailey had Idaho’s earliest phone service (1883) and three daily newspapers. A Ketchum smelter pioneered electric lighting in Idaho. But times changed: lodes ran out, mining declined, and now these hills attract more skiers than miners.

    Sign #154



    Rich strikes in 1879 led to a rush in the lead and silver mines of this valley. The famous Minnie Moore Mine alone produced a total of $8.4 million worth of ore.

    Mining quickly brought a railroad and prosperity. A Ketchum smelter pioneered electric lighting. Hailey soon had Idaho’s earliest phone service and three daily newspapers. But lodes ran out and mining declined. Now these hills attract more skiers and actors than miners. In 1984, Clint Eastwood filmed his movie Pale Rider near here.


  3. "Old West Action" is an anagram for "Clint Eastwood".

  4. Carrie Snodgrass, who played a leading role in this film, was the mother of Neil Young's son Zeke.

    Neil Young's song "A Man Needs a Maid" was inspired by Snodgress, featuring the lyric "I fell in love with the actress/she was playing a part that I could understand."

  5. Anonymous1:49 PM

    Hope you see this, as I don't see any other way of contacting you on here. I posed this question regarding Pale Rider on a message board and was referred to you. I'll just cut-and-paste what I wrote:

    "I remember seeing this movie as a kid when it came out in theaters and being awestruck by the scenery. In particular I really enjoyed the location where the town was. The area looked both beautiful and foreboding/eerie at the same time, and it really managed to stick in my head. I had known since around the time of its release that it was filmed in the Sawtooth Nat'l Recreation Area. Before moving to Boise I was on a roadtrip and drove southward from Stanley through the area looking for it, but no one I talked to really had a clue about where it was filmed precisely.

    I had kind of forgotten about it in recent years, but it's on TV again as I type this, and I have renewed interest again given how close I am to the area now. Can anyone give somewhat specific directions to where they shot it in Sawtooth?"

    1. Anonymous11:30 PM

      Clints movies are truly epic. Unforgiven was filmed in and around a little alberta town or hamlet called longview. It is an amazing place where ghe foothills meet the mountains.

      Montgomery is awesome!

  6. Anonymous,

    Thanks for your interest.

    For a while, the SNRA Headquarters advertised that they had a 15-minute movie about the filming of Pale Rider. I’m not sure if they still have it available for viewing, but it might be worthwhile to call them at 208-727-5013.

    On the Sun Valley Online blog, where I posted a similar article, someone named “Lazy T Shamrock Ranch” remarked, “Actually the film was not filmed in Boulder City but the township site was on the small ridge or knoll that can be seen from Hwy 75.”

    As I did not live here yet, I’m unsure how accurate that info is.

    I’ve also read that some scenes were filmed up by the Vienna Mine over by Smiley Creek, while other parts were shot in sunny California.

    Since posting this, somebody told me that when the movie crew came back to tear down the set as required, one of the adjoining landowners caught wind of this, went ahead and disassembled one or two of the ‘bad guys’ cabins, and then reassembled them later, on his mining claim at the edge of the neighboring woods. As legend has it, the crew saw that the outbuilding/s had disappeared; shrugged their shoulders and went off back to enjoy the friendly K-town atmosphere

    If you do head up for those Boulder hills, be forewarned, it’s a rough rocky trail and communications are limited. This territory is probably best navigated by ATV or a smaller 4-wheel drive rig.

  7. Anonymous3:31 PM

    I managed to visit the site on 6-18-09. A beautiful day weatherwise. Using the SNRA ranger station as a milepost, head 4.8 miles north on Highway 75. I also used Saddle Rd. (the northernmost street light in Ketchum) as a backup milepost, and from there you would want to drive 11.9 miles north from it. Make a right and proceed 1.1 miles until you reach a signed junction. Whereas Boulder City leads to the right, you want to head to the left and drive another 1.7 miles until you reach an unsigned junction. Once again you want to take a left, and driving .2 miles will lead you to a large clearing which is the location site. The road is rocky most of the way but still passable for a 2WD vehicle (though I wouldn't want to take a vehicle with really low ground clearance). I was tempted to see how bad the road was to Boulder City but opted against it, hoping that there's pictures/video of it somewhere online instead. I've read reports from other people that the road is truly horrid. If you're interested in seeing pictures/video of the site, I'll provide some links for you.


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