National Parks in the Movies

Have you ever watched a movie and thought the scenery was beautiful and wondered about the location? Chances are it was filmed in a national park.

Dante's View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley
Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to all they give us in terms of outdoor recreation and environmental protection, the national parks also bring flair and realism to the movies. There is a long list of Hollywood stars who have acted on the nation’s outdoor stage. From far-away galaxies to jurassic jungles to the rustic Wild West, epic American landscapes have played most every imaginable role.

To honor that, Vogel Talks RV presents a list of five of the biggest parks cameos of modern film making. When planning your next road trip or summer vacation consider these iconic destinations.

National parks have served as backdrops for countless movies. Death Valley National Park played a role in Star Wars, Devil’s Tower National Monument, of course, was prominently featured in Close Encounters of a Third Kind, and Thelma & Louise drove through parts of Canyonlands National Park.

The list rolls on, not unlike credits at the end of a movie…

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Location: Death Valley National Park, California

One of the most successful movies of all time, Star Wars wouldn’t be complete without footage from Death Valley. George Lucas selected Death Valley as the location for numerous desert and dwelling scenes on Luke Skywalker’s dusty planet of Tatooine. Remember R2D2 and CP30’s spat after crashing on Tatooine? That scene is at Mesquite Flats. Other Death Valley scenes include R2D2 being kidnapped by Jawas, some of the Tusken Raider scenes and the Sand Scrawler scene.

Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah, and its diversity staggers the imagination  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah, and its diversity staggers the imagination © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you do venture out to the desert, remember to bring plenty of extra water. And may the force be with you.

Other movies filmed at Death Valley include: Cattle Drive (1959), Homer and Eddie (1990), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Zabriskie Point (1970), Spartacus (1960), One-eyed Jacks (1961)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Location: Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

A single image is conjured when people think of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The bizarre rock formation on which the spaceship lands was not a special effect, unless one considers nature a special effects expert.

The Devil’s Tower is, in fact, a 1,267 foot igneous intrusion and the chosen landing site for the movie’s alien mothership. Visitors have described an elevated sense of well-being and serenity at this small park’s signature volcanic pillar, a sacred site to more than 20 Native American tribes and perhaps certain extraterrestrials.

Thelma & Louise (1991)

Location: Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park contains the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert scenes for this road trip movie were filmed in and around Moab, Utah, including in Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Don’t be fooled by the final plunge-into-the-Grand-Canyon scene. That memorable scene of Thelma and Louise dropping into the canyon in their 1966 Ford Thunderbird was actually a plateau at Utah’s Deadhorse Point State Park.

Other movies filmed at Canyonlands include: The Lone Ranger (2013), 127 Hours (2010)

Other movies filmed at Arches include: Cheyenne Autumn (1963), City Slickers II (1993), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Josh and Sam (1992), Rio Conchos (1964), Sundown (1988), Wild Rovers (1966)

The Shining (1980)

Location: Glacier National Park, Montana

Opening scenes of this creepy Jack Nicolson movie show Jack Torrance driving up the Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. Overhead shots were also filmed around Mary’s Lake and the Going to the Sun Highway.

Other movies filmed at Glacier include: Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), Continental Divide (1980), Dangerous Mission (1958), Forest Gump (1993), and Thelma & Louise (1991)

The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 

Location: Redwood National Park, California

Redwood National Park acted as the scene for most of the climax of Spielberg’s sweeping tearjerker. The towering forests were the perfect vehicle for a boy and his alien to lose themselves in.

Other movies filmed at Redwood include: Outbreak (1995), Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Worth Pondering…

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.

—Aristotle

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Top National Parks of British Columbia

The license plates say it all—“Beautiful British Columbia.”

Glacier National Park (Photo Credit: Parks Canada)
Glacier National Park (Photo Credit: Parks Canada)

British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province is a land of lush forests, massive mountains, picturesque coastlines, and fertile valleys.

British Columbia is one of Canada’s most popular outdoor retreats. This vast province offers more natural wonders than any other part of Canada and, much like the American West, is an absolute haven for campers and RVers.

The origin of Canada’s National Parks lies in the mountain parks of Western Canada. Some of the first national parks are located in British Columbia. Yoho and Glacier national parks were among the first to be established. Later, Mount Revelstoke and the Kootenay national parks were founded. Today, the province of British Columbia features six national parks in total.

Glacier National Park 

Carved from the rugged Selkirk and Purcell Mountains by glaciers, Glacier National Park is bisected by the Trans-Canada Highway. This mountainous wilderness is named for its more than 400 permanent  glaciers. Today you will find rugged mountain landscape, narrow valleys, icefields, and glaciers. Many avalanche slopes, caused by heavy snowfall can be seen.

Kootenay National Park

Kootenay National Park (Photo credit: Parks Canada)
Kootenay National Park (Photo credit: Parks Canada)

Kootenay National Park showcases a diverse landscape of impressive range of mountains, lush meadows, crystal clear lakes, canyons, dense forests, and hot springs. Wildlife is abundant, with mountain goat, bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, black and grizzly bear.

Marble Canyon is a 2,000-foot canyon carved out by the meandering Tokkum Creek. Today the walls of the canyon are so polished after centuries of wind and rain that the limestone walls resemble marble (hence the name). The Paint Pots is a series of pools formed by river minerals, compliments of the Vermilion River that flows nearby.

Mount Revelstoke National Park

Mount Revelstoke National Park (Photo credit: Summit Post)
Mount Revelstoke National Park (Photo credit: Summit Post)

Located near the community of Revelstoke, Mount Revelstoke National Park is bounded by the Trans Canada Highway to the southeast. The contrasting landscape ranges from dense rain forests and lush alpine meadows to rocky ridges and glaciers. Red cedars, more than 1,000 years of age, can be discovered on the Giant Cedars hiking trail.

Drive the 16-mile Meadows in the Sky Parkway as it winds up the side of Mount Revelstoke and its 6,388-foot summit. During the summer months, the meadows near the summit are a dazzling display of wildflowers.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve near Tofino (Photo credit: Tofino Accommodation)
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve near Tofino (Photo credit: Tofino Accommodation)

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is a thin strip of land along the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island. Its magnificent islands, beaches, and dramatic seascapes divide into three geographically distinct park units: Long Beach (the most accessible), Broken Group Islands (about 100 islands in Barkley Sound), and the challenging 45-mile West Coast Trail.

The Long Beach Unit is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island between the villages of Ucluelet and Tofino. Long Beach is an almost mystical place, a broad and—yes—long beach of great waves and breathtaking beauty.

One of the best-known and most challenging hikes in North America, the West Coast Trail follows a rugged shoreline where approximately 66 ships have met their demise along this stretch of the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.

Yoho National Park

Takakkaw Falls, Yoho National Park (Photo credit: (Matthew Timmins)
Takakkaw Falls, Yoho National Park (Photo credit: (Matthew Timmins)

Named for a Cree expression of ‘awe and wonder’, a trip to Yoho is truly awesome. The park offers a diverse landscape of towering mountain peaks, sparkling lakes, expansive glaciers, thundering waterfalls, and spectacular alpine landscape.

These same features were the curse of railway engineers and inspired the construction of the Spiral Tunnels, an engineering marvel. Although many of its highlights are accessible by road, Yoho is also a hiker’s dream. Discover half a billion-year old fossils on a guided hike to the restricted Burgess Shale fossil beds or take an afternoon stroll around Emerald Lake or to Wapta Falls.

For more information on the national parks of Super, Natural British Columbia, visit www.hellobc.com.

Worth Pondering…

Mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne

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50 American Gems

You might have seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

The guided tour of the Moody Mansion includes a history of the Moody family in the context of late 19th and 20th century Galveston and Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The guided tour of the Moody Mansion includes a history of the Moody family in the context of late 19th and 20th century Galveston and Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

The Florida Keys & Key West, Florida

The Florida Keys are a 106-mile-long chain of islands that begin at the very bottom of Florida’s mainland. Often referred to as America’s Caribbean, these islands are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.

Key Largo is the first island south of the Florida mainland, and Key West is approximately 100 miles south of Key Largo on Overseas Highway. In between are the lovely islands of Islamorada, Long Key, Marathon, Big Pine Key, and many more. But only in Key West does the sun shine the brightest when it sets. Everyone gathers for the never planned, always varied Sunset Celebration on the Mallory Dock.

Galveston, Texas

One of the oldest cities in Texas and a major port, Galveston sits on a barrier island two miles offshore, surrounded by 32 miles of sandy beaches, numerous attractions, and one of the largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the U. S.

Galveston boasts four districts on the National Register of Historic Places: The Strand National Historic Landmark District, East End National Historic Landmark District, Silk Stocking District, and Central Business District. It is home to three National Historic Landmarks: Tall Ship Elissa, East End, and The Strand. There are approximately 1,500 historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Glacier National Park, Montana

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glacier National Park borders Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada — the two parks known as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park were designated as the world’s first International Peace Park in 1932. Both parks were designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, and in 1995 as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

One defining feature of Glacier is the engineering wonder known as the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This spectacular 50-mile highway clings to the edge of the world as cars—and bikes—cross over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona & Utah

Lake Powell is the second largest man-made lake in the U.S. stretching 186 miles across the red rock desert from Page, Arizona to Hite, Utah.

Access to Lake Powell and Glen Canyon by road is very limited. Activities are concentrated at the western edge, near Page, where various beaches, resorts, marinas, and campsites are found along the shoreline. At the far northeast end of the lake there are basic services and a few tracks leading to the water at Hite. The only other paved approach roads are to the Bullfrog and Halls Crossing marinas which are opposite each other and linked by ferry.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park encompasses 1,218,375 acres and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins typical of the southwestern United States.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drainage systems have cut deeply through the rock, forming numerous steep-walled canyons. Forests are found at higher elevations while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins.

The Grand Canyon is considered one of the finest examples of arid-land erosion in the world. The Canyon, incised by the Colorado River, is immense, averaging 4,000 feet deep for its entire 277 miles. It is 6,000 feet deep at its deepest point and 15 miles at its widest.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee
Amid the majestic southern climax of the Appalachian Highlands, Great Smoky Mountains draws more than nine million adventurers and sightseers each year. And for good reason—the Smokies are within a day’s drive of a third of the U.S. population, and very few places in the East are in their league as an outdoor-recreation destination.

Great Smoky Mountains protects one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, a place that supports more than 4,000 species of plants, approximately 100 species of native trees, 66 mammals, and 240 species of birds.

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John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center has helped set the stage for America’s adventure in space for five decades. The spaceport has served as the departure gate for every American manned mission and hundreds of advanced scientific spacecraft. From the early days of Project Mercury to the Space Shuttle Program and International Space Station, from the Hubble Space Telescope to the Mars rovers, the center enjoys a rich heritage in its vital role as NASA’s processing and launch center.

Please Note: This is Part 4 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.

—Paul Thompson

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