Exciting Day Trips to Popular Film Locations
All Short Drives from Santa Fe
In the Hollywood classic The Harvey Girls, Judy Garland famously sings what could be the mother of all railroad songs, Johnny Mercer’s “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.” But the musical version of those pioneer hospitality mavens of the old west was actually filmed 800 miles and a desert away from The City Different on MGM’s backlot in Culver City, California. It was 1945. Location accuracy wasn’t a big deal.
A lot has happened in 78 years. Thanks, in no small part to the successes of 1980s big screen blockbusters City Slickers and Silverado and later Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul on the small screen.
Today film and TV is big business in New Mexico with a reported record-shattering $855.4 million in state revenue attributed to the movie industry in 2022. This has led film industry publication MovieMaker to give Santa Fe the number one spot on their yearly list of Best Small Cities to Live and Work as a Moviemaker. Santa Fe Studios offers two 19,275 square-foot stages, a 4,600 square-foot mill and over 25,000 square-feet of office space located on a 65-acre campus, with 57 acres open for backlot. And Garson Studios has two stages:14,000 square-feet + 7,500 square-feet, plus office space on an 80-acre campus.
Beyond studio facilities, another reason why New Mexico is so popular with location scouts is the variety of landscapes in The Land of Enchantment. Locations for western sites across a 60-mile range in Santa Fe County actually fills in for locations representing other states, including Texas and Arizona. “The terrain is so different, even if the characters in the film are moving from Texas to Montana, they’re really just in New Mexico,” noted Jennifer LaBar-Tapia, commissioner of the Santa Fe Film Office.
FIVE GREAT DAY TRIP OPTIONS
While New Mexico’s diverse, rugged, and often stunning scenery and picturesque towns make it a go-to location for films and TV, many of these locations are designated movie sets closed to the public, there are still dozens of film locations to visit, open to the public and just a short drive from Santa Fe.
LaBar-Tapia has compiled a list of five must-see day trips to nearby destinations that have served as locations for some of TV and filmdom’s most famous titles.
- Ghost Ranch (Abiquiu, New Mexico)
Located about 60 miles north of Santa Fe off of Route 84, and designated a U.S. National Landmark since 1975, Ghost Ranch is known for a remarkable concentration of fossils, most notably that of the theropod dinosaur Coelophysis, of which it has been estimated that nearly a thousand individuals have been preserved in a quarry at Ghost Ranch.
Famous titles that filmed onsite at Ghost Ranch have included: Oppenheimer, The Magnificent 7, Silverado, Wyatt Earp, 3:10 to Yuma, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull, and Anthony Bourdain- Parts Unknown New Mexico.
While in Abiquiu, be sure to visit The Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio, the principal residence and studio of artist Georgia O’Keeffe from 1943 until her death, it was. Now part of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the home offers tours which are available March–November, with advance tickets required. Also, leave time for a relaxing meal and drinks at Café Abiquiu, casual dining in comfortable space Southwestern space decorated with the works of local artists. On your way home, stop in at historic Bodes, a charming general store offering everything from collectible beer mugs to birdseed.
2. Viva Las Vegas
A one-hour drive away from Santa Fe, New Mexico’s Las Vegas (yes, we have our own that doesn’t involve Cirque du Solei) provides a rustic look at the old southwest. LaBar-Tapia recommends checking out The Castaneda Hotel, which along with La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, is among the very few surviving inns of the extensive Harvey House Hotel chain immortalized in the classic film. The Castañeda — built in 1898 and renovated in 2019 – was Fred Harvey’s first trackside hotel, part of an empire that reached 84 hotels with signature restaurants at its peak. Its’s two restaurants and Bar Castañeda feature dishes and seasonal cocktails based on traditional Harvey House classics.
Las Vegas has played host to film shoots for Outer Range, Vegas, and The Astronaut Farmer, but fans of the Netflix series Longmire will have their best pick of locations to visit.
When in this part of Vegas, LaBar-Tapia recommends grabbing lunch or breakfast at Charlie’s Spic ‘n Span.
3. Rancho de las Golondrinas
A quick 24-minute drive away is a one-of-a-kind day adventure, where rough meets restful.
Start your day at the historic Ranch of the Swallows, a living history museum that dates from the early 1700s and was an important paraje or stopping place along the famous Camino Real, the Royal Road from Mexico City. Worthy of repeat visits, it plays host to lively festivals, from fiber arts to beer, food and wine festivals and an annual Renaissance Faire.
Nearby is the beautifully landscaped Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort, featuring thermal and saltwater pools, spa services and the acclaimed Blue Heron Restaurant–which LaBar-Tapia insists is perfect for brunch.
Film buffs take note! Wyatt Earp, Young Guns, Seraphim Falls, All the Pretty Horses, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are among the many well-loved classics that filmed here.
A short 37-minute drive down NM-14 S is one of queer southwest’s best kept secrets. Packed with artists and galleries is the LGBTQ-friendly restaurant/bar The Mineshaft Tavern which features occasional drag brunches and the upcoming Queer Country Road Show–a cabaret showcase of acrobats, spoken word, drag acts and more!
In addition to providing locales for Young Guns, Hi-Lo Country, The Hitcher, Longmire, Seal Team Six, We’re the Millers and Lincoln, the John Travolta film Wild Hogs was both filmed and set in Madrid.
While in Madrid, LaBar-Tapia recommends checking out The Blackbird Saloon in nearby Los Cerillos.
5. Diablo Canyon
Calling all hardy hikers, rock climbers, and rustic campers! Adventure awaits 40 minutes away in one of the most stunning and easily identifiable locations in New Mexico!
Seen in the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Harder They Fall, Godless, 3:10 to Yuma, and Walker, Texas Ranger, a day at Diablo Canyon is a must for the adventurous.
“It’s seven miles of washboard dirt and very remote,” LaBar-Tapia says, adding that “Campers can pitch a tent or camp their vehicles, but it should be noted that there is no water or facilities. However, the star gazing is amazing.”