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The Real Locations in ‘High Plains Drifter’: A Guide

February 19, 2020
4 min read

It’s hard to think of a single person who has had as monumental of an impact on an entire genre of films as acting and filmmaking legend Clint Eastwood has had on the classic American Western. While he may be most revered for films such as the iconic ‘Dollars’ trilogy and the ‘Dirty Harry’ films, one of the more understated and underrated titles in Eastwood’s enviable portfolio is the 1973 American western ‘High Plains Drifter’, both starring and directed by the man himself. The film was a modest success during its time, but its bold appeal has only been enhanced in the decades following its release owing to its unique direction that melds elements of horror and the supernatural with classic western fare.

The story line of ‘High Plains Drifter’ follows Clint Eastwood as The Stranger, a mysterious man who rides into the small mining town of Lago in the old American Wild West. As it so happens in westerns, The Stranger gets into a shootout with a few local thugs, beating them handily and catching the eye of the local townspeople. The people of Lago live in fear of three brutal outlaws, soon to be released from prison, who have set their intentions towards terrorizing the town over some unfinished business. In a desperate hail mary, the town leaders try to convince The Stranger to help them in defeating the brigands.

If you were wondering where exactly ‘High Plains Drifter was filmed, read on to find out everything we know.

Where Was High Plains Drifter Filmed?

The backdrop for the story line of ‘High Plains Drifter’ is the small mining town of Lago in the American old west. You see many sights familiar to old westerns including dusty taverns full of hardy men, and vast desert expanses. The primary filming location for ‘High Plains Drifter’ is the area around Mono Lake in California. Additional scenes were also filmed in other locations in Nevada and California.

Check out this picture of Eastwood while filming:

Mono Lake, California

The primary filming location for the film is the picturesque Mono Lake area in Mono County, California. Mono Lake was chosen by Clint Eastwood himself after he extensively scouted for locations in Oregon, Nevada, and California while driving a pick up truck. He finally chose the area because he considered it to be highly photogenic.

For the purposes of the filming, over fifty construction workers and technicians were brought in to build an entire town with fourteen houses, a two story hotel, and a church. Full buildings were constructed rather than just facades; this allowed filming interior scenes on location as well. The construction process took about eighteen days and required 150,000 feet of timber.

Check out this behind the scenes picture of Eastwood filming for ‘High Plains Drifter’:

Mono lake is a 760,000 year old soda lake (which basically means that the water is strongly alkaline in nature) in Mono County, California. The lake’s ecosystem is based on its numerous brine shrimp and provides a critical habitat for millions of annual migratory birds. The location has also featured in a number of other films and TV shows including Steve McQueen’s 1966 western ‘Nevada Smith’ and Netflix’s ‘Rim of the World’.

Universal Studios, Universal City, California

Limited filming for certain interior scenes was also done at the famed Universal Studios at 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City in California. The lot was officially inaugurated over a century ago in 1915 and today covers well over 400 acres of space with more than thirty soundstages and 165 structures. It has served as the filming site for a whole host of high profile films and TV shows including ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’, ‘House’, ‘Inception’, ‘Seinfeld’, and ‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’.

Inyo National Forest

Additional scenes for ‘High Plains Drifter’ were filmed in the Inyo National Forest, home to the oldest living trees in the entire world. The location is relatively close to the Mono Lake area and has featured in a number of popular westerns including John Wayne’s ‘True Grit’ and ‘How the West Was Won’, Steve McQueen’s ‘Nevada Smith’ and Clint Eastwood’s earlier film ‘Joe Kidd’.

Nevada

Besides California, a few scenes in ‘High Plains Drifter’ were also filmed in Reno and the Winnemucca Lake in Nevada.

Read More: Where Was The Shawshank Redemption Filmed?

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