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Sunday May 19th 2024

High Plains Drifter | 1973

High Plains Drifter filming location: Mono Lake, California
High Plains Drifter location: the site of the town of 'Lago': Mono Lake, California | Photograph: Shutterstock / Mariusz S Jurgielewicz

Clint Eastwood's second film as director is more a strange, dreamlike mystery than a straightforward Western.

Almost the sole location is the town of 'Lago', which was a detailed set built on the shore of Mono Lake, Mono County in Central California.

As ever, the studio wanted to film on the backlot, but Eastwood was determined to get more visual impact with the Central California landscape.

14 houses, church and two-story hotel were built and, unusually, as complete buildings rather than flat facades, so that interiors as well as exteriors could be used (interiors are often recreated in the studio).

Mono Lake is a saline soda lake – since it has no natural outlet, evaporation causes high levels of salt to accumulate in its waters.

This is responsible for the lakes most famous features – strangely shaped towers of limestone (called tufa) rising out of the water.

If you're a Pink Floyd fan, you'll know its strange formations from the "frozen diver" cover of the Wish You Were Here album.

High Plains Drifter filming location: Mono Lake, California
High Plains Drifter location: the famous tufa towers – not seen in the film: Mono Lake, California | Photograph: Wikimedia / ScaccabarozziInter

The set was built on the southern shore of the lake, off CA-120, Mono Lake Basin Road, though there’s nothing remaining today.

The nearest town is Lee Vining, named after Leroy Vining, who founded it as a mining community in 1852. It stands on I-395, about 120 miles north of famous movie location Lone Pine.

Unfortunately, I don't have my own photos for this one. When I visited, I was planning to stay at Lee Vining (during a road trip I just check into motels without prior booking) but discovered that every hotel/motel in town was fully booked. I decided to head north on I-395 and pop back the next day, but every motel all the way to Carson City was full. It turned out there was a weekend bikers' convention at Bridgeport. Just a reminder always to check ahead.

The few scenes away from ‘Lago’, as the three gunmen slowly approach town, were filmed in the dry lakebed of Winnemucca, near Reno in Nevada, and among the conifers of Inyo National Forest.

Winnemucca Lake is a dry lake on the border between Washoe and Pershing counties. It was a shallow lake until the 1930s, when the construction of a dam and a road blocked water flow. It’s home to the oldest known petroglyphs in North America.

Inyo National Forest, in the eastern Sierra Nevada, had already been seen in John Sturges' 1972 Joe Kidd – also starring Clint Eastwood – as well as Sam Peckinpah's 1962 Ride the High Country (1962), Nevada Smith (1966) with Steve McQueen and Will Penny (1968) with Charlton Heston.

Apart from Westerns, it provided the mountain refuge of the Ba'ku in 1998's Star Trek: Insurrection