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Wednesday July 17th 2024

The Road | 2009

The Road film location: Rays Hill Tunnel
The Road film location: evading the cannibalistic road gang: Rays Hill Tunnel

An unnamed man and his young son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) make their way through a USA destroyed by some unspecified cataclysm, while trying to hang onto their humanity and remain “the good guys”, in John Hillcoat’s bleak adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

More than 50 locations in four states were scouted to provide the colourless, blasted landscapes, found largely in Pennsylvania, with detours to the slopes of Mount St Helens, down to the Katrina-hit areas of Louisiana and west to parts of Oregon.

The result is a combination of the coal-blackened, mining scarred Pennsylvanian countryside and the aftermath of natural disasters.

For instance, the vast stretches of downed trees are the area around Mount St Helens, almost 100 miles south of Seattle in Washington State, flattened in the huge eruption of 1980. The film crew had to wait for 20 feet of snow cover to melt, and the familiar shape of the mountain itself to be concealed by clouds. The log-jammed lake is Spirit Lake, beneath its northern slopes, within Mount St Helens National Park.

The Road film location: Rays Hill Tunnel
The Road film location: the felled forests and log-filled lake: Spirit Lake and Mount St Helens, Washington State | Photograph: wikimedia / Greg Willis, Denver

The streets of the devastated city were the outskirts of New Orleans, which were still bearing witness to the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

The savagery facing survivors of this apocalypse is graphically illustrated by the appearance of a feral road gang who regard anything living as a potential food source. The Man and his son are forced to hide as the gang’s truck emerges from Ray's Hill Tunnel, on the disused Pennsylvania Turnpike a couple of miles northeast of Breezewood, Pennsylvania.

Abandoned in the 1960s after the two single-lane tunnels were found to cause massive bottlenecks, the eight-mile section of freeway is now owned by Nature Conservancy, and is being transformed into a biking and hiking trail. Remember that motor vehicles are not now allowed on this turnpike.

The forest into which the Man and the Boy flee is Raccoon Creek State Park, 3000 State Route 18, Hookstown, in Beaver County, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

At 7,572 acres, it’s one of the state's largest and most scenic parks, which you can access from Pennsylvania Route 18 and US Routes 30 and 22. Relatively free of marauding cannibals, it does offer plenty of outdoorsy activities such as hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, camping, as well as swimming, fishing and boating in the 101-acre Raccoon Lake.

90 miles north of Pittsburgh, toward Lake Erie, parts of the old Conneaut Lake Theme Park on the shore of Conneaut Lake, which had been damaged by fire, stood in for the dusty remnants of urban civilisation.

Opened as Exposition Park in 1892, a fairground and exposition grounds, Conneaut Lake Park was renamed in 1920 when it began to focus more on amusement rides. During the 100 or so years of its existence, the park has survived plenty of ups and downs, closures and reopenings – as well as several disastrous fires. When one of these destroyed its Dreamland Ballroom and bowling alley in February 2008, the production team was able to take advantage of the rubble, as well as the Hotel Conneaut and the park’s boardwalk (which you can see later in the film, when the pair defend themselves by firing flares into an abandoned house).

Despite everything, the venerable park is still operating, a favourite of traditional roller coaster fans for its classic Blue Streak Coaster, which was recently classified as historic by the American Coaster Enthusiasts.

The Road film location: Rays Hill Tunnel
The Road film location: sheltering in the truck: Rubles Run Bridge, Mon-Fayette Freeway, Fayette County | Photograph: flickr / Brian M Powell

The double highway on which the pair find temporary shelter in an old truck is a section of the Mon-Fayette Freeway, a toll road intended to link I-68 near Morgantown, West Virginia, with I-376 near Pittsburgh. Standing unused while the rest of the highway was still under construction, this stretch was ideal for filming – apart from the fact that it runs through rolling green farmland. As was necessary for much of the film, blue skies had to be dulled down in post-production and greenery bleached out to its scorched, grey appearance.

The raised section, from which the Man throws the photo of his wife and – almost – his wedding ring, is the Rubles Run Bridge, on PA 43 at the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border in Fayette County.

The Road film location: Rays Hill Tunnel
The Road film location: the rainbow with the waterfall: Latourell Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon | Photograph: wikimedia / Another Believer

A brief respite from the bleakness, if not the cold, comes with the discovery of a sparkling waterfall. There are actually two separate falls used in the sequence: the image of a rainbow was captured at the 250-feet-tall Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge, within Guy W Talbot State Park, off I-84 east of Portland, Oregon.

The Road film location: Rays Hill Tunnel
The Road film location: swimming in the pool: Horsetail Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon | Photograph: wikimedia / Mike Fisher

The pool in which they swim, though, is at the foot of Horsetail Falls, also in the Columbia River Gorge, but a few miles to the east.

It’s back to Pennsylvania for the deserted city where the Boy thinks he glimpses another child, which is a particularly rundown section of Pittsburgh itself.

About 35 miles to the south, the mining town of Nemacolin provided the ash piles and slag heaps where the pair encounter the old man (Robert Duvall) whose plight stirs a flicker of humanity in the Boy, demanding they share a meal with him. The mountain of waste, produced by what was one of the largest coalmines in the US until it closed in the late Eighties, can be found just north of the town.

The abandoned urban church, in which the Man ominously begins to cough up blood as they bed down, was Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, South 1st Street, between Camp and Viola Avenues, in the depressed steel town of Duquesne, southeast of Pittsburgh. The building was scheduled to be demolished in 2013.

The Road film location: Rays Hill Tunnel
The Road film location: reaching the sea: Fort Stevens State Park and the wreck of the Peter Iredale, Hammond, Oregon

When the pair eventually reach their destination, the sea, it’s again a combination of two different locations. Their first glimpse of the coast, and where the Man takes brutal revenge on a robber, is Fort Stevens State Park, Hammond, near Astoria, Oregon, with the skeletal wreck of the Peter Iredale rising from the sands.

And it’s back one final time to Pennsylvania for the closing scenes as the Boy is adopted by his new family, which were filmed on the shore of Lake Erie, at Presque Isle State Park, 301 Peninsula Drive, four miles west of Erie.