Regarding Gunsmoke Seasons 5 through 9, It is important to note that the majority of outdoor location shots were filmed at the Janss Conejo Movie Ranch in Thousand Oaks, California. Why this location ?
Originally, Gunsmoke Season 1 through 4 "outdoor" locations were filmed in two different locations: Corriganville ( Simi Valley, Ca ) and the "Melody Ranch" in Newhall, Ca. During season 1 through 4, the majority of outdoor location shots were at the Melody Ranch. You can tell when thay filmed at Melody ,the ever present wind blowing through the trees and the actors costumes ! The Melody Ranch was located in Placerita Canyon ( Newhall ) between California Highway 14 and Newhall Ave and was a natural "funnel" for gusty winds blowing from the high desert to the San Fernando Valley. Not a bad place to shoot a Western however, very challenging on cast and crew!
Starting in 1959, new corporate money became available ( due to the shows success ), and this led to new filming equipment. This was done to take advantage of the actors "range" and to broden the scope of what the old West and Dodge City was like in 1877. With this, a new outdoor filming location had to be found.
Enter the Janss Conejo Movie Ranch location. Easy to access by the 101 Freeway ( and only 35 miles from Hollywood ), the Janss Movie Ranch had everything. Originally a throughbred horse ranch for the family that developed Westwood Village ( UCLA ), the Janss Ranch could supply horses, movie sets, cattle, saddles and extras ! The primary Gunsmoke filming area was done in what is known today as the Wildwood Aera. If you locate the corner of Lynn Road and Ave. De. Los Arboles ( Thousand Oaks ) and look west, you are at the entrance of Janss Conejo Movie Ranch, Wildwood section.
Let me present the most identifiable locations and see if you can match them while viewing Gunsmoke ( 1959 - 1963 ). Note: The offical studio "names" of the sets within Wildwood are will Identify the sets by what the majority of the episodes used them for.
Rocky Ridge Line
The most prominate feature of the Janss Conejo Movie Ranch "Wildwood Area" location was the rugged, horizontal "rock ridge line" . This ridge line slopes up from a smooth dirt floor and was the primary back drop on many Season 5 through 9 outdoor locations. Most Gunsmoke episodes will "frame" the western most ridgeline ( two distinct outcroppings with a small trough in the midddle ). The western ridgeline can be seen as backdrop when filming took place within "Front Street" or when there was a wide shot ( looking West ) on various sets on the "Plateau" . The middle- left part of the ridgeline has a smooth "cap" and a "swayback" dip. This section was seen during long shots of subjects / wagons on a wide, dusty trail with the ridgeline on the left. The middle- right ridgeline dips low with "Flat Top Hill" in the far background. This part of the ridgeline base also contained the "Cactus Bowl" , a natural, low elevation bowl filled with cactus along with a wide dirt road that ran from the top of the Cactus Bowl down to Brushy Creek. Note to film buffs: This is the exact location used in the 1967 Henry Fonda film " Welcome to Hard Times". The Eastern ridgeline area has three distinct sections. The "Hard Ball", the "Wash" and the "Staircase" . The Harball is a rock formation that broke away from the ridgeline and rolled ( yes, rolled ! ) down the slope. The Wash, is a natural stormwater runoff flume that feeds into Brushy Creek ( before home development ) and the Staircase is the far eastern ridgeline "stepping down" right into the Cal Lutheren University property. All of the above ridgeline can be seen clearly today standing on the Wildflower Play Field area in Wildwood Park.
Another frequently used set in the Wildwood Area was called "Brushy Creek". This area did not have any actual sets, just overgrown brush and low growth willow trees ! This area / set played a major roll in the weekly Gunsmoke story when bandits, transients, military ( or Matt and Chester ) bedded down for the night or "took cover" . Originally a small, running creek bed originating from ( now ) Cal Lutheran University, "Brushy Creek" served Gunsmoke well by creating a minimum of 10 different camera angles within 100 yards of center point.
I will continue with this review in the near hope you enjoyed my report so far !
- . Mike