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Monday, April 23, 2018


Van Deren cabin 
“A woman’s bullet kills as quick as a man’s!” These menacing words from a lobby card for the 1948 film, Blood on the Moon, spoils one of the movie’s several twisted story arcs.
Western serial movies don’t get any more typical than this one.
Van Deren homestead
Starring Robert Mitchum and Barbara Bel Geddes (in her glamourous pre-Miss Ellie of Dallas phase) the film’s luscious cinematography features several Sedona locations. 
Despite the film’s period-accurate stilted dialogue, unfortunate stereotypes and marginal production qualities, it’s a captivating tale of a sinister businessman versus a good cowboy (and his “spitfire blonde” love interest---the one with the bullets) who foils an evil plot.
Sure, there are plenty of horses, cattle and smoking-gun action scenes that play out in the pristine Sedona countryside that dominated the area before Sedona became Sedona.  
The road to the cabin crosses Dry Creek
But two things make this celluloid psycho-drama special--Mitchum’s noir-ish swagger and vintage silver screen images of what would become Red Rock Country hiking hubs. Yup, you can hike to two of the film’s focal points--Van Deren Cabin and Cathedral Rock.  While many well-known trails including Templeton and Baldwin lead to the world-famous spires of Cathedral Rock along Oak Creek, there’s only one way to get to the less obvious cabin locale.
Constructed in the 1890s, the two-room abode passed through the hands of various colorful characters including homesteader and cattleman Earl Van Deren.  The cabin’s juniper-shaded enclave on a ridge above Dry Creek is a popular 4x4 destination for local Jeep tour companies. You could shell out for a butt-bruising ride, but a hike by way of two beautiful trails northwest of town is a less jarring, satisfying experience.  
Wooly paintbrush flowers are plentiful on the trail.
Slickrock passage on Chuckwagon Trail

Plaque at the cabin gives an overview of the site's history 
Although much of the land surrounding the cabin is private property, the forest service purchased the sliver of territory around the homestead to preserve it as an historic landmark.  A plaque at the site gives an overview of its moonshine-steeped history of ranching, outlaws, murder and romance.  Some say, a ghost lives there now. Apparently, the true history of the cabin would make quite a good film as well.
View from the cabin site
The least congested footpath to the cabin begins at the Long Canyon trailhead. Hike 1.4 miles on the Chuckwagon Trail to the Brins Mesa junction. Follow Brins Mesa 0.1-mile to where it crosses a dirt road.  Turn left and hike the road 0.3-mile to the cabin.  First glimpses of the famous movie set clash with the foreboding words of another promotional lobby card: “When there’s BLOOD ON THE MOON…Death lurks in the shadows.” Usually, the only things lurking in the cabin's shadows are squirrels and lizards.
View from the cabin site
Chuckwagon Trail parallels Dry Creek
Dust, birds and critters slip through ample gaps in the cabin’s cypress log walls.  A corrugated tin-roof that spans the building’s two rooms and breezeway appears to be the only thing preventing the peeling timbers from collapsing.  The homestead’s roost above the creek surrounded by 360-degree mountain vistas is a Hollywood art director’s dream.  
Cabin is constructed of Arizona cypress logs
Although mid-century tinsel town had a love affair with depicting the Old West through a polished, romantic lens where men wore clean shirts and women were perfectly coiffed, life in the remote cabin could not have been that rosy.  Probably the only common thread between the cabin and the forgotten film in dire need of Netflix resurrection is that both Van Deren and Mitchum won their women in the end.
LENGTH: 3.6 out-and-back or backtrack to the junction and follow Chuckwagon for a 5.2-mile loop
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 4480 - 4680 feet
Long Canyon Trailhead:
From the State Route179 /US89A traffic circle in Sedona, go 3 miles west on 89A (left, toward Cottonwood) to Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C), turn right and continue 2.9 miles to Long Canyon Road (Forest Road 152D), turn right and go 0.5 mile to the trailhead on the right.

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