Originally constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Hellgate Canyon Viewpoint received a $160,000 restoration and facelift in 2008. - Bill Miller

Hellgate Canyon Rogue River landmark is a Hollywood favorite

The posse was closing in and the boys were at the edge of a cliff.

It's one of Hollywood's classic scenes: Paul Newman and Robert Redford (or at least their stunt doubles) as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid grasping a gun belt between them and leaping into a river.

A host of semi-reliable Internet Web sites will tell you it was filmed on the Rogue River at Hellgate Canyon, but it wasn't.

"I've lived here all of my life," said Joan Momsen of the Josephine County Historical Society. "It's just not true."

(The Internet Movie Data Base, the encyclopedia of all things Hollywood, says the scenery was shot on the Animas River in Colorado.)

Hellgate Canyon got its colorful name from early settlers who watched violent floodwaters rip through the rugged terrain during spring swells.

It may not have seen the likes of Newman and Redford, but with boiling rapids and cliffs more than 100 feet high, the canyon has attracted its share of Hollywood royalty.

Rooster Cogburn, the pot-bellied, whisky-soaked, one-eyed federal marshal played by John Wayne, met his match here while floating downriver with Eula Goodnight, the tough-as-nails New England schoolmarm played by Katharine Hepburn, who ultimately tamed him.

And what Hollywood story would be complete without a connection to Kevin Bacon, who, among other things, helped Meryl Streep with a birthday cake in 1994's "The River Wild"?

Even former television heavyweight James Arness, as Marshal Matt Dillon in "Gunsmoke," took a dive into icy waters at the canyon while escaping from outlaws.

From long forgotten B Westerns to television shows and nature documentaries, Hollywood has been drawn again and again to this part of the Rogue River. For nearly 70 years, the best place to see it has been the Hellgate Canyon Viewpoint.

Built in the late 1930s by enlistees in the Civilian Conservation Corps, the viewpoint sits above the deepest depths of the canyon and offers a spectacular view of the Rogue that in October 1968 was designated a National Wild and Scenic River.

That designation ended plans to build a power dam here and, in a 1971 ceremony attended by Gov. Tom McCall and other dignitaries, Pacific Power and Light donated the land to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Last year, the crumbling original viewpoint wall was replaced in a $160,000 project. The new wall is higher for safety and is farther away from the canyon's edge.

The walls and paved areas of the viewpoint are light in color and chosen to blend with the natural surroundings.

To provide a historic context, some of the original wall was left in place and the bronze plaque from the 1971 ceremony was mounted on a monument that stands at the center of the viewpoint.

In an amusing touch of creativity, the workers placing the flat, irregularly shaped pavers fashioned animal and fish shapes out of the stone and hid them in the paving for visitors to find, like pieces in a giant jigsaw puzzle.

As Sundance said in the movie, "This might be the garden spot of the whole country. People may travel hundreds of miles just to get to this spot."

He might have been talking about Hellgate Canyon, but, sadly, he wasn't.

Postscript: The unknown donor of the sign mentioned last week in "The Martin Angel ambush" was Vaughn Jones. "I owned the 16 acres where the sign stood until about 15 years ago," said Jones. "When I sold the property I left the sign standing. After driving by for a number of years and noticing the sign was gone, I stopped to check. "¦ Found the sign on the ground with the post rotted. Brought it home and it sat in my shop for a few years, till I gave it to the Applegate Museum."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

Share This Story