Planet of the Apes and Glen Canyon, Arizona

The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is in the states of Arizona and Utah. Large sections of the region feature in Planet of the Apes, including areas such as Lake Powell.

Glen Canyon is located in northern Arizona’s Vermilion Cliffs National Park. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area encompasses 1.25 million acres of land spread across both Arizona and Utah. After the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1966, areas of the Glen Canyon region were flooded, creating the Lake Powell Reservoir. The canyon itself was created by the Colorado River as its flow eroded the land over millions of years.

Glen Canyon, Lake Powell, and the surrounding desert region were all used by Franklin J. Schaffner in the filming of his 1968 film Planet of the Apes. Starring Charlton Heston as the lead astronaut, Taylor, the film tells the story of a trio of astronauts crash landing on what they believe is an alien world, only to find it inhabited by intelligent apes. The film opens when the three astronauts awake from hibernation on their ship and crash land onto an alien planet. The crew abandons ship and begins rafting down the river. After discovering that the surrounding soil is unable to support life, the astronauts encounter both primitive humans and intelligent ape creatures. A series of interactions with ape creatures, included the antagonist Maurice Evan’s Dr Zaius, leads to the death of the crew and Taylor’s temporary loss of his voice. Taylor discovers that the planet is in fact earth after being destroyed by his civilization’s nuclear war.

The mixture of arid and verdant landscapes present in the Glen Canyon region are used in the film to show how much of the land on the future Earth is uninhabitable. The landscape of the region is used not only to convey the feeling of an alien planet, complete with the Ape City sets and enclaves, but also that of a post-apocalyptic landscape—two of the most popular uses for desert environments in science fiction cinema. The newly flooded Lake Powell and the Colorado river also allowed for the rafting scenes early in the film. Lake Powell was used for the initial crash landing scene, while other regions along the river featured rafting. Recognizable canyon formations feature as backdrops throughout the film. Horseshoe Bend is cast as the entrance to the forbidden zone wherein the ruins of human civilization lie. Filming the scenes within the canyon itself proved difficult due to the terrain, and much of the equipment required for the shoots had to arrive by helicopter.

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