BIG SKY MOVIE RANCH

Big Sky Movie Ranch is a 6,500+ acre ranch. In the 1880ís, the property was leased by a company from New Mexico. During these early years, the ranch was known as Patterson Ranch. J. Paul Getty, the oil tycoon, bought the ranch in the early 1930ís and renamed it The Tapo Ranch. He retained ownership of the property until 1981/82 when the Big Sky Ranch Co., a partnership managed by Watt Enterprises, bought the property. In 1987, the partnership put the ranch up for sale by auction, but none of the bids were high enough. Since that time, portions of the non-filming sections of the ranch have been sold and subdivided. The main filming areas in the 1990ís were contained in 600 acres. Movie making history at the ranch dates back at least to the middle 1950ís when some exterior scenes for Gunsmoke were filmed there utilizing their 3-sided ranch house (see photo to left).

From the entrance to the ranch, you head up a dirt road into the Simi Hills and in less than a mile, you arrive at the location of the first standing sets-a one-room log cabin (said to have been used in a 1980ís Wells Fargo Bank commercial) stood within a few hundred feet of Michael Landonís little house set used in his show Little House on the Prairie (which includes the house, barn, chicken coop, corral, and outbuilding). When the show was over, the little house was dismantled and carted off to the home of one of the actors on the show. A replica was then built in the same location. After the 1995 Northridge earthquake, this set and the vast majority of the sets on the property, were damaged. A sub-sequent wildfire raced through the property and destroyed virtually all of the sets which remained.

Farther up the road and off onto a side road was the location of the small town used in the Father Murphy television series (see photo to right). Other standing sets in this area of the ranch include from Little House on the Prairie (see Walnut Grove photo below), the Jonathon Garvey house and barn, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder house and barn (her second of three houses on the show); from Gunsmoke, the 3-sided house and barn; a house used in The Miracle Worker, starring Patty Duke, which stands at a site with a barn and outbuilding; and the newest permanent set at the ranch, a church which can double as a school (it was designed by Debra Early). If it still existed, from the church you could see the entire town of Walnut Grove used in Little House on the Prairie (Michael Landon blew them up for the final episode).

To the north of this area of the ranch is a flat stretch of land (see photo below), mainly used for farming, but also was used for the cattle drives in Rawhide in the 1960ís. In the same area is a barn built for the Quantum Leap television show, and a palace used in the Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America. The area behind the palace was the site of the Drogheda estate in the miniseries The Thorn Birds.

Some of the other shows filmed at the ranch include "Dallas", "A Call From Space", "Highway to Heaven", "Yellow Rose", "Sidekicks", "Tales of the Crypt", and many, many more, along with many commercials.

The ranch usually averages about 1 production unit a week, but recently have had more (possibly because Newhall Land & Farm have cut back greatly on the amount of land devoted to filming). They charge between $1250.00 and $2,000.00 a day for filming, depending on the type of filming (feature versus commercial). Prep and strike days run $550.00 to $650.00.

Their brochure sums up best what their ranch is like:

"...Big Sky Movie Ranch, one of the last great working motion pictures ranches in Southern California. Big Sky Movie Ranch consists of 9000+ acres, with beautiful rolling hills, great vistas, secluded canyons, undulating valleys, the scope of this property is as broad as one's imagination can conjure."

The 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged many of the buildings on the property, while others had to be demolished. A subsequent wildfire destroyed the majority of the remaining sets. Some newer sets have been erected and the ranch is still used for filmmaking.

DIRECTIONS: From Los Angeles, take Interstate 5 north to the 118 Freeway west. Exit at Tapo Canyon Road and turn right (north). At Bennett Road (about 2Ĺ miles from the freeway) you turn left. Big Sky is at the end of the road.