Red Hills are a lush and unusual-looking region, which is part of the Mother Lode foothills. The region has a special look to itself and covers over 7,700 acres of BLM Land and private property near Chinese Camp. This unspoiled region has played host to hundreds of motion pictures and filmed television series since 1919 through the end of the 20th century. Motion pictures such as "Back to the Future III", "The Sacketts", "Bad Girls", and some portions of "Unforgiven" used the region.
The Sierra Railway runs through the region, which has been out of service since 1979, when their freight business dried out. The steel rails were manufactured in 1929, by a Colorado steel company, installed by the railway company at the Red Hills, and served a dual purpose to be filmed in literally every TV and movie production that was brought up to the region for decades.
The only "Bonanza" episode to exclusively feature the railway was "Stallion", shot the last week of August 1972. The filmed train race of Michael Landon and his stunt double, Hal Burton was shot in three regions of the Red Hills and all edited together for the final cut at the film studio. Other shots of the cast and Clu Gulager were filmed as well at the region. The other Sierra shots in the episode were filmed at Brown's Meadow and Sonora Pass that week.
While shooting "Stallion," the cast and crew filmed stock footage that was later edited in "New Man" and "Ambush at Rio Lobo". Michael Landon and Kent McCray returned to the region to film hundreds of segments for "Little House on the Prairie" in the 70's and 80's, like no other had ever done.
Towards the end of the 20th century, on August 12, 1996, a monsoon flow brought in thunderstorms unusually low over the range and caused a severe lightening fire on the ridge that runs behind the railway line. The lightening fire roared down the mountain slopes and the fire crews drove in the flat and backed it up the ridge with air drops. After a few days CDF was able to contain it.
The water tank at the flat was consumed by the fire. The foundation is all that remains intact today. The horse corral and water tank seen in "Stallion" was located on another section of the railway, just above the Chinese Camp sawmill. Both were dismantled some years later when the railroad closed for good. Twenty-seven outbuildings and additional $10,000-$15,000 thousand dollars in props that Universal initially built for "Back to the Future III" in 1989 at Moyle Ranch, were consumed by the 1996 fire. The sets can be seen in the beginning scenes of the Drew Barrymore film, "Bad Girls" ( 1994 ).
The Universal film, directed by Steven Spielberg, "Back to the Future III" with Michael J. Fox was shot the first two weeks in June 1990, on location at the above ranch in the region. The range was once heavily covered with foothill pines, but the fire consumed all but a few of them. However, after several years, all of the vegetation on the range grew back and blooms every summer.
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