Chinle gears up for 'Lone Ranger' filming

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, April 12, 2012

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ownsfolk are already scheming to get a glimpse of "The Lone Ranger" stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, who will allegedly be in town next week to film the major motion picture.

So far the only signs are some suspicious rental cars with California plates driving slowly around town looking lost, but those could be the usual tourists who start flocking in this time of year to see Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

Wilson Hunter, Canyon de Chelly assistant superintendent, confirmed the "Lone Ranger" crew obtained a special use permit for next week to film in the canyon.

Most of the filming will be in remote areas not normally accessible to the public, but starstruck locals and tourists alike will get a chance to see some action if they're willing to hike down the steep mile-and-a-half-long White House Trail Monday morning, Hunter said.

"We'll have security posted along the trail to make sure nobody wanders off into areas they're not supposed to be in," he warned.

Hunter said the park will be open to the public as usual during filming, but tour groups slated to drive by White House on Monday will be rerouted to Canyon del Muerto, the north fork of the canyon.

"They'll be able to tour Canyon de Chelly in the afternoon," he promised.

The other locations are not on tour routes and filming should not interfere with the visitors' experience, according to Hunter.

Hunter said he's already had a number of inquiries from Depp's numerous fans, but "they're not even telling us where he's staying."

Although security is tight, "I understand Mr. Depp is very good to his fans," Hunter said. "We're told there might be some autograph sessions."

Depp plays the Lone Ranger's Indian sidekick Tonto in the production, but interest in him seems to far outweigh the buzz about Hammer, who plays the Lone Ranger.

Hammer was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for his 2011 performance as Clyde Tolson in "J. Edgar."

Although Canyon de Chelly has far less experience than Monument Valley Tribal Park in handling movie productions, "we've prepared well and I think it will go very smoothly," Hunter predicted. "The crew knows what they're doing and they've worked very closely with us."

The three local motels - Holiday Inn, Best Western and the Thunderbird Lodge - are preparing for an influx of about 200 Hollywood types next week, but as mid-April is the traditional start of the tourist season, it won't be anything too out of the ordinary.

"This is the time of year we start hiring extra staff anyway," said Patrick Yazzie, manager of the Holiday Inn at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly, where over half the rooms will go to "Lone Ranger" crewmembers next week. "I don't anticipate doing anything special."

Yazzie said the "Lone Ranger" crew hasn't asked in advance for bowls of green M&M's, bottles of Grey Goose vodka on the nightstand, or anything at all peculiar.

"Really, the only special request they've had is non-smoking rooms," he said. "They were out here scouting last month so they know our limitations in this area. I don't think they expected our offerings to be so limited here.

"They were surprised we had to drive an hour and a half to the nearest Walmart, for example," he said. "I imagine they'll be bringing in a lot of their own stuff."

They did use the motel, however, as a base to recruit and hire quite a number of locals as security guards, Yazzie revealed.

"I think they wanted people who knew the area," he said.

His staff will also keep an eye out for starstruck stalkers.

"They'll know who is supposed to be here and who isn't," he said.

Yazzie said the staff has also been instructed to be discreet, so you won't get anything out of them as to who's staying where or which rooms have been reserved for the production.

An employee at the Best Western near the junction of Indian Route 7 and U.S. 191 revealed that 30 to 40 rooms have been reserved for the crew at that motel, while the Thunderbird Lodge near the canyon rim wouldn't disclose the number of rooms rented.

"It's exciting for us, and for the whole community," Yazzie said. "I think the last movie that was filmed here was 'Black Cloud,' but that was some years ago." ("Black Cloud," directed by Rick Schroder and based on the true story of a local boxing champion, came out in 2004.)

"The Lone Ranger" is scheduled for release in 2013.