John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in John Ford's classic western, "The Searchers" (1956).
The landscape of Monument Valley - 92,000 acres filled with colossal sandstone formations straddling the Arizona-Utah state line - has become as iconic of America as Wayne himself, with appearances in more than two dozen major films (including nine directed by Ford), as well as on TV and in print ads.
"There are certain places in the world that seem like special effects, they don't seem real," said film historian Scott Eyman. "They're too perfect. And the first time you come here, you see it through John Ford's eyes."
Eyman, who has written biographies of both Ford and John Wayne, told CBS News' Martha Teichner that American settlers never came through Monument Valley.
"This was Navajo territory," he said. "But as a metaphor for the American conquest of space and the continent, this is the American West."
"In a western, the landscape is a character," said Eyman. "You might make the statement that in a western, the landscape's the most important character. And in a Ford western, Monument Valley coexists with John Wayne."
Larry Holiday, the great-great-grandson of Navajo medicine man Hosteen Tso, said the Native Americans' name for Monument Valley translates as "the sand that lights up the valley."
It is, Holiday told Teichner, "like heaven on Earth. It cleans you."
"The Vanishing American"
Monument Valley's first appearance in the movies was in the 1925 production, "The Vanishing American," based on the Zane Grey novel.
Director John Ford on location in Monument Valley while shooting "The Searchers."
The story goes that in 1938, Harry Goulding and his wife, Leone (who ran a trading post in Monument Valley), drove to Hollywood with a portfolio of photographs; that Goulding talked his way in to see Ford, showed him the pictures, and convinced him to make "Stagecoach" in Monument Valley.
"Stagecoach," released in 1939, made B-list actor John Wayne a major star. But another star was born: Monument Valley.
A poster for the 1939 "Stagecoach."
John Ford returned eight times to film there, and other directors followed suit.
"My Darling Clementine"
John Ford's second western shot in Monument Valley was "My Darling Clementine" (1946).
Henry Fonda and John Wayne starred as cavalry officers in "Fort Apache" (1948), the first of John Ford's "Cavalry Trilogy."
"She Wore a Yellow Ribbon"
John Wayne starred in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" (1949) - John Ford's first time shooting in color at Monument Valley.
A scene from John Ford's "Rio Grande" (1950).
Ben Johnson and Ward Bond starred in John Ford's "Wagon Master" (1950), about a wagon train of Mormon settlers heading West.
John Wayne tracks the Indians who abducted his niece in John Ford's "The Searchers" (1956).
Ward Bond (second from right), a member of director John Ford's repertory company, in "The Searchers."
Jeffrey Hunter and Woody Strode starred in John Ford's "Sergeant Rutledge" (1960), about a black cavalry officer facing court-martial.
"How the West Was Won"
A "smilebox" frame rendition of the restored 3-camera Cinerama film "How the West Was Won" (1962). John Ford was one of four directors on the mammoth production - and Monument Valley was one of its most breathtaking locations.
"Cheyenne Autumn" (1964), the last Western directed by John Ford, was described by the director as an elegy for Native Americans and the mistreatment they suffered from the government, the military, and by the media.
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
One of the landscapes seen in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" as astronaut Dave Bowman travels "beyond the infinite" is this surreal view of Monument Valley.
"Electra Glide in Blue"
Not a horse, but a motorcycle is seen parked in Monument Valley in the 1971 "Electra Glide in Blue," about an Arizona cop (played by Robert Blake).
"National Lampoon's Vacation"
The Griswold family's cross-country trip encounters yet another calamity in the 1983 comedy, "National Lampoon's Vacation."
"Back to the Future Park III"
In "Back to the Future Park III," a time-traveling Delorean takes Marty McFly back to Monument Valley in the 1880s.
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) runs until he doesn't anymore, leaving a posse of followers in the lurch in the middle of Monument Valley, in "Forrest Gump" (1994).
"The Lone Ranger"
The Lone Ranger and Tonto were staked out at the precipice dubbed John Ford's Point in Monument Valley in the 2013 film, "The Lone Ranger."
SunsetFor more on Monument Valley:
"Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford" by Scott Eyman (Simon & Schuster); Also available in eBook format