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“Thelma & Louise,” 1991   |  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

6 Days   •   312 Miles

Thelma & Louise: A Tribute Road Trip Through the Classic Film’s Utah Settings

This itinerary brings a whole new meaning to hitting the open road. Perfect for fans of the beloved film “Thelma & Louise,” tour the exact places where the movie was shot, and make some memories of your own exploring the beauty of this exquisite desert. You can go high-adventure and rough it, or stay in plush lodging with wine pairings at dinner — whatever you and your closest posse are seeking.
SALT LAKE CITY

The 1991 adventure drama “Thelma & Louise” delighted audiences everywhere — but especially struck a chord with women. The film was a rarity, a “buddy” adventure movie starring two women, played by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. The story inspired generations of audiences, who found the film relatable, funny, inspiring and gut-wrenching all at once.

As the duo flees the law, forsakes convention and finds a true sense of freedom for the first time in their lives, their journey takes them through wild open landscapes that feel absolutely fitting for the tale’s themes. And while the story takes place on a road trip that’s supposedly from Arkansas to Arizona, much of the film was actually shot in Utah, from the looming desert mountain in the opening credits to the epic “Grand Canyon” car scene at the end. (Spoiler: That wasn’t the Grand Canyon — the scene was shot at Fossil Point outside Moab, Utah.)

It just so happens that Utah’s desert wilds make the perfect setting for a road trip with your best friends (or with any fans of the film, of course). Not only can “Thelma & Louise” diehards check out the places where the movie’s iconic moments took place, but there’s potential for plenty of your own adventure, too. The film and its characters made history. Now it’s your turn to thoughtfully explore these rugged and fragile lands.

Pack your hiking boots, sun hat and outlaw soul. Vintage convertible optional.

Day 1

Experience the Liberating Wonder of Arches National Park

36 Miles

Moab today may be a mecca for mountain bikers, river runners, rock climbers, Jeep crawlers and anyone with the sense to point their cameras at the rugged red-tinted landscape. But Moab comes with a storied past, too — from the days its earliest Native American inhabitants carved petroglyphs into the towering desert canyons, all the way up to the area’s heyday as a go-to film location for Hollywood directors. Over decades, classics like “Rio Grande,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “Star Trek,” “Wagon Master,” and “Geronimo” have filmed scenes here. So as you gaze at your wondrous sandstone-studded surroundings, think of John Wayne riding his horse into the sunset here — or, even better, Thelma and Louise in their 1966 Ford Thunderbird.

You’ll start your day in Arches, a crown jewel of a national park just a few minutes outside Moab. Shortly after entering the park, you’ll pass a cluster of soaring rock formations called the Courthouse Towers. This is the spot where Thelma and Louise, pulled over for speeding, decide to take the trooper’s gun and leave him in his car trunk. (Hey, they did apologize.)

While you’re in the neighborhood, check out a few of the iconic hikes and overlooks around the national park. Delicate Arch is a can’t-miss landmark made famous on the Utah license plate and well worth the three-mile round-trip hike across gorgeous solid sandstone. If you can, sign up for a ranger-led tour of the Fiery Furnace, an insanely intricate maze of crimson rock fissures and pinnacles. And don’t leave without a stop at Devils Garden, a wonderland of red-hued rock shapes emerging from the living cryptobiotic soil, studded with hardy desert sage and juniper. Wandering this land quiets the mind and frees the soul. You can easily see why our film’s renegade heroines experienced new realizations here in the wide-open.

Where to Stay: Camp in Arches National Park, rent a hotel room or Airbnb in Moab or try glamping under the stars. You can also rent a room at nearby Red Cliffs Lodge and schedule a tasting at Castle Creek Winery or dinner at the lodge with local wine, which is the perfect way to cap off a desert day. (As a fun bonus, there is a Movie Museum at the Red Cliffs Lodge that’s free to the public and includes interesting props and memorabilia from local films, including “Thelma and Louise.”)

Tips for Travel: The Moab area is gorgeous year-round and is fun to visit during any season. The high desert climate shows its more extreme edges at the high point of summer and darkest days of midwinter, so if that’s when you’re visiting, just plan ahead when it comes to clothing, layers and choice of vehicle. You can explore perfectly comfortably in winter if you bundle up and bring microspikes for hiking shoe traction. You can also have a wonderful visit in the heat of summer if you just time your hikes for early and late in the day. No matter the season, travel responsibly, practicing Leave No Trace principles while recreating and, when possible, supporting local during your visit to help keep Utah Forever Mighty.

Pictured: “Thelma & Louise” at Arches National Park, 1991. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Day 2

See Firsthand the Vistas of the Film’s Final Scene

66 Miles

If there’s one scene of “Thelma & Louise” that viewers may never shake from their minds, it’s the soaring car flying above the Grand Canyon at the movie’s end. While the scene is arresting on many levels, there’s another startling fact to contemplate: that this wasn’t filmed at the Grand Canyon at all. Rather, it was filmed at Fossil Point, visible from Dead Horse Point State Park outside Moab. You can get a sense of the river canyon’s sheer scope and splendor from Dead Horse State Park’s West Rim overlook trail.

To shoot the scene, the film producers needed to send a real car flying off the cliff — their budget didn’t allow for special effects. It took months to put everything perfectly into place, including stripping everything out of three identical Ford Thunderbirds to make them light enough to slingshot into the air. They constructed dummies to sit in the actresses’ seats, with plaster casts of their heads for a more realistic effect. On shoot day, the first car they flung into the air sank like a rock. But after a few adjustments, they set the second sacrificial car into the air, and it soared in a perfect arc. The movie was concluded. And they never even needed to crash the third stunt car.

You can spend the rest of your day strolling the majestic Dead Horse State Park Trail System, with a variety of short, easy hiking routes that let you explore the canyon’s upper heights firsthand. Dart onto the Basin Overlook Spur for a quiet moment contemplating the expanses around you from a secluded rock shelf along the mesa.

When you’ve had your fill of exquisite sandstone topography, head back into town to stroll Moab’s fine Native American and desert-inspired art galleries, where you can find paintings, sculptures, jewelry, pottery, photography and housewares from local artists. Sip a cold beer at the infamous Woody’s Tavern and have a decadent dinner at the charming Desert Bistro. Or venture a 30-minute drive up the scenic Colorado River Road Highway for a stately dinner at the River Grill at Sorrel River Ranch.

Where to Stay: In the center of walkable Moab, or venture from the beaten path and stay along the Colorado River at Sorrel River Ranch or Red Cliffs Lodge.

Pictured: “Thelma & Louise” at Fossil Point, 1991. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Day 3

Take a Tour of Real-Life Ghost Towns

122 Miles

About an hour from Moab, the tiny ghost town of Cisco sits a little way off the main highway. Eerie yet beautiful, a consistent wind blows errant sagebrush through the ramshackle buildings barely standing from an earlier era. The police chase scene from “Thelma & Louise” was shot here, with plenty of wide-open terrain to give the scene a sense of near-endless desert.

Cisco does, in fact, have exactly one resident — the caretaker of a very unique artist-in-residence program, which gives artists from around the world the chance to come and spend a month in the ghost town, with no utilities, very simple lodging and few visitors. Artists quietly work on their projects, one by one, and set a few pieces out for sale if someone does drive through. The project is called Home of the Brave, and it’s well worth checking out.

Then, drive up through Thompson Springs, an old Western town nearing ghost-town status, with just a handful of remaining residents and crumbling, boarded-up buildings. Shots from “Thelma & Louise” were filmed here, and you can see it certainly conveys the sense of a dusty, windblown once-was town.

You can continue up the road to the full-fledged ghost town of Sego, where hundreds of residents once eked out an existence mining, but only crumbling building foundations remain. Be sure to stop and visit the extraordinary petroglyph panels just outside town. A clearly marked parking lot with plaques make it easy to find and give some historic flavor.

You may work up an appetite on your ghost town adventures, so stop back in Green River for a very authentically local burger and beer at Ray’s Tavern, the desert recreationist’s standby. Or pull up at the town taco truck, Tacos La Pasadita, for one of the best platters you’ll ever enjoy, complete with a salsa bar, all set up in the parking lot of a former gas station which the food truck has taken over with picnic tables.

Where to Stay: Green River, or head back to Moab

Pictured: “Thelma & Louise” near Thompson Springs, 1991. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Day 4

Wrap Your Road Trip in the Majestic La Sal Mountains

88 Miles

The lonesome mountain road at the opening of “Thelma & Louise” is a stark and poignant sight. Drive to the tiny town of La Sal to approach this high mountain range yourself, crossing the desert valley flats for an up-close view of peaks that hit well over 12,000 feet in elevation. Not only was the opening vista shot here, but some chase scenes from the movie were, too.

Since you’re in the neighborhood — and in the mood for adventure — drive up La Sal Pass road to really get up into the cool thin air. There are multiple gorgeous hikes you can take up here to feed your wanderlust, including Mt. Peale. You can also take a walk around Medicine Lake.

If you’d like to head back to Moab, this is an excellent adventure-driving themed day, which lends itself well to a guided four-wheel-drive “rock crawler” expedition. If time permits, this is a thrilling way to get a sense of what vehicles can truly do on the local terrain. They can go up, down and around things you’d never imagine. And you have to think: if Thelma and Louise had this kind of technology on their Thunderbird, they may have baffled their pursuers even more.

Where to Stay: Moab

Pictured: “Thelma & Louise,” 1991. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Arches National Park

Photo: National Park Service

Downtown Moab

Photo: Austen Diamond

Dead Horse Point State Park

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