Welcome to Disney Extinct Attractions! My name is Cole Geryak and I’ll be your conductor on today’s train trip through Nature’s Wonderland!
I have to start off this post by saying how grateful I am that LaughingPlace has decided to include my blog on their site! Everyone there has been extremely welcoming and I am super excited to be a part of the team. Having a new home means that there is a good chance that you are a new reader to this blog, so here’s a quick rundown on what I do.
The Disney Parks are places of constant change. As Walt Disney once said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in this world.” Personally, I love that, every time I go to a Disney Park, I find something new to do, but I still feel that it is important to never forget those attractions that came before. I mean, we don’t want the attractions to end up like Jessie in Toy Story 2 — thrown under the bed and forgotten.
So I made it my mission to write about extinct Disney attractions to ensure that they will never face the same fate as poor Jessie!
Now that you know why I do this, it’s time to get today’s tour underway. But first, we have to make a quick stop in the present before hoping into our time machine to return back to the time of Walt Disney.
Star Wars Land is in full construction mode at Disneyland and it is the largest expansion in the park’s history. As you can see from the picture, Frontierland has lost a lot of land because the First Order has slowly started settling in the West. But Frontierland hasn’t always been that way. In fact, it was one of the largest lands in the park on opening day.
All of the dirt area seen in the photo above represented the Living Desert portion of Frontierland, spanning from today’s Rivers of America to Fantasyland. It also included what was formerly Big Thunder Ranch but is now simply dirt because of Star Wars Land. (You could say that the previous Living Desert area is the closest it has looked to the Living Desert since 1977.) But I’m getting ahead of myself because before we get into Disneyland Park, we have to take a look at the Disneyland television show.
Ever the marketing genius, Walt Disney produced a television program, simply titled Disneyland, to promote his upcoming theme park. On the show, Walt not only talked about what was coming to Disneyland but also took time to air animated cartoons, abbreviated versions of some of his films, and even original programming about Davy Crockett. Davy Crockett’s popularity immediately skyrocketed, with little boys everywhere asking their parents for a rifle and a coonskin cap.
Meanwhile, western movies were all the rage at the time, with classic films such as The Searchers, High Noon, and Shane all being released with three years of Disneyland’s opening. Parents and children alike were enthralled by the idea of the old West, so it is no wonder that Frontierland was initially one of the most popular areas in Disneyland.
Frontierland opened with two major areas: the Rivers of America and the Living Desert. The Rivers of America have had roughly the same purpose and types of attractions over the years, but the Living Desert is a completely different story, having gone through many attractions since opening day.
The arid area originally opened with three modes of transportation to see the sights: stagecoaches, wagons, and pack mules. But that wasn’t good enough for Walt Disney and his Imagineers, who were (and still are) constantly looking for ways to “plus” their attractions, and so the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train was born. (Walt sure did love his trains.)
Opening in 1956, the train took guests through the Living Desert, culminating in journey through the Rainbow Caverns. Full of rock formations and ponds, these caves amazed guests who had never seen anything like the colorful flowing water before. (I like to think of it as World of Color 1.0.) Guests traveling aboard the mine train had an exclusive view of the caverns because none of the animal-driven vehicles were allowed to enter the area (presumably because the path was simply too small).
With Frontierland running successfully, Walt turned his eyes to the right side of the park and began to brainstorm one of the most important expansions in the park’s history. In 1959, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Submarine Voyage, and the Disneyland Monorail all debuted and the “E” Ticket was born along with them. These attractions truly cemented Disneyland as a place of constant innovation that would provide experiences for guests that they couldn’t have anywhere else.
But now that Disneyland had three groundbreaking new rides on the east side, it was time for Walt to ride west in search of Frontierland gold.
In 1960, the Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland took its first tour through Frontierland. Walt asked Disney Legend Marc Davis to add some humor to the attraction, and, with it, the train became akin to a western version of the Jungle Cruise. Loosely based on the True-Life Adventure series of films, both attractions took guests through nature on a tour of the wide world of animals. The Train was bit longer experience, taking guests past over 200 different animals, but it featured a narrator instead of the very punny skippers aboard the Cruise.
Unlike the Cruise, the Mine Train had distinct areas that guests had a chance to travel through, making the attraction almost an entire land upon itself.
You climb aboard the train in the beautiful Western town of Rainbow Ridge. You better be careful, though — bandits have been known to run through the town causing chaos! Once seated, your train takes off, and you travel to your first destination, Beaver Valley.
Along this path, your experience with wild life begins as you see these beavers hard at work creating a dam. Looking at the beavers, you are very impressed because it is 1960 and it is hard to believe they are robots, not real beavers. After avoiding getting caught in a
dam jam, you move on to the beautiful Cascade Peak.
Cascade Peak stands 75 feet tall, one of the highest points in the park and creates a truly awesome sight from your seat in the train. Getting its name from the waterfalls (one of which was named Big Thunder Falls) that flow down its sides, the mountain stands so high above you that you forget you are in a theme park as you stare up at it in awe.
Following Cascade Peak, you travel through Bear Country (not to be confused with the Bear Country that is now Critter Country). You look around and see bears playing and relaxing around a tree. You see some of the bears in the water, too, trying to catch some of the flying fish for dinner.
Soon after Bear Country, you enter the Living Desert. Seemingly deserted, you begin to spot some animals, as well as cacti that look awfully humanlike. Full of geysers, wobbly rocks, and bobcats, be sure to keep an eye out for danger!
Now that you managed to survive the Living Desert, it is time to head over to the Rainbow Caverns. You see the huge range of colors as the water cascades down the rock formations. It is unlike anything that you have ever seen — something indescribable that can’t be replicated by any photograph or video. All too soon, your train emerges from the cave and you roll back into Rainbow Ridge, ready to disembark and experience the rest of the park.
Unfortunately, the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland was bound for extinction, just like the dinosaur in the picture above. With demand for thrill rides increasing, the attraction officially closed on January 1, 1977. Nature’s Wonderland had dwindled in popularity, being demoted to a “D” ticket, so it was time to bring a new “E” ticket attraction to Frontierland, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Luckily, the Mine Train still lives on in a few ways at Disneyland, with remnants visible in a some areas in the park.
The residents of Rainbow Ridge were lucky because the new mine train company decided to keep some of the town available for its tired workers. At the end of your ride on the “wildest ride in the wilderness,” you’ll ride right past the town and may even be able to hear some hooligans fighting in the bar.
Though a lot of the town was destroyed to make room for the Big Thunder track, the buildings that remained stand where they did during the times of the Mine Train. I really love that the Imagineers were able to incorporate the town into the design of the newer attraction, conserving a piece of history. But that’s not all as another allusion to Big Thunder’s predecessor exists at the very beginning of the attraction, as you climb the attraction’s first lift hill.
As you can see, the cavern employs almost every color of the rainbow and also includes some stalagmites and stalactites, some of the key elements of the Rainbow Caverns. Keeping the Rainbow Caverns alive in that way really goes a long way in my book because it shows how much the past means to Tony Baxter and the rest of the Imagineering team behind Big Thunder.
Outside of Big Thunder Mountain, very few remnants of Nature’s Wonderland are left. Most of the relics of the attraction resided in Big Thunder Ranch, but since that was demolished to make way for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, most everything Nature’s Wonderland related in the park is gone. I was able to visit Disneyland last weekend and so I took some time to seek out relics from the Mine Train. What you see above is the entrance to Beaver Valley and it was the only major remnant that I could find in plain sight in the park (other than on Big Thunder). The entrance to Bear Country also used to be visible, but the trees surrounding it haven’t been trimmed, so it’s currently hidden, but it may still be there.
It’s a shame that most of Frontierland’s first “E” ticket attraction is now lost to us, but the fact that so much of it is left or referenced is pretty amazing. Most of the other attractions that I have written about have almost no trace left in the parks, so it is amazing to see that the heritage of the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland is able to live on to this day.
Normally, I post a ride-through of the attraction, but I couldn’t find a full video since this attraction closed before video cameras were common. Instead, you can find a video by the Extinct Attractions Club. Around minute 12, the video actually features a lot of footage from the attraction, so that is definitely worth checking out if you want a better look at Nature’s Wonderland.
So with that, our train has returned to Rainbow Ridge and it is time to go out and experience the world until next week’s post. For those new readers out there, every week I include three clues that hint at what the next week’s attraction(s) will be, so here they are:
1. These attractions could only be found in one park around the world.
2. These attractions were both musical audio-animatronic shows.
3. One of the shows replaced the other, but both revolved around the same topic.
Thank you for reading and I certainly hope that you enjoyed the post. Be sure to let me know what you thought by commenting below or look at my bio for ways to contact me. I love writing about attractions that you want to hear about, so be sure to let me know which ones you loved, so I can write about them sooner rather than later!
In honor of the new Harry Potter play being released this week, here’s a Disney meme related to the Boy Who Lived. Have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.