January 6, 2016

Taking a Ride Through Nature's Wonderland

With the 60th Anniversary celebration in full swing at Disneyland and the landscape of the park soon to change for good starting next week, I did a little web investigation on one of my very favorite old school attractions: Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland. As almost every Disney park historian or fan knows, it was a popular precursor to the incredible and beloved Frontierland attraction Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

From the great site, Disney and More.

The wild life, the scenery, the music made the Wild West come alive once more when the attraction first opened. It was a living True Life Adventure through the American frontier; a new take on the Jungle Cruise but inspired by a land of rugged terrain, good old American folklore, and the history of the railroad. 

The poster only hints at the great attraction.

A Disneyland postcard.
From the Meet the World blog.

The love and care of Walt Disney and his Imagineers for America and its history was particularly evident here. Marc Davis created some of the most playful scenes ever to find there way into a theme park. It was a labor of love designed to last generations.

After traveling through beautiful pine filled landscapes, our trains took us into the Painted Desert, all leading to an unsuspected conclusion: a visit through the absolutely stunning Rainbow Caverns. Etherial music (you can hear it here) played up the beauty of the caves as colorful waterfalls of different shades moved underground right within view. Engineers said it couldn't be achieved without the colors blending into a shade of gray. Walt Disney said it could be done, and like most things, he did it. 

Nice little vintage clip of the caverns.

The ride was a favorite for many years, giving guests a chance to explore the American wilderness while in Anaheim. Tastes change, and soon enough, guests to Disneyland were clamoring for thrills of a different kind. The Imagineers watched what was on the horizon, and prepared something new under the leadership of Tony Baxter. Gentle rides gave way to more Disney mountains, and Nature's Wonderland disappeared in favor of the Wildest Ride in the Wilderness. (For the ultimate article on the attraction go to Werner Weiss' excellent Yesterland article.)

Here's a great blog that features the writer's work at recreating this attraction in model form. The video below offers a chance to once again experience an iconic attraction from Disneyland's past. Enjoy!

Perhaps as the Imagineers create Star Wars Land, they will include a not so subtle tribute to Nature's Wonderland by routing the train track through a recreated mini Rainbow Caverns. It'd be a nice touch that honors the past that made way for the future.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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