Westward Ho! Guests from all over the world are now flocking to the small boom town of Big Thunder as the wildest ride in the wilderness returned from a 14-month track restoration. Visitors have begun to spot the infamous Big Thunder Mountain ‘ghost-trains’ chugging along the buttes and hoodoos of the mountain, and it got us thinking – how did this gold fever in Frontierland all begin?
The Mule Pack opened on July 17th, 1955 – the same day that Walt Disney premiered his beloved Disneyland Park to the public. A team of pack mules took park guests through the wilderness and along the Rivers of America for a ride as dusty as it was smelly. In addition to their hearty diet of grass and apples, the mules were also a fan of another tasty treat – and no, we’re not referring to the delicious turkey legs nearby. The mules loved the sweet taste of souvenirs, hats, and even shoes!
That year saw the opening of not only the Stagecoach Ride but also the Conestoga Wagons. Together, these two attractions gave visitors an opportunity to see what it was like to travel the West in style – at least by 1800s standards. Both attractions were retired in 1959, but two of the original Stagecoaches sit parked backstage today at nearby Circle D Ranch.
In 1956, The Rainbow Mountain Mining and Exploration Company began taking guests through the nearby Living Desert for an adventure through caverns, under teetering rocks, and along majestic geysers. In 1960, the track was rerouted through newly found territories, including the powerful waterfalls of Cascade Peak, the bubbling Devil’s Paint Pots, and glowing waterfalls inside Rainbow Caverns. These changes accompanied a renaming of the attraction to Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. The attraction closed in 1979, but guests can still see what remains of the mine train tracks along the banks of the Rivers of America from the Mark Twain Riverboat or the Sailing Ship Columbia.
In 1979, the latest attraction in Frontierland opened. As the story goes, the gold rush began and the Big Thunder Mining Company was established to excavate the rich vein of gold ore discovered in the nearby mountains. However, miners soon became preoccupied with stories of supernatural forces within the mountain. Trains began rolling out of the station and around the mines – humanless at the controls. Now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has become one of the premier thrills of the Wild West!
Walt Disney once proudly referred to Frontierland as “A tribute to the faith, courage and ingenuity of the pioneers who blazed the trails across America.” Next time you visit this western town, take a step back in time with Walt and remember the history that has shaped this great frontier.
Historical Photos provided by Walt Disney Imagineering.