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Orange Bird Photo Hunt


« Introducing the Gallery | Main | Why Shows Fail »

The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 1 ]

[ PART 2 Now available ]

A trip earlier this year to Yellowstone National Park inspired me to post about one of Disneyland's greatest retired pieces, Nature's Wonderland. Beware. You may just love Big Thunder Mountain Railroad a little less after enjoying the following.

Listen to this fantastic narration. But watch out! It may get a little sexist along the way:

"We have ‘stocked’ our preserve with over 200 amazingly realistic animated animals and birds - including almost every specie still roaming the North American continent."



Timeline 1955-PRESENT

1956 Rendering of Rainbow Caverns Mine, Rainbow Ridge Mule Pack, and Rainbow Mountain Stage Coaches

"Here, in a primitive setting that duplicates the remote wilderness country, you may watch beavers, busy as always, on home-building and tree-cutting chores; coyotes and mountain lions; clown-like bears, romping without a care in the world; Olympic Elk engaged in battle for survival, just as it is enacted daily in the natural wilderness."




Rendering by Marc Davis
Photo courtesy of Pete

Rendering by unknown artist


Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland overlaid on today's Big Thunder site.


Detail of 1962 souvenir mapFull-size map here.

Then and Now

Cascade Peak was removed in 1998 due to structural damage. The broken down Mine Train was removed in a recent Rivers of America rehab.

Photo (left) courtesy of Pete

The front of the rock tunnel is easily visible today as you walk on the trail that connects to Fantasyland just west of Big Thunder Mountain. The back opening of the same tunnel is visible along the east side of Rivers of America. If you pay attention you may see a jumping fish on the north side of this pond, thought sadly it's not often operational these days.

The "Assay Office" building (right) can be seen on the far left of the left photo.

The "Panhandle Hotel" and "Big Thunder Epitaph" buildings (right) can be seen behind the center tree in the left photo.

Live, wild cats hanging at the abandoned tracks! (Several, if not dozens, of wild cats live in Disneyland bushes.) They can occasionally be spotted during the day but more often they come out after hours). I took this photo from the Mark Twain in 2004 and thought to myself, 'if I were to be a mangy wild cat, I'd like to live on the site of an extinct Disneyland attraction too". Static mountain lion figures now sit between the old tracks facing Rivers of America.

The Must-see "Frontierland in Color"... though not all of this video is "in color"

Continue with [ PART 2 ]

Photos, scans, and graphics by Fritz. Additional photos submitted by friend and fan of the blog, Pete. Other photos provided by Daveland, Calisphere, and Tim's Disney News Archive. Videos originally posted on YouTube by our friend, Rustin.


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Reader Comments (26)

That is so cool

June 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTrey

One thing that looks interesting about the Nature's Wonderland concept is how we are given a taste of all these disparate environments. There's lush forests, arid valleys, scorching deserts and the caverns. The latest Rivers of America additions add a bit of that to the old river. There's are segments that represents the Mississippi River, the Potomac and the Rio Grande. It's all very subtle, but it adds just a little bit more to the Rivers of America.

I like Big Thunder, but its roller coaster nature doesn't really give us a good chance to admire these recreations of nature.

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSpokker

Great post! Big fan of the slow-moving scenic rides (which is why I love TTA so much), so sorry I missed this one in person...a little past my time. Anyway, here's a few more interesting links on NW:

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Thank you for the retrospective. Decades later, this still remains one of my favorite attractions. The Rainbow Caverns waters is still one of the best effects Disney ever created for the parks and it's a tragedy Disney first destroyed them then refused to reconstruct them. The sad and pathetic "Tony Baxter Tribute" version in Big Thunder is not worthy of mention.

As this area was being demolished, I remember one old time Imagineer commenting on an element of this attraction that always gets lost. He mentioned that thanks to television and schools, children grow up knowing far more about life cycles of elephants and zebras in far off Africa than they do of the raccoons and deer living in their backyard. He had always thought of the Mine Train as an American version of 'The Jungle Cruise' and a reminder that we live in a land that's just as amazing as the far-off places we hear about.

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Voice

Love it! Love it! Love it! Love it!

It's a catastrophic shame that Disney was intimidated by Magic Mountain enough to think they had to take out the wonder and beauty to furnish WHOOPIE rides!

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim Carter

If only....

Disneyland still had Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland.
Magic Kingdom had Wester River Expedition.
Paris can have their pretty cool Big Thunder Mountain they already have.


June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSKIPP

Check out where the Disneyland Railroad original track is on the right of the graphic, going between Fantasyland Theater and Story Book Land/Casey Jr. Circus Train. Looks like that straight path is still there today. Interesting. I wonder what's up there today?

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTL98H8R

"I wonder what's up there today?"

It's just an access road for cast members.

June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSpokker

I wonder tho if there are any remnants of the railroad.

June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTL98H8R

I've been on that access road and it's all paved over, if I recall correctly. Only the right of way exists.

I've never heard of remnants anywhere else, but it's certainly possible.

June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSpokker

I remember walking on that path years ago and sadly didn't see anything that stuck out. I'd like to go back to look harder.

June 14, 2010 | Registered CommenterFritz

I love the first video at 2:42. The bad guy is being shot at so, using super human powers, he begins to grow! By the time he dies he's as tall as a house! I read somewhere that bad guys in the old west could do this at will. An old indian trick?

Thanks for this tribute. I never got to ride Mine Train but I'm endlessly fascinated by it.

Walt Disney's Nature shows were ground breaking. Walt was ahead of his time once again and did great things for conservation and the understanding of our natural world. Why Animal Kingdom doesn't mention his efforts (Seal Island. The Living Desert) Is beyond my understanding. I'd like to grow to "bad guy" size and take a big dump on the tree of life.


June 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHoot Gibson

Excellent post. NWRR is probably my favorite attraction, although I have never been on it. I did a retrospective post on the attraction when it turned 50 last month, including a map of the remnants of the attraction.

June 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Hoot: HHAHAHA. Yeah I love the illusion of full scale shoot 'em up gun fighters running around small scale buildings. And seriously, Animal Kingdom has so much potential but falls short, in my opinion.

Sam: Dude. Nice work! I'm gonna have to talk with you and post some of your work in an upcoming post, assuming you'd be up for that. Either way, great work. I love the map you made. I'm actually working on a similar map which allows the viewer to "ride" the ride while looking at the map and photos in sequence.

June 16, 2010 | Registered CommenterFritz

I love the Old Yeller music in that first video.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSKIPP

Nice call, Skipp! I like it too.

Animal kingdom DOES fall short. I think the whole "Na-ta-zu (not a zoo)" thing was horrible because being a zoo was the only thing that park has going for it! Now, don't get me wrong, I love zoos. Where else can I see rare animals, caged, and sleeping?

There's nothing wrong with audio-animatronic animals. I'd rather see bears enjoying themselves without thinking they'd be much happier in the wild where they belong. Ya know? If you have beavers in a zoo for example, you're not going to see them do ANYTHING. They certainly won't swim around or build dams.

In today's world you can watch 50 channels worth of animal shows at any given moment. I watch a vast majority of 'em and guess what. They never film animals sleeping because IT'S BORING. It's 45 times more boring in real life and it's sad.

If a theme park wants to be all about conservation I have a few words of advice...... LET THE SLEEPING ANIMALS GO! Create animatronic displays that show us what they do in the wild. Let us imagine we're really there seeing animals do what they do when they aren't caged and fat tourist aren't gawking at them.

If you want a truly "immersive" experience, don't go to AK or a zoo. Go hiking in the Smokey Mountains with a raw pork chop tied to your ass. While you're doing that I'll be wishing for scratching bears and swimming beavers.........all safe from cages and all animatronic.

Nobody has to feel sorry for Audio Animatronic animals but you might learn more about the real thing.

June 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHoot Gibson

I remember riding that train in 1975 when I was 17. Graduation from high school present. Flew from NY to CA and went to disneyland courtesy of my very cool aunt. I remember the painted pots and the prarie dogs popping up but I don't remember the rainbow falls. I don't remember seeing mule rides or stagecoaches either. Maybe they ended those years before I went on it. Great memories though.

August 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteret

So it was Frontierland's Jungle Cruise. Cool concept. Pity they didn't keep it but I can kinda understand why

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Ninja Pirate

Ohhh yeah I Live in northen az, but I've been fortunate enough to have been born in 1956 so my first trip was in 1962 and I remember everything including seeing Walt driving an old car around but I guess thatI probably rode that train at least 4 or 5 times, and it still is my favorite! Maybe they could build it here some where.

June 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeuce Tube 1980

A lot of Natures Wonderland critters moved over to Big Thunders in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Disneyland's saved most of of the town of Rainbow Ridge. Florida has a small town of Tumbleweed. Paris Disneyland had planned on adding a Natures Wonderland on the mainland back in 1994 when concepts were being tossed around with Michael Eisner. The Big Thunder there is the best educational experience in mining equipment, as they have more than a lot of museums on the subject. If only operations would use the full queue line, as that was meant to be a learning experience for guests. That is the only Fronteirland that is totally united and known as Thunder Mesa with a connecting theme through the whole town. Looking at your pictures I think the mine seen on the jumping fish pond must have disappeared in the 2007, which used the former Natures Wonderland tunnell and trestle footings. It looks so bad now with nothing there. I still have not found out why they took it out, or if someone just wanted the 2 real mine cars on the trestle. PD

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

When Tokyo Disneyland was concieved, the Tom sawyer island was Disneyland's flipped over. Tokyo has preserved theirs well and remains as originally installed with Fort Sam Clemens open and operational as well as Indian Joes Cave, the Tree House and the Old Gris Mill. I'm sorry Disneyland has not preserved theirs and made it into a Pirates Island. That's what happens when you loose touch with the Legends.

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

Water damage and other structural issues forced the demolition of the Cascade Falls. I have to agree that the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad offered the best educational experience in mining equipment. By the way, were the animals in the Big Thunder Trail really buried in concrete?

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave @ mining equipment

A lot of the animals from Western River Ride were taken back to WED's storage facility. Some got rehabed right away for use at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Big Thunders. Some animals like the tortoises got used later along with the varmits by the old Western River Ride Train. Even 3 Western River Ride engines and cars were saved and parts used at Tokyo Disneyland's Big Thunder. The remaining parts were destroyed and crushed. I doubt that there were any animals buried in concrete. I believe there is still a hold out up in the old cave over the trail, but has been silent for over 35 years. I would say the main issue for Cascade Peak or aka "3 Sisters Falls" not being rehabed was Disneyland's Paul Pressler. Maybe with new management the Falls can be brought back as that part of Fronteirland is redeveloped. It was a Great icon for the river pilots and their guests. Even Mark twain had talked about it.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRusty

Maybe with the major overhaul on Big Thunder today, they could also restore the former mine scene in the old Natures Wonderland cave you show per the 1980's when it was done with Big Thunders addition. They should also paint the Mineral Hall graphics back on the same existing building today as they restore Rainbow Ridge.

March 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterProfessional Dreamer

I'd so love to have this still in Disneyworld and Disneyland it was my favorite place when I was a kid in the 90's.

July 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBull

Why can't Disneyland and/or DisneyWorld still have a place like this. It is better than anything else they have now. I so would of loved seeing this. I really liked any Disney movies in a long time. Sadly they have lost me as a audience member long time ago. :(

July 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJay

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