Thursday, April 4, 2013

THROWBACK THURSDAY: The Slow Decay of the Mine Train

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is one of the more famous and popular attractions at the Disneyland Resort. As a matter of fact, Disney World, Tokyo Disney, and Disneyland Paris all have their own Thunder Mountain. But only the one in Disneyland can trace its roots back to 1956, when Disneyland was in just its second year. It began as Rainbow Caverns Mine Train, a slow sit-down train that circled around desert rocks and colorful geisers. It didn't offer much, and was classified as a C-ticket attraction. But by 1960, Rainbow Caverns Mine Train was given a major upgrade, and became the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. The new mine train included all sorts of new sites and animals, most notably the new Cascade Peak: a tapering mountain with roaring waterfalls.

Cascade Falls
Nature's Wonderland carried guests all across Frontierland, over ponds and landscapes carefully sculpted by a class of imagineers whose meticulous work can still be seen today. But where?

Well, some parts of the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train are still intact. You may have noticed the Rainbow Caverns on Thunder Mountain, colorful craters inside the cave containing the lift hill. But the real remnant is the loading dock for the mine train. You will briefly pass it by just before exiting the ride.
That's the town of Rainbow Ridge. It served as the queue for both Rainbow Caverns Mine Train and Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. But unless you're a Disneyland frequenter, you probably haven't thought much of these old buildings. So let's move on to the more noticeable remains of these old rides.

Bear River back in the day
Many parts of the track are still visible, including multiple tunnels. At one point in the ride, riders traverse a bridge over a bathing ground for bears, and into a cave on the other side of the river. Though the bridge and the bears are long gone, the tunnel can still be seen.

Sadly, these treasures are not permanent, as their state of disrepair causes them to gradually fall apart over the years. After the ride closed, part of the bridge actually remained, but it was destroyed in a storm in 2006.

What the bridge looked like before it collapsed
Remember Cascade Peak? What happened to that? It was huge! Well, that was taken down in the late 1990's, after it had visibly become a cracking pile of decrepit man-made rock and fake trees. What once was a tall mountain with waterfalls had become just a dry mountain, dwarfed by the trees that had grown over the decades. In about 1998, Cascade Peak saw its final days.

Cascade Peak, shortly before its demise
The site of Cascade Peak today
But there's still one last piece of Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland that we're going to look at. And that's the actual train itself. When the ride was closed, the trains were most likely sent to the Disneyland boneyard, disassembled and recycled. But one of the trains was left on the banks of Rivers of America, where it rotted in front of adventurers on Tom Sawyer's Island and the river's various boat rides. A hauntingly faded and peeling painted reminder, "NWRR" could still be seen on the side of the engine. Animatronic meerkats popped out of what used to be the passenger cars. This change disturbed many guests who hated to see their once favorite ride in such a tragic state. I thought it was awesome. But Disneyland caved in, and removed the train in 2010 to be placed forever in the Disneyland Vault.

Perhaps one day no traces of this historic ride will remain, survived only by these old photographs and stories. But for now, let's celebrate the imaginative ride whose ghosts still haunt the grounds of new Frontierland. Below are images of a couple other vestiges of Nature's Wonderland that you may have noticed. Long live that old west adventure.


  1. Love this info! Thanks so much!!!!

  2. You got it, thanks for reading!

    1. I took the liberty of letting others know about your wonderful blog. It's a Facebook page called, "Vintage Disneyland"
      Many have "liked" your blog!
      I am reading all the pages and am enjoying them all so much! We have a annual pass as well so I'll be on the look out for the many treasures in Disneyland. So many secrets, so much history!!

    2. Wow, that means so much. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the support. Please feel free to share anything you find.

    3. I will. Looking forward to visiting the park soon. My pass won't allow me into the park until the 19th of August. Oh well.

    4. Hey, Cindy. I'll make sure 2 check out that Facebook page soon! I'm going 2 get a Facebook account on my birthday this year.

  3. was it closed in 1977 to make room for Big Thunder

  4. I was just at Disneyland last weekend and saw the abandoned tracks while riding on the Columbia. I asked the CM about them and she told me all about the ride. Too cool! Thanks for posting! I love disneyland history!