Monday, June 18, 2018

The Rainbow Desert, October 1961

There's something wonderful about deserts. They can be incredibly harsh and severe, burning hot during the day, freezing cold at night; there are poisonous critters (snakes, scorpions, and gila monsters), and spiny, unfriendly plants, evolved to survive long months without water. But, as the narrator of the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland said, "...the desert's got her beauty too".

Walt Disney's Imagineers did a wonderful job of capturing that beauty on a small scale in the Living Desert. Rock formations, carved by the elements over millennia, display strange shapes and warm colors. A "forest" of saguaro cacti grow from the sands, resembling something that might live on another planet.

Notice the unobtrusive (?) light fixtures along the tree line, for nighttime visits to Nature's Wonderland. Oh, how I wish I had experienced this attraction at night!

The coyote is a survivor in this rugged landscape, finding sustenance where others would starve. His high-pitched yips makes him "the voice of the desert" too. I have all of his albums. 


Nanook said...


Giant sigh. I can never get enough of this attraction.

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

I'm with Nanook on this one. And Major, I wish I had ridden it at night, too! If they absolutely HAD to build a rollercoaster in this spot (which obviously they did have to), I wish they had just built it to go through and around the existing scenes. Oh, who am I kidding? It probably would have been a "PeopleMover converted to Rocket Rods" type of fiasco.

JC Shannon said...

I have to agree, the MTTNW was magical and it's demise still saddens me. All that beauty destroyed for a rollercoaster, how original. The phrase "flash over substance" comes to mind. Major, I bet the MT at night was very cool. Thanks to all for the comments, and Major for the scans.

Stefano said...

Major, TokyoMagic!, it was nifty at night. Floodlights did a fairly good job of simulating moonlight. The two visible lamps, or any other light source, didn't seem so noticeable in the 1970s. Any detail lost in the darkness was compensated by a mysterious, even foreboding aura, which was delicious. And with one's eyes better adjusted, Rainbow Caverns was especially dazzling. One of the all-time great attractions.

DrGoat said...

I'm with you fellers. We have Saguaros all around us here but not like the magical ones at the park. I agree with Stefano. Wonderful at night.

zach said...

I remember visiting DL in the late 70's and looking for MTTNW. I could't believe it was gone. I don't remember riding it at night but I did get to experience it in the daytime a few times.


Tom said...

Another giant sigh here too. I wish I could have visited the attraction at all! Unfortunate that it was bulldozed before I ever learned of its existence. I love all the pictures and stories, though! thanks for sharing some new angles and details. I'm sure somewhere out there in someone's shoebox buried in a closet are some new color images of the inside of Rainbow Caverns; can't wait for those to be made public!

Melissa said...

Beautiful indeed. I can only imagine the nighttime view.

"Any detail lost in the darkness was compensated by a mysterious, even foreboding aura, which was delicious."

That's just how I feel about riding the Jungle Cruise after dark. It's a slow boat ride with now-familiar scenery, but after dark it feels downright thrilling!

Patrick Devlin said...

I thought you were going to say, "Rock formations,carved by the mason's union over months, display..."
Them yellow streaks running through the rocks are called "coconino", "the red, we call them "supai". For some reason I loved this line and my brother teased me for knowing it by heart...

I sure do miss this ride and wonderful scan such as these make it sting "in a good way" just a little bit.

Anonymous said...

@Patrick Devlin, Nostalgia is the feeling when you're happy that you're sad.

Coconino (sandstone) is a place name and a geologic formation of stupendous size underlying much of southeastern Utah and northern Arizona:, noted for whitish or yellowish coloration.

Supai Group is a similar formation of red-to-tan sandstone and limestone in the south to southwest Colorado Plateau and is widely exposed in the Grand Canyon and points south.

So the old spiel was pretty accurate, if somewhat compressed. It's funny that those lines caught in your memory.

I never rode this at night, I think it would have been awesome. When Thunder Mountain opened, I thought it was an acceptable trade-off, but that was the foolishness of youth. Now I am old enough to understand the wisdom of a slow sightseeing ride, humorously based in fact, ending with a tour of the eerie caverns and the Les Baxter-inspired lyric-less voices, and I miss it terribly.

Proof that increasingly complex audioanimatics and digital projections are not necessary to produce a vivid and memorable experience.

Thanks for the great pictures, Major.


JC Shannon said...

Patrick, It does sting in a good way. I am just grateful for the many wonderful photos that keep the Mine Train alive. Thanks again to Major P. for sharing them with us.

Anonymous said...

Night time was magical. And very quiet. The trains were rarely crowded. The 'moonlight' added a aura of reality that couldn't be achieved in the starkness of daylight. The cavern felt warm rather than cool. Yep, miss it even from the perspective of running the train for you all. KS

Matthew said...

Major! What beautiful photos... of man made wonders. It always made me smile when I would see people take pictures of the animals on the Jungle Cruise.

I wish I had time this morning to comment on everyone before me, but I will quickly point out that the coyote is covered in a synthetic hair. Now, the coyote (and so many of the outdoor "animals") are molded out of plastic. Bummer to loose that level of authenticity and craftsmanship.

Always your pal,
Amazon Belle

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, it was one of the greats!

TokyoMagic!, a rollercoaster zooming by the peaceful desert or through Bear Country would have kind of ruined the effect. I realize that they felt like they had get rid of the old and put in something new, but man, it was painful.

Jonathan, the thing is, I like Big Thunder. I just don’t like that they had to tear out such a unique and wonderful attraction.

Stefano, I believe that they added some nighttime sound effects too, like crickets (not 100% sure about that though). I can only try to imagine what Rainbow Caverns would have looked like with eyes already adjusted to the dark.

DrGoat, sounds like a lot of people were smarter than me (granted, I was a child!) and rode the Mine Train at night. It’s one of my time machine wishes.

David Zacher, I guess it would be like heading over to the Jungle Cruise and finding a jungle-themed roller coaster now. In a way, that’s what “Indy” is! But they managed to keep the Jungle Cruise.

Tom, I’m sure there must be photos of Rainbow Caverns out there, possibly even some good ones (if the guest had a very good camera, maybe they would not have had to blow out the blacklights with a flash). If any turn up, I hope I get to see them!

Melissa, I always ride the Jungle Cruise during the day, and again at night - you can’t go wrong either way, but the darkness adds a really mysterious atmosphere.

Patrick Devlin, if I ever own a yacht (!!), I will name it the “Coconino” (it’s such a good word). Everyone will be invited aboard for drinks and hors d’oeuvres!

JG, when I was a kid, I thought the narrator was saying “shoe pie”, which I thought was very odd. Somehow I was not knowledgeable about mineral outcroppings when I was 8 years old! I have come to accept that today’s guests want different things than I do. They are wrong, but they still want them!

Jonathan, I guess I can be grateful that I never had to see the Mine Train decked out in Christmas decorations a la the “Jingle Cruise”…

KS, I have to admit that in many vintage photos, the line for the NWRR was very short. I’m sure it was a “people eater”, but even so, somebody must have seen that and not been happy about it. Odd that the caverns were warm, thanks for that interesting detail!

Matthew, thank you for the info about the coyote - I actually wondered if it was a taxidermied specimen, somehow made impervious to the elements. Seemed unlikely. Molded plastic doesn’t need so much maintenance I guess, but you’re right, people can see the difference.

MRaymond said...

I watched an interview with Tony Baxter and there was a plan to run the tracks by Cascade Peak or part of the Living Desert but it was rejected.

I did ride the MTTNW at night and it was awesome. The best time was riding during the fireworks because the train would stop in place.

Melissa said...

It's too bad we never got Thunder Mesa as originally planned here on the East Coast; it seems like it would have combines the charm of the Mine Train with the excitement of BTMRR.


There were proposals at one time to re-do The Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland in the early 70’s. Marc Davis did many concepts for this - some were to re-theme the area into a more northern woods and Yellowstone area - this version featured a “fake” snow valley with railroad “snow sheds” this was a way to actually help protect the track from moisture that was causing the little locomotives to slip on inclines. (Sand had to be dumped on to the rails in various sections to in crease traction in the rides “later years”)


A reason for this “snow” and “Yellowstone” re-theming theming was that up until about 1976 there were still serious plans of extending a new desert area that connected a new passageway from FRONTIERLAND to FANTASYLAND - this passageway would have cut thru the area where the Fantasyland Theater is today. Starting to the west of It’s a Small World was proposed a FANTASIA attraction (an indoor attraction )continuing west and to the left of FANTASIA was a proposed JOURNEY TO THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD ( pre discovery bay) ..... then at the end of this passageway in the expanded Frontierland was planed the Disneyland WESTERN RIVER EXPEDITION. This was still being planned for that location until about 1975.

A Marc Davis proposal for a revamp for Natures Wonderland prior to that included a earthquake and an avalanche tunnel, a bear cave , and a section where the passenger ore cars break away from the locomotive and go into a dangerous section of the mine -later the-connecting with the engineer and locomotive. Was this series of drawings by Marc Davis the beginnings of Big Thunder Runnaway Railroad???

I love Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but too miss Natures Wonderland however has Natures Wonderland ever survives the Paul Pressler /Eisner regime .... the attraction would have Pixar characters and elements “barffed” all over it!!

Nanook said...

@ Mike Cozart-

"...barfed all over it". Unfortunately, that's exactly right.

Matthew said...

@ Mike Cozart -

WOW! Great additions to today's post. Thanks for sharing my friend!

Always your pal,

Major Pepperidge said...

MRaymond, yeah, I’m just not crazy about running a rollercoaster through the Living Desert. Maybe if they had run it past Cascade Peak, that landmark would have received a little TLC and not been torn down.

Melissa, I agree, Thunder Mesa would have been one of the most amazing attractions in the Magic Kingdom!

Mike Cozart, how interesting. In a way, they already had the geysers, so I’m not sure how else they would have done a “Yellowstone” area. Northern woods also sounds kind of cool. I’d rather have the ride with some changes than not have it at all.

Mike Cozart II, OH MAN, you mean they would have made the train trip even longer? Now that I approve of! Instead we got that ugly theater. Ha ha, I see that here was yet another try for Tony B. to shoehorn the airship from “Island At the Top of the World” into the park! Man, he loved that thing. How in the world would they have achieved the breakaway mine cars for a rollercoaster area? It sounds cool, but maybe dangerous too? It does make one wonder what would have happened to the attraction had it survived. I mean, they’re going to add Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to the Jungle Cruise. I like The Rock, but leave our Jungle Cruise alone!

Nanook, yep.

Matthew, I am always glad when Mike adds more of his vast knowledge.


The real “death knell” for Natures Wonderland was actually set early on... mainly because of Walt Disney World. After the Florida park opened ( or was about to open) Disneyland was going to get TWO Florida designed attractions . The first was to be a “easy instal “ attraction and WED basically let Disneyland pick from THE MICKEY MOUSE REVUE, COUNTRY BEAR JAMBOREE or HALL OF PRESIDENTS. A LIBERTY SQUARE land was proposed to go between Frontierland and Fantasyland removing the Carnation Gardens and a BIG chunk of the area entrance of the Mine Train. But at this time the next big attraction set to open by 1975/76 from for the back or Frontierland ( from Disneyland second BIG attraction WDW pick ) was The Western River Expedition .

Disneyland chose Bear Country Jamboree fir the first “quick addition” and decided because of design delays for WDW’s Western River passed on the Liberty Square addition ( the 1972 version) because they felt too many the-arrangements were going to be needed.and then picked Space Mountain.
Once Florida’s Space Mountain opened with success , and the Florida “Thunder Mountain Runaway Railroad” was greenlighted Disneyland wanted Big Thunder at Disneyland . The space where the “on hold” Western River- Thunder Mesa was to go became up for grabs and that’s when Tony Baxter developed Discovery Bay....which was for the most part greenlighted and scheduled for Disneyland’s 25th in 1980..... but there was no access to the area for Discovery Bay so Big Thunder got moved ahead to help give access to Discovery Bay. And Natures Wonderland - having already kinda been on the chopping block was CHOPPED. After Big Thunder Discovery Bay was then given the green light again - but a New Fantasyland that was on drawing boards since about 1973 to have a Pinocchio’s Village .. was re-evaluated because a former Disneyland Ambassador- now an Imagineer, proposed a way to build the new Fantasyland by using architectural elements of EPCOTS World Showcase building and duplicating the parts to use in a New Fantasyland . ( yup! Most of the European charm the 1983 New Fantasyland comes from EPCOTS Italy, France, Germany and United Kingdom pavilions.
And after New Fantasyland put Discovery Bay on the back burner - Eisner came in and put Discovery Bay on the back-back-back burner then into a freezer.

It’s so interesting how Disneyland’s master expansion plans change all the time and sometime drastically all to add a single attraction or remove one.

Melissa said...

"Most of the European charm the 1983 New Fantasyland comes from EPCOTS Italy, France, Germany and United Kingdom pavilions."

I love that the TV spots for Werther's Original candy are filmed at the caramel shop in EPCOT'S Germany pavilion. You can't get that European charm in Europe!

TokyoMagic! said...

Mike Cozart, I remember going into the "Preview of Future Attractions" space (or whatever it was called at that time) on Main St. and seeing a large map of the park on the wall, with the Fantasia, Island At the Top of the World and Western River Expedition attractions labeled on it. I think the same map also had The Hall of Presidents on it, as well as the pre-New Fantasyland Pinocchio Village and Pinocchio dark ride. I also want to say that there was a proposed Chinatown labeled on the map. Was that still a proposed addition in the mid-1970's?

TokyoMagic! said...

Oh and Major and Mike, you are right about the Pixar and Xmas overlays that probably would have been done to the attraction, if it had survived all these years. I can just see a Nature's (Winter) Wonderland overlay with wrapping paper and bows strewn about the desert like the "trash" they dump into the Jungle Cruise river for the holidays. For the current Pixar Crap Fest, they most certainly would have shoehorned Jessie, Woody and Bullseye into the ride. And I just bet Disney would have added Johnny Depp as Tonto, at the time The Lone Ranger was released. May the Mine Train thru Nature's Wonderland rest in peace without having to suffer any of those indignities.