Saturday, September 05, 2009
Bob Weaver Remembers Nature's Wonderland, Pt. 4
Today marks the publication of Part Four of Bob's Nature's Wonderland attraction memories; we’re actually on the train beginning our journey!
The Mine Train ride began with the train entering a tunnel between the buildings of Rainbow Ridge. There was the obligatory warning by the narrator to remain seated and keep your hands and arms inside at all times ("the animals get mighty hungry") and for some reason on this attraction there was also a no-smoking warning. At the time the narration was recorded, smoking was a lot more popular among Americans than it is now. I guess there was a possibility of a discarded cigarette starting a fire among the very real vegetation througout the journey. The narrator said we would be seeing a lot of wildlife, so we should "keep a real sharp hunter's eye." That statement confused me as a kid: was that some sort of tool we were supposed to have and why wasn't I given one?
On exiting the tunnel the train entered Beaver Valley, which had a little pond and there were beavers building a dam. I should mention that none of the animals seen on the attraction were real; they were all "audio-animatronic" or mostly just "animatronic" because they made no sounds. There were never any real animals unless they were wild and happened to take up residence there, such as the birds in the trees or whatever. In my opinion, the animals were actually pretty well-done and realistic looking - but nobody was ever fooled into thinking that they were live animals. The awkward, mechanical motions they made were the giveaways. Even little kids realized they were fake, but we all played along with it anyway. For me, the fake animals were never the real stars of the show, anyway. The real stars for me were the environments and water features. When we passed some marmots above the next tunnel, peeking up from rocks at the train, the narrator said they "must be a-whistlin' to all you pretty gals." This usually elicited an embarrassed giggle from any young women that happened to be on the train at that time.
Next the train meandered over to the Cascade Peak area, which was a beautiful mountain with huge waterfalls flowing down it. It was a very impressive achievement in and of itself. Kind of like the Matterhorn's "little brother" but with more waterfalls. The train went behind one large, wide waterfall and then in front of another waterfall that had multiple drops including the "twin sisters" as the nearest to the train. The walls of water were very close to the train, and sound of the water was thunderous. Massive amounts of water were constantly flowing, all day long. They must have turned it off at night to save on the electricity used by the pumps. Some adults could reach and just barely touch the water if they tried hard, but kids' arms weren't long enough. I guess the reaching for the water
wasn't enough of a violation of the "keep your hands and arms inside" rule to make the train come to a stop. The narrator called one of the falls "Twin Sisters, cause they're always babblin." That usually evoked a polite chuckle from the grandparents, while the kids were still mesmerized by the powerful sheets of water seemingly inches away from our reach.
As the train went around Cascade Peak, there was a fine view of one side of Tom Sawyer Island, across the Rivers of America. You might also see one of the many watercraft that went around the Rivers, such as the canoes, the keel boats, the Mark Twain or the Columbia; wave to the people on any of these and see if they wave back, or wave to the people on Tom Sawyer Island and see if any wave back. Behold Walt Disney's dream, fully realized, landscaped and populated with guests.
Then the train entered another tunnel and came out into the Bear River part of the attraction (this is sometimes referred to as "Bear Country" in some articles. Deepening the confusion, there was also a land in Disneyland called Bear Country, which is now called Critter Country). Immediately after coming out of the tunnel the train crossed a trestle built over a small lake. The trestle was designed to look rickety, with beams at odd angles, and to a kid it seemed really high above the water. It was probably only about 20 feet but it seemed like the water was a long way down. When you were on the trestle, if you were a kid, you couldn't see the track below you, just the green water. If you looked over the edge of the car you could see the track, but it was too scary to look over. In addition there were 2 small platforms on one side of the bridge, with large red barrels marked TNT or something. The narrator didn't mention those, but told us to sit real still, because "No tellin' how long she's gonna last." That was absolutely the last thing I wanted to hear at that moment, and it was always a profound relief when the train left the trestle and went onto solid ground again. In the river below the trestle were 3 sets of bears: one with a fish in its mouth, a group of 3 bears off to the side, and one scratching its back against a tree. There was also another bear over by itself standing up. Sometimes you would see fish jump out of the water (fake fish) but none of those mattered to me. All I wanted was for the train to get off that damned bridge. The bear pond was a pretty neat area, though, with the jumping fish and all that. By that point you were deep into the attraction; so deep in fact that you had forgotten all about the long drive to get there, the parking lot, the ticket books, the long walks, the waiting lines... all of that stuff was forgotten and you were totally immersed in the Disneyland experience.
The narrator made a joke about two elk who were in a conflict over a female elk, "Does gittin' two women-folk mean yer the winner or the loser?" to which women on the ride would usually go "Ohhh..." or "Boo!" and at that point it became clear the narrator was quite the misogynist. I don't think the script for this attraction would be the same if it were being written today.
Visitors to Disneyland today can still see a damaged portion of Bear River, along the walkway that connects Frontierland to Fantasyland. The opening of the tunnel is seen along with a remnant of the kid-terrifying trestle. The water is now a murky bright green, though, nothing like it was during the ride's heyday. It's either pond scum or they dumped some green coloring in it. Pretty ugly compared to the natural-looking state it was in during the attraction's lifetime. However the jumping fish are still seen sporadically.
See more Nature's Wonderland photos at my website.