“Westerns” were a cultural juggernaut when I was a boy. While it’s difficult for younger people to imagine today, walking through the wooden stockade gates into Frontierland back then felt like a really big deal. It was thrilling, and not “quaint” at all.

The Wild West was just across this bridge - Frontierland
The Wild West was just across this bridge – Note the “Davy Crockett Frontier Arcade”

In those days, the shops in Disneyland carried unique and “land-specific” items that could only be found where they were thematically appropriate. Sitting on my desk is a small (but heavy) piece of that early Frontierland history. I have a very distinct memory of being smitten with a piece of “fool’s gold” or iron pyrite that was for sale in “The Frontier Rock Shop.” This was in the Davy Crockett Frontier Arcade, located where the Pioneer Mercantile sits today. I can still see the glass showcase that held these gleaming metal treasures (which I believed had been mined right there in Disneyland).

Today's "Pioneer Mercantile" - Same spot, different merchandise :(
Today’s “Pioneer Mercantile” – Same spot, different merchandise…

This memory is viewed in my mind’s eye from about the height I would have been in 1973. I was so excited to have the fool’s gold, and the moment that I chose it remains one of those anchors of joy that will hold my heart fixed to “The Park” forever. The constant presence in my life of this shiny little block of metal is testimony to the fact that I didn’t fail to respect every early keepsake from Disneyland. It has adorned my desk since I first brought it home, and it’s so much better in many ways than any photograph could ever be.

My little piece of Frontierland history - No "Disney Parks" logo here...sigh...
My little piece of Frontierland history – No “Disney Parks” logo here…(sigh of contentment).

When I glance down at it, it’s like a tiny movie projector that plays images of…The great Wally Boag, comic star of the Golden Horseshoe Revue, spitting an endless supply of “teeth” from the stage of the Saloon…

The unforgettable Wally Boag (with pistol) is joined by Betty Taylor & Donald Novis on the stage of the Golden Horshoe Saloon
The unforgettable Wally Boag (with pistol) is joined by Betty Taylor & Donald Novis in the Golden Horsehoe Saloon.

…The sound and beauty of the “Big Thunder” waterfall roaring from Cascade Peak as I cruise by on the top deck of a Keel Boat…

A Mike Fink Keel Boat cruises the Rivers Of America past Cascade Peak
A Mike Fink Keel Boat cruises the Rivers Of America past Cascade Peak.

…My view through a gun port as I “fire” my rifle from a tower of Fort Wilderness on Tom Sawyer Island…

Soldier trains a "young 'un" to defend the Fort.
Soldier trains a “young ‘un” to defend the Fort.

…The panoramic views of Nature’s Wonderland as seen from the saddle of my pack mule…

Kids head out to Nature's Wonderland on their trusty Pack Mules.
Kids head out to Nature’s Wonderland on their trusty Pack Mules.

…Or the incredible otherworldly beauty of Rainbow Caverns as observed from an ore car on the Mine Train…

NO photo has ever done the Rainbow Caverns justice. It was indecribeably beautiful.
NO photo has ever done the Rainbow Caverns justice. It was indescribably beautiful.

All of these wonderful Frontierland experiences have one thing in common…they’re gone. But thankfully not all of the early Frontierland of Walt’s original park is gone. The canoes are still there, and the fact that we can paddle one today is a great gift that we should never fail to appreciate. It is genuinely an attraction “out of time” that I feel might be more true to Walt’s original vision of Frontierland than any other that remains.

Happy canoe paddlers. (Photographers take note: Vicky shot this one and it's completely unmodified - straight from the SD card)
Happy canoe paddlers. (Photog’s take note: Vicky shot this one, and it’s completely unmodified – straight from the SD card!).

Vicky and I never miss an opportunity to paddle the river, and I savor every “oar-collision” caused by a clumsy nearby child with no sense of timing. Who knows when the “bubble-wrap-the-world” set will find a way to rob us of this beautiful experience that has been shared by moms and dads and kids and sweethearts since July 4th, 1956. The adventure is likely to be even better when the Rivers Of America re-open (Walt’s spirit willing…) after the addition of the new show scenes and waterfalls at the “wilderness” end of the river brought about by the Star Wars alterations.

Sleeping canoes rest for night, dreaming of happy park guests paddling into the wolderness on the Rivers Of America.
Sleeping canoes rest for the night, dreaming of happy park guests paddling into the wilderness on the Rivers Of America.

Imagine! What could be better than to see them for the first time from your canoe as the Mark Twain Riverboat and the trains of the Disneyland Railroad both steam by? So the next time you’re in Disneyland, remember to just keep walking past the stately Mark Twain towards Critter Country. Take the time to head down to the canoe dock and grab a paddle to help propel one of these beautiful canoes around the Rivers Of America. We all share a real opportunity – no, a responsibility – to participate in protecting this 60 year old attraction for the enjoyment of future generations. The more we paddle, the better the chances are that the canoes will remain in the years to come to link us to “Walt’s” Frontierland.

Please join us again for a Stroll Through Disneyland when we explore, among other things, the genius of Rolly Crump, and the future that never was. Happy paddling!

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Fox Hill is a writer and photographer with a lifelong love of The Happiest Place On Earth. Fox has been visiting Disneyland since the 1960's and despite living far away, he often spends a month out of any given year at the resort. While Fox and his wife Vicky are keen travelers, they share a special love for Disneyland that has only grown through the decades that they have been visiting "The Park" together. A strong desire to know more about the history of Walt Disney's original theme park has only deepened their interest and enjoyment. Fox hopes to share his journey of discovery with you through this column. Fox and Vicky Hill currently live in Western Canada but their hearts never stray far from Snow White's Wishing Well. Fox is the writer of EatingTourists.net - a blog about travel and food.