May 28, 1960
On this day in 1960, the "E" Ticket Disneyland attraction opened to the public after it's major expansion from it's previous incarnation, The Rainbow Caverns Mine Train. For those who don't know what the Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland was, it was an upgrade from it's former self, the Rainbow Caverns Mine train, which opened in 1956. The attraction covered a very large chunk of Frontierland and featured over 200 Audio-Animatronics and featured themes and scenery from Walt Disney's popular True-Life adventure films. As guests board one of 4 battery powered faux steam locomotive trains, they passed by the sprawling town of Rainbow Ridge which also served as the loading area for the pack mule attraction. From there the guests were treated to views of Beaver Valley, Cascade Peak, Bear Country (not the land known as Critter Country today) the Living Desert, Cactus Forest, Balancing Rock Canyon, and the magnificent Rainbow Caverns. It existed until 1977 when it was torn out for a higher speed mine train ride-- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
To this day, it still boggles me why I even have an interest in the attraction, let alone reserching the subject for a half a decade. I was born way too late to experience it. After hearing about a "Rainbow train ride" from my grandfather when I was little, I was intrigued by this attraction and wanted to know more about it. It wasn't until the internet where my knowledge about the attraction grew rapidly. I think it was the large variety of elements that grabbed me, some new and never before seen and others done in a new way. This ride had western towns, mountains, tunnels, hills, deserts, sandstone rocks, trestles, lakes, ponds, rivers, glowing caverns, geysers, mud pots, dinosaur bones, jiggling rocks, a variety of animals, it had trains, and it was a Disney ride.
It's a shame such an example of one of Walt Disney greatest attractions is not around anymore, it was the victim of progress. Hopefully, someday, it can be resurrected in some form. But for now, for some it'll remain in the memories, for many (like myself) it'll be preserved in countless photos and stories told by older relatives.
The last word in the attraction name sums it up well; it truly was a land of wonders that inspired the imagination and continues to today.
But what's left of this attraction? I pooled together all of my research and created this map that shows where many of the features and nods from the attraction are today. Of course, there are quite a few more, but these are the major ones.
All photo credits go to their respective owners.