Frontierland is where you get to relive your childhood memories of being a cowboy or cowgirl in the wild west. Where coon skin hats are still in fashion and you can board a riverboat for a trip around the Rivers of America.
Frontierland was one of the original lands on opening day and was described by Walt as a place where we can “…… experience the story of our country’s past. The color, romance and drama of frontier America as it developed from wilderness trails to roads, riverboats, railroads and civilization. A tribute to the faith, courage and ingenuity of our hearty pioneers who blaze the trails and made this progress possible.”
First stop in Frontierland for me has always been Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Legend has it that after gold was first discovered here in the 1850’s a mining company was established, but eerie things started to happen. Strange sounds were heard, equipment failed, cave-ins happened frequently, and trains would take off through the mountain driverless. Once word got out that the mountain was haunted, the town of Big Thunder was abandoned and became another ghost town.
Eventually, the stories were forgotten and a new mining company was established and started mining again. They will soon discover why the town was abandoned so long ago.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opened in 1979 and was Disney’s first ride that utilized computer-aided design. Disneyland’s Thunder Mountain’s rock designs are based on the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
Rainbow Caverns Mine Train (later called Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland) transported guests around Frontierland from 1956 to 1977 and several tributes to the predecessors can be found throughout your ride.
The little old west town that can be seen from the queue and at the end of your ride was once called Rainbow Ridge and used to overlook the old loading platform. The town has now be renamed to Big Thunder.
Entering the queue you will wind through narrow rock walls and see a series of Wild West themed items such as a water cranking machine.
Walk up some stairs into a wooden shack where you will board a 5-car locomotive and get ready for a rip roarin’ good time!
Your locomotive hurls forward into a darkened tunnel where bats can be seen and heard. You then fly past a serious of rainbow colored caverns, another tribute to the previous attraction.
As your locomotive makes the dangerous climb up hill you can see all the mining tools that have been hastily left behind.
After you plunge down the hill and make a few quick turns, you start to climb your second hill. This is where you start to see warning signs of blasting up ahead and a goat that makes me very nervous.
You then fly all around the mountain going up, down, turning left, then right. You are also reminded that the mine was quickly abandoned as you pass deserted mine cars.
Continuing darting through the mountain you find yourself inside a cave full of dynamite where a fire has just started.
Surviving the blast you drop down under a booming waterfall, passing through the ribcage of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and splash through Dinosaur Gap.
As your train makes its way back into the station you get a closer look at the town of Big Thunder.
It’s now time to board a log raft to discover hidden caves and long lost treasure at Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer’s Island.
Tom Sawyer’s Island is the only attraction at Disneyland that Walt Disney designed himself. Walt, being unsatisfied with the plans days before construction was due to start, took the plans home and re-imagined the landscape design, creating the inlets, coves and overall shape that the island is known for today.
In 2007 the island received a huge overhaul and was renamed Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer’s Island.
Board your log raft and enjoy a smooth crossing over the Rivers of America.
Once you have made it to the Island you really get a sense of isolation from the rest of the park. It really is a great place to take a break from the crowds and find a bench for some great people watching.
Now you have to make the most difficult decision you will have to make while on the island: which way to go?
Once you have figured that out, the real adventure begins.
You could start off with Lafitte’s Tavern also known as Pirates Point.
Take a moment to take in the amazing views of New Orleans Square.
This is also were the popular night time show Fantasmic! takes place.
There are many cave entrances that are just taunting you to enter them and regardless of the warnings you can’t help but go inside.
Dead Man’s Grotto seems like the perfect cave to start our exploring.
This cavern is haunted by ghastly apparitions, a cursed pirate prisoner, and cursed treasure. You may even see the chest that holds the heart of Davy Jones.
If you have found your way out without being cursed yourself, you will probably find yourself near Smuggler’s Cove. Smuggler’s Cove is the site of the wreck of a small sailing vessel which was carrying a booty full of pirate loot.
Brave a crossing on the old suspension bridge to make it to the interactive part of the Cove.
Once you have made it onto the Cove there are several things to keep your children and your inner child occupied.
You can take a picture inside the replica of the bone cage from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Utilized the bilge pumps to pump out some of the water from a flooded ship to reveal skeletons of long-dead pirates still guarding their treasure in their watery grave.
If you are feeling a little daring take a walk across the pontoon bridge. You will definitely rock and sway on this bridge but beware not to get to carried away or you will get wet!
There is even a shipwreck on the island that you can explore around in.
Of course a pirates island wouldn’t be complete without a huge mound of treasure! I also hear that Captain Jack Sparrow can be found here, probably keeping a close eye on his treasure.
A very fond memory from my childhood is Fort Wilderness. Although this one is a replica of the original and you can no longer play inside, I’m still glad that they kept the Fort on the island.
Once you have finished exploring the island but aren’t quite ready to give up life on the river then it might be a good time to take a relaxing cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat.
The Mark Twain Riverboat was an original attraction from 1955 and opened 4 days after opening day and it was the first functional riverboat to be built in the United States in fifty years.
The 105-foot-long vessel is a working reproduction of the historic vessels that ferried people up and down the mighty Mississippi. An actual working steam engine converts the water from the Rivers of America into steam that in turn powers the large paddle that propels the boat.
Walt named the riverboat after the pen name of one of his personal heros, Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Clemens was a riverboat pilot as a young man and that experience inspired his pen name: “mark twain” is a riverboat term that means a vessel is at a safe depth.
Board the riverboat and cast off for a fourteen minute journey around the Rivers of America.
The Mark Twain is comprised of four decks three of which can be explored by passengers.
The top deck is the pilothouse and this is where you will find the riverboat’s captain. I have heard that occasionally the captain will allow a few passengers to ride with him in the wheelhouse.
The third deck is the Promenade Deck which includes a salon and and a collection of vintage photos and maps.
The second deck is the Texas (Sun) Deck and the first deck is the Main Deck which includes the boiler and pistons that run the paddlewheel. The Main Deck is my favorite place to sit at the helm, catch some sun, and enjoy the passing views.
There are several sights to see on your tour around the Rivers of America.
You will see lots of different animals in their natural habitats.
One of the original Mike Fink Keel boats from Disneyland’s old attraction can be found along the river.
Right pass the Gullywhumper is the former “Burning Settler’s Cabin.” Propane was used to simulate a burning cabin but in the early 2000’s the burner that fed the propane failed and was never replaced. Now it is just known as a rustic cabin of the frontier era.
Don’t be scared of the Indians that you will come across. I have been told they are from a friendly tribe.
Along the way, you get to listen to a lively narration by iconic Mark Twain as he details a time when traveling was as much about new discoveries as it was about transportation.
If you still haven’t had enough of the wonders of the Rivers of America, then as soon as you disembark from the Mark Twain head straight back for the queue and wait for the Sailing Ship Columbia for a different kind of journey.
The Sailing Ship Columbia is a full-scale replica of Columbia Rediviva, the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe. When the ship was constructed in 1958 it was the first three-masted barque to have been built in the United States in more than 100 years.
It took the original Columbia 3 years to sail around the world, but your voyage will only take about 15 minutes. The same route is taken as the Mark Twain, but there is a lot more to explore on this sailing ship.
Head below deck to find a historical recreation of the living conditions of eighteenth century sailors.
Make your way back to the top to continue your exploration of the ship.
There are ten cannons and two deck-mounted swivel guns on the ship and during your trip a crew member will actually fire one of the cannons.
There really isn’t anywhere to sit on the Columbia but there is one area up front that you can sit on some wooden containers, just beware the one that is right under the bell.
You can spend half your day here in Frontierland enjoying the rivers and exploring Tom Sawyer’s Island. Make sure to leave plenty of time to let your cowboy and cowgirl out to play.
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