Hey everyone. You may have noticed a reduction in posts on Wander In Disney, a lot of things have been going on. For me personally, my Disney College Program was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and I was forced to move back home to Washington. While that makes some of these posts bittersweet to write, my love for Disney is as strong as ever. I hope you all are doing well in these strange times.
If you’re a Disney lover you know that Disney loves to pay attention to detail. The immersion into story is blatantly evident in their newer lands and rides, such as in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but I think these new attractions are overshadowing the detail hidden in some of Disney’s older creations.
Today I want to tell you about Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, one of Disney’s bigger attractions located in Frontierland. There are four different versions of Big Thunder: One at Disneyland, one in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, one at Disneyland Paris, and one at Tokyo Disneyland.
Since I was a Disneyland Cast Member, I had plenty of time to learn about this family roller coaster, and decided to do some digging into the story of the attraction. With that said, the story of Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain may differ from that of the other park’s attractions. I know for a fact that Disneyland Paris’s Big Thunder is set in their version of Frontierland which has a completely different story (and connects with their version of The Haunted Mansion!)
In my search to learn all of the secrets of this runaway mine train ride, I spent time walking around Frontierland. The land is themed towards the American Southwest, and in my opinion is the prettiest land in the park (sorry Star Wars fans). With the beautiful red rock of the mountain against the Rivers Of America, it’s kind of hard to not be in awe if you’re taking the time to admire it all.
The setting of Big Thunder is in the city of Rainbow Ridge, a small town that grew quickly when gold was found within Big Thunder Mountain. You can see the theming of Frontierland hint towards this town in mulitple places, especially back on Big Thunder Trail.
For sourcing, the story I am telling you came from a Cast Member I spoke to at Big Thunder’s exit. After telling the story, she said I was the first person who has ever asked about Big Thunder in the 6 years she’d worked there.
Once the gold was found, miners started using pick axes and other hand tools to get to the gold. Little did the townspeople or workers know, Big Thunder Mountain is actually the location of an ancient Indian burial ground, and the destruction of the mountain by the miners displeased the spirits.
The miners then decided that the hand tools weren’t working well enough, and that they could get rich faster with a different method: explosives. Thus, the miners started blowing up sections of the mountain. This was two much for the Indian ancestors, who decided to fight back against the miners and townsfolk.
Accidents started occurring at the Big Thunder Mountain Mining Co., with explosives blowing up on their own and mine trains running all by themselves. Big Thunder is the only attraction that has ‘trains’ that aren’t driven by a person. The Disneyland Railroad and the Casey Jr. Circus Train are both conducted by Cast Members!
I was surprised to learn that Big Thunder was an ancient Indian burial ground, and I asked how that was shown in the theming. The Cast Member I spoke to said if you listen closely you can hear them chanting in some of the ride scenes. After being told this, I rode the ride and listened for these sounds. The only thing I heard that is evidence of this is the sounds of banging drums in the very first scene as you pass the bats by the rainbow pools.
It’s not like you can hear a lot in that ride anyway, pretty quiet don’t you think?
After mining became too dangerous because of the spirit’s anger, the mining company and the town of Rainbow Ridge was abandoned. That’s why there are animals crawling all over Big Thunder, because there are no people to scare them away!
The townsfolk left in a rush, so all of the materials and equipment the miners used were left scattered around the mountain. You can also find abandoned tools and even a wagon up in Big Thunder Trail, deserted by its former inhabitant, Jason Chandler.
My real question is who is this Jason Chandler, what was he doing, and where did he go??
That is not quite the end of Big Thunder Mountain’s story. Over time, the spirits calmed down, and became less angry. Then, the Cast Members enter the picture! It turns out that the Cast Members were able to reach an agreement with the spirits, and Big Thunder Mining Co. is now home to a touring operation.
The Cast Members invite Disneyland’s guests to tour the abandoned mine, and the ghosts do their part by pulling the trains along the track and showing off their TNT skills!
You may have known all of Big Thunder’s details, but I had no idea the plot of the attraction went this deep until I scrutinized the area and talked to the (very kind and helpful) Cast Member (so sorry I forgot your name). There are so many more small details in the land and the ride that help bring this story to life, but there isn’t enough time to describe them all.
Detail like this is everywhere in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and I think guests often speed through areas because they’re on a vacation time crunch. I implore you to take some time during your vacation to slow down and enjoy the effort Imagineers put into each and every crevasse of that park (except Toontown.. sorry).
Do you know other facts about Big Thunder or other areas of Disney parks? Let us know, along with any questions you might have, in the comments below. Planning a trip to a Disney Resort? Check out our planning guides to help you along the way. If you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages which you can find on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!