Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Trains are a recurring theme throughout the Disney parks both as people movers and as popular attractions. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad made its debut at Disneyland’s Frontierland in 1979, replacing the D-ticket Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland. A crashed Mine Train locomotive remains at the base of the mountain as an authentic prop and as a reminder of the long extinct attraction. The little town at the base of the Railroad called Big Thunder was once part of Rainbow Bridge, the original departure point of the Mine Train, and now represents a ghost town of the post 1849 gold rush era.The Disneyland attraction was derived from a ride planned for Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The Western River Expedition, designed by Marc Davis, was to be a boat ride through the American West with hiking trails and pack mules. It was to feature a runaway mine train and was to be housed in a large complex called Thunder Mesa. Though Disney World did receive its own Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the attraction was installed at Disneyland first.

While they have a similar appearance, the two Mountains are modeled after separate natural landforms. Anaheim’s is based on Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park’s eroded red rock striations. Orlando’s resembles Utah’s Monument Valley and is more angular and earthy toned. Both, however, feature trains by the names I.M. Brave, U.B. Bold, I.B. Hearty, and I.M. Fearless (Orlando has two additional: U.R. Daring, U.R. Courageous), descriptive of passengers aboard the “wildest ride in the wilderness,” which reaches speeds of 25-30 mph matching that of the monorail.

The wrecked Mine Train is not the only relic of days gone by. Imagineers themed Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with actual gold mining tools such as a 1,200-pound cogwheel, a hand-powered drill press, ore cars, barrels, and an 1880 stamp mill. They landscaped the two-acre site with sagebrush and pine to complete the setting. The Mountain rises 104 feet in the air and contains 2,671 feet of track.

Today’s Takeaway:
Pan for gold!
Susan K. Marlow, author of the Circle C Adventure Series, shared some simple steps for panning for gold. She is pictured here with her son and grandson panning for real gold in North Carolina at the first gold mine in the United States. 


Gold Panning How-to:
Purchase some “fools gold” (iron pyrite, which you can buy inexpensively at any rock-lovers store or hobby shop). You may need to break it up into small pieces, then mix it with sand and gravel. Don’t break it too small, though, or it may slosh away when it’s sifted. Fill a trough with water and dump the sand/gravel/fool’s gold mixture into the bottom of the trough. A plastic dishpan would work just fine.Follow the steps below to reveal your treasure:
  1. Find a pan—anything with sloping sides will work.
  2. Choose a likely location—a nearby creek would seem natural or just your backyard.
  3. Fill your pan with sand and/or gravel.
  4. Dip your pan into the creek, or pour water into the pan. If doing this at home, use ICE COLD water to get a sense of the real joy of panning in a mountain creek.
  5. Shake the pan in a sideways, back-and-forth manner. The gold will now start to settle to the bottom of the pan.
  6. After a couple minutes of shaking, pick out the bigger rocks that are getting separated. Make sure than you don’t throw away any nuggets!
  7. Tilt your pan away from you a bit and start letting gravel fall out. Remember, the gold is rapidly settling to the bottom of the pan now.
  8. Add water as necessary to keep a good “soupy” gravel mixture—it helps the gold settle.
  9. Keep tilting the pan more and more, and letting the gravel on top fall over the side. The bottom of the pan should always be lower than the lip of the pan, though, or the gold will fall out.
  10. As you get to the last bit of sand in your pan, adding a circular motion to your shaking will make the gold separation more obvious—not more effective, but more fun to watch.
  11. The last bit of sand takes care, and is the slowest part – as long as you don’t tip your pan too far, though, the gold will stay in the pan. The traditional declaration of success is “Bonanza!”
  12. Get a small glass container.
  13. Put your gold into the container – it will stick to your finger in the pan, then wash it off into the container.
  14. Display the container on your mantel to impress the neighbors!
  15. Repeat as needed.
Susan’s Circle C Adventures stories track the escapades of a teenage girl and her friends in 1880s California and are geared toward the middle grades. The latest Circle C Adventure (5th in the series), Trouble with Treasure, takes Andi Carter on a gold panning quest following a map of old gold diggings. If you are in a gold-rich region and can pan for real gold, just remember Andi Carter’s advice to her friend Jenny to look for a quiet bend in the creek where gold might have washed up. Gold is heavier than other minerals and should remain in the pan when the dirt and rocks wash away. You may see only a flake or seed-sized nugget, so look carefully.
You can find more about Susan and her books at Visit this link to read a review of Trouble with Treasure. Thank you for sharing with us today, Susan!
Here are a few pics of my younger two Magical Mouse Schoolhouse students panning for gold in a creek near our home [pyrite/gold not native to this creek ;)] .

SKILL LEVEL: Elementary


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  • Kel

    Looks like fun! We did that once with our kids and they really thought they had found gold!

  • Jodi Whisenhunt

    We did have a good time! They saw me “plant” to treasure, but it was still exciting to discover it in the muck.