Look Closer: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland Park

Erin Glover

by , Director, Publicity, Walt Disney Animation Studios

Last month, we took a closer look at Indiana Jones Adventure to see some of the immersive details that are often missed at this Disneyland park favorite. This month, let’s hop aboard the wildest ride in the wilderness! Located in the heart of Frontierland, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was inspired by the stunning landscapes of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, and it’s full of western lore and references to Disney history.

Rainbow Ridge wooden sign on Big Thunder Railroad

At the attraction’s entrance, a sign welcomes travelers to the little town of Rainbow Ridge. If you take a closer look, you see that the sign illustrates how Rainbow Ridge went from prosperous to a ghost town. Legend has it that when the gold-searching citizens became greedy, mysterious things started to occur around the mountain, like trains moving on their own!

Wooden sign post pointing to the four Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attractions around the world

Continuing your way up to the train, you see a sign post pointing you to the four Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attractions around the world. Each mountain has its own unique personality and is inspired by red rock formations throughout the American Southwest. By looking at this sign, can you match the town to the Disney Park where it’s located?

A horseshoe branded into a wood post, one of five placed around the mountain to help bring luck to the caverns

Since miners are a superstitious lot, there are five horseshoes placed around the mountain to help bring luck to the eerie caverns. You can find four of the horseshoes hanging right-side-up throughout the loading station which, according to western lore, will collect good luck. However, just before passengers begin their last ascent into a cavern filled with dynamite, they are forewarned of the danger ahead with an upside-down horseshoe signifying bad luck!

As you finish your journey and pass the town of Rainbow Ridge one last time, try to catch a glimpse of a familiar face in one of the store fronts. Do you know who it is? Leave your answer in the comments!

A notice signed by Willard P. Bounds, U.S. Marshall,   an actual a blacksmith and U.S. Marshall in Idaho.

One of my favorite hidden reference lies in plain sight at the attraction’s entrance. There you will find a notice signed by Willard P. Bounds, U.S. Marshall. This is a tribute to Lillian Disney’s father, who was a blacksmith and U.S. Marshall in Idaho.

Do you have a favorite Disneyland Resort attraction or location with subtle historical references or storytelling elements? Let us know in the comments which one you think should be featured next month!


  • I was there the day a large film crew was filming the original commercial for BTMRR! I was probably nine at the time. Remember eating at Casa de Fritos, where we were able to watch the HORDES of cameras that were deployed all over the attraction to try and capture the trains, which they kept running and running and running. I remember feeling sorry for the riders, who must’ve gone through twenty times while we watched.

    Any images of this day in your vaults?

  • Wonderful story! My only question is who does the voice for the “…Wildest Ride in the Wilderness!”?

  • I did some digging around (pun intended) on the web and found a reference to the abandoned town in the Tokyo Disneyland version as being named Dry Gulch.

    Can you confirm if that’s correct? I thought there might not be another chance to get a definitive answer. Thank you.

  • What a great post, Erin! I love learning the back stories of the attractions, as well as cool, little known facts. Thanks!

  • Great series, Erin! I love the articles about the ‘E’ ticket rides at Disneyland.

    At the same time, it would be great to occasionally feature in future articles less popular so-called “hidden gems” like the Storybook Canal Boats, Tom Sawyer’s Island, or the Enchanted Tiki Room.

  • Both the Thunder Mesa (Paris) and Grizzly Gulch (Hong Kong) locations use the metric system.
    It’s just providing a little reference to their locations.
    Maybe one day Rainbow Ridge will be only 23 meters away.
    Mark, Australia

  • Hi,Erin! The answer of your question is Burnabas T Bullion! His portrait in the hotel of rainbow ridge. I found it last time I visited and was sooo exited!! But now I have question, how is he related to rainbow ridge? Is this from the comic Bigthunder mountain from marvel’s magickingdoms? other S.E.A universe? Or just tribute to Tony Baxter?
    If you know about it please teach us:)

  • Beautiful night shot of the ride!

  • Whups, they didn’t use the metric system in the old west, a couple of the signs are in km.

  • Yes, another reference to Tony and his influence with Disney attractions. His legacy will remain in the park for many years to come. Like Where’s Wally, I think we could have our own Where’s Tony, in the park.
    Mark, Australia.

  • Thanks for the great post Erin! I’m digging this series. For the next attraction in this segment, I would nominate The Matterhorn. And The Haunted Mansion. And Grizzly River Run, and… I’ll stop there for now!

  • Tony Baxter. The “M” in the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad logo is actually an upside down “W”, in reference to his middle name, Wayne.

  • Wish there was more Old West theming and rides. Love that area. Sad we lost Big Thunder Mt BBQ…that place was the best!

  • Originally this site was a real live donkey ride. One of my favorites when I was a youngster in the 60’s

  • Erin, to answer your question about Rainbow Ridge? It’s Tony Baxter… is it not? The Imagineer and Disney Legend who designed this attraction?

    • You are correct!

  • Barnabas T. Bullion!

    • That’s right!

  • I remember reading in my Dynamite magazine in the late 1970s that Big Thunder Mountain was opening at both Disneyland and Disney World, and the California version was based on Utah’s Bryce Canyon N.P., while the rockwork for the Florida version was based on Monument Valley, scene of many great Western films. I was excited because my family had taken a summer trip recently of the national parks and monuments in Utah and Arizona.

    To answer your question, I believe Grizzly Gulch is in Hong Kong Disneyland (home to Big Grizzly Runaway Mine Cars), Thunder Mesa is in Disneyland Paris, Rainbow Ridge is just behind the sign in Disneyland, and Tumbleweed is in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

    But what about Big Thunder Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland?

  • This is by far our favorite attraction, especially after the refurb that makes it ride so smooth. Saving up to stay in the Big Thunder Suite! Can’t wait.

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