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The Characters of Rainbow Ridge

Rainbow Ridge sounds like a familiar place. It was a small mining town built on the side of Rainbow Mountain, but it's long-gone now. The barkeep, Pat Casey, Mother Murphy, and the rest of the wild west characters are not forgotten, though.

The El Dorado had to have clean beds, or the customers would stay at the other hotel in town. (Photo: Jim and Merica Curran)
Walter Knott's Ghost Town represented a dust-dry, high desert mining town like Calico, near Barstow, California. The first building in Ghost Town was imported from Prescott, Arizona.

Rainbow Ridge was more High Sierras Gold Country--pine trees and streams with placer gold. In fact, some say it resembled the Town With No Name from the Broadway show Paint Your Wagon, which debuted three years before Disneyland. Oliver Smith, the set designer, created a village that looked like what would happen if you built an Old West town in a heckuva hurry. When Hollywood finally got around to making the film version, in 1969, production designer John Truscott spent $2.4 million and seven months building the Town With No Name in the remote hills of Oregon.

The Rainbow Mountain legend began with this coming attraction poster. Anyone notice the huge boulders on the right, or that the Mark Twain is nosing into the river bank?
The back country of Frontierland was completely redone in time for Disneyland's second summer. The bare dirt hills with almost nothing to see suffered badly in the winter rains. The new area had a lot more trees and, in the far upper corner, the Rainbow Desert. Unlike the Rainbow Desert in Peru (and another in China), this Rainbow Desert was sandy and color-less. Folks referred to it as the Living Desert, a reference to the Disney film of 1953, or the Painted Desert. The back country was remodeled again in 1960 to become Nature's Wonderland.

The Rainbow Mountain Mine Ride (as the sign said) was actually a tour of the wilderness, the desert, and Rainbow Caverns. There was no mine--fooled you! The little town of Rainbow Ridge was the starting off point. There was no depot in town. Instead, the train tracks ran through where the Main Street should have been.

Pat Casey's Last Chance is the building in red.
Come to think of it, there was no other side of the street, either. The town was pretty obviously scaled down, too, but nobody doubted it for a second. There were two music venues--the Opera House and The Palace--and two hotels--the Rainbow Ridge Hotel and the El Dorado. The General Store sold "plain and fancy dry goods," and the Miner's Hardware sold whatever a miner needed. Mother Murphy's boarding house was also a restaurant of a kind, and the aforementioned Pat Casey owned the Last Chance, which was a--cover the children's ears now--a saloon. The Rainbow Ridge Clarion described the town's daily doings, and there was a little white chapel higher on the hill than everything else.

Rainbow Ridge under construction circa April 1956. Rainbow Caverns show building at right.
The townscape of about a dozen cleverly-scaled buildings, with a few more by the mule pack and stagecoach ride, was the work of art director Bill Martin. The scale was about 5/8 at the tracks and got smaller as the buildings moved up the hill. The island in the Rivers of America was going to have scaled buildings--replicas of famous houses like Mount Vernon and The Hermitage--but that didn't happen. In a way, Rainbow Ridge is related to Storybook Land, but unlike the small fairy tale settings, however, Rainbow Ridge featured voices and music coming from the buildings. I think I hear old Pat Casey bellowing even now...

The trains were originally dark green and pulled six passenger cars. (Thanks, James D. Keeline!)
Rainbow Ridge is still there...sorta. In an admirable nod to Disneyland history, many of the buildings were made part of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad--in roughly the same configuration--in 1979.

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