Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Walt Disney and the Gift of the National Parks

"If certain events continue, much of America's natural beauty will become nothing more than a memory. The natural beauty of America is a treasure found nowhere else in the world. Our forests, waters, grasslands and wildlife must be wisely protected and used. I urge all citizens to join the effort to save America's natural beauty... it's our America - do something to preserve its beauty, strength and natural wealth."
Walt Disney

Though better known for creating imaginative artificial landscapes, Walt Disney was a renowned lover of nature. While publicly eschewing titles like "conservationist," Disney still took an active role in helping Americans to better understand and preserve their shared natural heritage. In 1956, for example, he was awarded the distinction of being the honourary chairman of the National Wildlife Federation's National Wildlife Week, a position held until his passing in 1966. In an annual series of public service announcements made for the NWF, he made unequivocal statements like "We must help Nature preserve her vanishing creatures," "The preservation of our American wildlife is very close to me," and "You've probably heard people talk about conservation. Well, conservation isn't just the business of a few people. It's a matter that concerns all of us."

The first inklings one might get towards Walt Disney's sensitivity to nature is in one of his first films: Bambi (1942). In this story of a young deer's growth into maturity, Disney gives a vivid, sympathetic and often sentimental view into the lives of forest animals. Bambi's portrayal of nature was so heart-warming, and its portrayal of hunters so terrifying, that it spurred on considerable controversy in its day over the question of ethical hunting. This enduring film still wields this influence; it is not uncommon to hear that little deer's name brought up in debates over conservation issues, whether one is trying to elicit sympathy for wildlife or accusing someone else of having an overly naive and sentimental view of nature. Disney even lent his characters out to the US Forest Service in fire prevention posters, until Smokey the Bear was created in 1944. Yet Bambi is only the first example of how America's master showman and the company which bears his name have been able to shape the public perception of these important issues.

The film itself was based on the light novel Bambi, a Life in the Woods by the Austrian author Felix Salten. Published in 1923 and translated to English by Whittaker Chambers in 1928, it is heralded not only as one of the first environmental novels, but one of the great masterpieces of nature literature. Towards the end of the Victorian Era and into the early 20th century, a new sense of the importance of wild spaces was dawning and a new ideal that these spaces should be protected emerged. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into existence what J. Horace McFarland of the American Civic Association called "an American idea... [the] one thing we have that has not been imported." That idea was to set aside a property of stunning natural beauty and historical importance as public land for the enjoyment of all people. This property was dubbed Yellowstone National Park, the world's first National Park. Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks in California followed in 1890, developed from a land grant to the State of California in 1864. In 1899, Mount Rainier National Park in Washington was created out of a National Forest. Crater Lake in Oregon became a National Park in 1902.  Glacier National Park in Montana was etched into the Crown of the Continent region in 1910. The Grand Canyon, made a National Monument in 1908, became a National Park in 1919. Utah's Mukuntuweap National Monument, created in 1909, became Zion National Park in 1916. Nearby Bryce Canyon in Utah became a National Monument in 1923 and a National Park in 1928. Grand Teton was made a National Park in 1929. Washington's Olympic National Park was created in 1938. Adjoining Sequoia in California, King's Canyon National Park was established in 1940, by which time twenty-eight of America's fifty-nine National Parks were protected under law.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, c. 1912. Photo: NPS.
Yosemite National Park, c. 1901. Photo: Library of Congress.

Sequoia National Park, c. 1950. Photo: NPS.
The "Great White Throne," Zion National Park, c. 1929.
Photo: NPS.
Grand Canyon National Park. Photo: NPS.
Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo: NPS.
Camp at Mount Rainier National Park, c. 1911-1920.
Photo: Library of Congress.
Pacific coast beach, Olympic National Park. Photo: Library of Congress.
St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park. 
Though a product of the late 1800's and early 1900's, it has been argued that National Parks really came into their own in the period of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties. On the one hand, the ultra-wealthy who weathered the storms of the Great Depression could afford to indulge the romance of travel's "Golden Age." The parks were originally conceived by nature romantics like George Bird Grinnell and John Muir, who saw in these unspoilt stretches of landscape the unparalleled experiences of the sublime and the beautiful that expand the soul. They feared that the processes of Urbanization and Industrialization, with already visible deleterious effects on society and the spirits of human beings, would truly accomplish its worst when it leveled the cathedrals of nature. Rather than the raw materials for building up the temple of commerce, they saw the raw materials for building up the temple of the Holy Spirit. The National Parks found quick endorsement by the great railway magnates who saw the opportunity for tourism dollars. Pilgrims needed a way to get to these cathedrals, and a place to stay once they arrived. For the well-off, Northern Pacific Railway, and later Union Pacific, built lines to Yellowstone. Great Northern was instrumental in the creation of Glacier National Park. Santa Fe Railway built a line to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Union Pacific took visitors on a "Grand Loop Tour" of Zion, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks National Monument and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Northern Pacific pulls into Gardiner, outside Yellowstone.

On the other hand, those who did not fare so well during the Great Depression found work in the Civilian Conservation Corps, building up the iconic rustic architecture and infrastructure that represents the National Parks still today. Sometimes nicknamed "PARKitecture," the National Parks Rustic style accents the appeal and romance of this great chain of natural wonders. This architecture invokes both Alpine European styles and Native American motifs, using monumental log construction and local stone masonry, embodying the rustic spirit of backcountry wilderness lodges while maintaining sophisticated elegance. Architects like Gilbert Stanley Underwood harmonized their designs with the surrounding environment while the grand railway hotels - like Great Northern's Glacier Park Lodge, Northern Pacific's Lake Lodge in Yellowstone, and Santa Fe's El Tovar in Grand Canyon - were meant to stand out. Underwood was responsible for such iconic buildings as the Grand Canyon Lodge, Zion Lodge, Old Faithful Lodge, and The Ahwahnee in Yosemite. Underwood's Old Faithful Lodge lies adjacent to the Old Faithful Inn, designed by Robert Reamer. Responsible for many of the hotels in Yellowstone including the colonial-style additions to Lake Hotel, Reamer felt the tension between railway company demands for stately manors and his fanciful flights of wilderness architecture. At one point he was quoted as saying "To be at discord with the landscape would be almost a crime. To try to improve upon it would be an impertinence."

Glacier Park Lodge.
Lake Hotel, Yellowstone National Park.

El Tovar Hotel, South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, c. 1900. Photo: NPS.
Grand Canyon Lodge, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park.
Photo: Library of Congress.
Zion Lodge, Zion National Park, c. 1929.  Photo: NPS.
The Ahwahnee, Yosemite National Park. Photo: NPS.
Old Faithful Lodge, by Underwood, Yellowstone National Park.
Photo: Library of Congress.
Old Faithful Inn, by Reamer, Yellowstone National Park.
Photo: Library of Congress.

The post-World War II economic boom in America created a whole new scale of leisure culture exemplified in the automobile. Decently-paying jobs with plenty of vacation days led Americans en masse to a newly-minted system of freeways, as well as along old favorites like Route 66. In this newfound zeal for the road trip, America's natural wonders became must-see attractions. The highways and byways led inexorably to National Parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, which provided Americans with the promise of exotic, majestic and rugged wilderness on their doorstep. No longer the private playground of the skilled woodsman, or even the luxury railway traveller, the National Parks became a trust for all with even the most modest means of transportation to enjoy.

Ever quick to tap into the trends permeating American culture, Walt Disney captured this era of National Parks romance in a series of cartoon shorts pitting the hapless Humphrey the Bear against Donald Duck. A Humphrey-like bear was first introduced in the Goofy short, Hold That Pose, but he wasn't fully developed into his more lovable character until Rugged Bear (1953). In that short, it's hunting season out in the woods and Humphrey is forced to take refuge by pretending to be a bearskin rug in Donald's hunting lodge. Donald, it should be noted, was an old hand at camping through the National Parks. He had taken Huey, Dewey, and Louie to Yellowstone in the 1938 short Good Scouts, which had him trying to fend off a grizzly bear and "Old Reliable Geyser" and his nephews attempts to help, all at the same time.

Ranger Woodlore joined the duo in 1954's Grin and Bear It, in which bears are each assigned a tourist to entertain while they're on vacation. Humphrey is stuck with Donald, who has made the mistake of picnicking in Brownstone National Park with a nice, big, tempting ham. Woodlore and Donald appeared without Humphrey in Grand Canyonscope (1954). This short was shot in Cinemascope widescreen format and was packaged along with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, also a Cinemascope presentation. Donald takes a trip to that great icon and quite consistently runs afoul of park regulations, which state that everything must be left undisturbed or restored to its natural state. On the course of the classic mule ride, Donald gets in a high speed chase with Louie the Mountain Lion, which disturbs the canyon a great deal. With rocks falling all around them, everyone quickly evacuates the gorge, including a briefly glimpsed Tyrannosaurus!

Louie had already played opposite Donald and Goofy in four nature-themed shorts: Hook, Lion and Sinker and Lion Around (both 1950), Lion Down (1951), and Father's Lion (1952). In 1955, Donald took over from Woodlore as the ranger of Brownstone National Park in Bearly Asleep. Winter hits and poor Humphrey is kicked out of the bears' hibernation cave for snoring and being a general nuisance. Woodlore returned to the park and Donald was back in private enterprise that same year in Beezy Bear. This time, Donald took up bee-keeping while Humphrey has his eye on the honey.

By the time 1956 rolled around, the duo of Ranger Woodlore and Humphrey the Bear were popular enough to chart their own course away from Donald. Their popularity peaked with Hooked Bear and In the Bag. Both of these films have some delightful humour culled from the love-hate relationship the parks have with tourists. In Hooked Bear, Woodlore has to keep stocking the lake with fish at a time when National Parks put a greater emphasis on leisure than ecological integrity. Meanwhile, Humphrey is doing all he can to reap the spoils of the anglers' efforts. In the Bag has gone down in legend as one of the most memorable of all Disney cartoons. Most don't even realize how memorable this story of bears cleaning up park litter is until they hear the famous theme song, The Humphrey Hop: "First you stick a rag, put it in the bag, bump-bump / Then you bend your back, put it in the sack, bump-bump / That's the way it's done - it's a lot of fun, bump-bump / Cuttin' capers, puttin' papers in the bag." The short also had a brief cameo by none other than Smokey the Bear. Despite their popularity, which included prominent places in the opening credits of the Mickey Mouse ClubIn the Bag would be the last theatrical short for the duo, and one of the last Disney theatrical shorts of that era.

A more serious tone was adopted with the True-Life Adventures films. These documentaries applied Walt Disney's hand as a showman to "the wonder-world of nature's own realm" (as it was described in the opening credits of the Walt Disney's Disneyland television show), yielding five Academy Awards for Best Live Action Short Film and three Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature. The formula was simple: craft an engaging, dramatic, visually-oriented storyline around the struggle for survival of the world's most exotic animals in the world's most picturesque locations. Beginning with Seal Island in 1948, each of the True-Life Adventures were filmed on location around the world, from Africa and South America (The African Lion and Jungle Cat respectively) to America's National Parks. Half of the fourteen True-Life Adventures were shot in North America, including the short films Beaver Valley (1950), Nature's Half Acre (1951), The Olympic Elk (1952), Bear Country (1953), and Prowlers of the Everglades (1953), and the feature films The Living Desert (1953), The Vanishing Prairie (1954) and White Wilderness (1958)

The Vanishing Prairie opens with an invitation to follow in the wagon-ruts of the pioneers to that vast expanse of North American savannah between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. In many places along the famed Oregon Trail, the deeply worn grooves made by Conestoga Wagons over a century ago are still visible. Eventually we leave off the trail blazed by these European settlers and go back further to the mythologically rich world of the Native Americans, visualized by a wonderfully stylized animated sequence. We learn the names given to buffalo and pronghorn, rodent and fowl, before being taken even further back. Narrator Winston Hibler intones that we are going back before even the Native Americans, to the untouched prairie before the arrival of humans. A few of these untouched places still exist under the protective eye of National Parks and private citizens, and the lens of the naturalist-photographer will use these to take us back to that pristine era. A Walt Disney's Disneyland episode entitled Prairie gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the lengths taken by these naturalist-photographers to find these scenes, such as dressing up as bison in Native American robes and headdresses or employing newfangled snowmobiles to get dangerously close to their subjects. Much of The Vanishing Prairie was shot in Yellowstone National Park, as was Bear CountryThe Olympic Elk was shot around Olympic National Park in Washington and White Wilderness was shot in Denali National Park (as well as locations in the provinces of Alberta and Manitoba, Canada). Besides the interesting subject matter and picturesque beauty of the locations, the True-Life Adventures were also renowned for their music. The haunting bison leitmotif from The Vanishing Prairie was even reused in the 1956 film Westward Ho, The Wagons!, where star Fess "Davy Crockett" Parker sang it as The Pioneer's Prayer. It is perhaps one of the finest pieces of Disney orchestral music.

The True-Life adventure films were so successful that Walt Disney planned to develop an entire land devoted to them in his new theme park in Anaheim: Disneyland. "True-Life Adventureland" was to feature a jungle river cruise past animatronic displays evoking the scenes from his nature documentaries. By the time the park had opened in 1955, the name was shorted to just "Adventureland." Given that half of the True-Life Adventures took place in North America, another logical home for those stories was Frontierland. What the Jungle Cruise did for the tropical rivers of the world, the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train did for the wilds of the Living Desert. The mine train also shared this (literal) painted desert with Stagecoach, Conestoga Wagons and Pack Mule rides until 1960, when the area was renovated and rechristened the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. Now the Living Desert was joined by Beaver Valley, Bear Country, and the Olympic Elk, with brand new animatronic wildlife to excite park guests. In 1977, the Mine Train was closed to make way for a new kind of railway dubbed Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. However, the pond from Beaver Valley and some of the Living Desert's artificial rockwork can be found in Big Thunder Ranch, behind the fan favourite roller coaster.

The soundtracks for the True-Life Adventure films and Fess Parker's albums were released by Disneyland Records. Another vinyl LP published by Disneyland Records was Walt Disney Presents Songs of the National Parks (1958). This album was sold exclusively at Disneyland and America's National Parks and Monuments, and featured the music of Stan Jones. Born in Arizona in 1914 and serving in the United States Navy until 1934, Jones became a parks ranger, first in the Pacific Northwest and eventually in Death Valley National Park in California. While serving in Death Valley, he wrote the enduring Western song Ghost Riders in the Sky. Jones came to work for Disney in 1955 when his friend, the Western actor Harry Carey Jr., recommended him for a role on the Mickey Mouse Club serial The Adventures of Spin and Marty. He played a non-speaking role, but more importantly provided music for the first season, as he had for several Western films starring Gene Autry, Rex Allen, and Harry Carey Jr.. In 1956, Jones provided soundtracks for the Disney films Westward Ho, The Wagons! and The Great Locomotive Chase, the latter of which he also acted in. His talent for song was put to use by Disneyland Records, which released Ghost Riders in the Sky under the Buena Vista imprint and This Was the West, along with Songs of the National Parks, all in 1958. The last film for Disney that Jones starred in and supplied the music for was Ten Who Dared, a 1960 dramatization of the historic 1869 expedition to map the Colorado River lead by John Wesley Powell. Much of the film, co-starring The Parent Trap's Brian Keith, was shot on location in the rugged depths of the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon was honoured on the opening of Disneyland with a special Disneyland Railroad parlor car. The Grand Canyon observation car was at the end of the #2 E.P. Ripley passenger train, following behind the Navajo Chief, Rocky Mountains, Land of Pueblos, and Painted Desert cars. Originally two types of trains circled the tracks of the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad, being the passenger and freight trains. The passenger train boarded exclusively at Main Street Station and the freight train, pulled by the #1 C.K. Holliday, boarded exclusively at Frontierland Station. Though all the cars of the passenger train were painted in a deep yellow, the Grand Canyon alone was emblazoned with an oval mural of the canyon on its side.

Walt in front of his beloved trains.
In 1958, Disney released Grand Canyon, a half-hour nature film preceding the theatrical release of Sleeping Beauty. This short film is most notable for being the first cinematic correlation of Ferde Grofé's famous Grand Canyon Suite to the sights of the canyon itself. Deeply evocative of the natural wonders for which it and its movements were named, Grofé's 1931 composition takes listeners on an aural journey through the beauty of a Grand Canyon sunrise and sunset, the mysteries of the Painted Desert, on the trail of the iconic mule ride to the Colorado River, and experiencing the ferocity of an Arizona cloudburst. Disney took this journey of imagination and gave us the Oscar-winning visuals (Best Live Action Short Subject). The accompanying soundtrack was released by Disneyland Records.

Complimenting Grand Canyon was the Grand Canyon Diorama, unveiled the same year. A long stretch of backlot between Tomorrowland and Main Street was converted into this grand finale for the grand circle tour, and no finale could be grander than the Grand Canyon itself. The diorama was the largest in the world at 306' long by 34' high, covered in 300 gallons of paint applied by 80,000 hours of labour at a cost of $367,000, along with trees, artificial rock outcrops, and the only real taxidermy animals in the park. Like the Grand Canyon short, Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite is employed to draw riders through scenes of wildlife and winter snowfalls before leaving the Grand Canyon of today for the Primeval World of yesterday.

The installation of the Grand Canyon Diorama necessitated a change in the Disneyland Railroad that spelled the eventual death of the old-style passenger cars in 1974. In place of the enclosed parlor cars, new open-air excursion carriages were put on the rails. The Navajo Chief, Rocky Mountains, Land of Pueblos, and Painted Desert were retired and the Grand Canyon given a makeover. Rechristened the Lilly Belle, it continues to serve as a VIP salon car. The new diorama brought with it a station in Tomorrowland and the option of loading and unloading each train at each station, instead of only doing one at Main Street and the other at Frontierland. To bless the new station and Grand Canyon Diorama, Hopi Chief Nevangnewa was brought from the lands of the Arizona desert. Also to be blessed that day was the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad's #3 engine, the Fred Gurley. Gurley, the then-president of the Santa Fe Railway was on hand to unveil the reconditioned 1894 Louisiana plantation engine. This is the same engine featured on the Grand Canyon Diorama's attraction poster.

As the Fifties gave way to the Sixties, the True-Life Adventures evolved into a series of animal movies that told more definite, fictional, stories. Some of these films, like Nikki, Wild Dog of the North (filmed in Canada's Banff National Park) involved a full cast of actors. Most were narrated by "singing cowboy" actor Rex Allen, including The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon (1960), The Legend of Lobo (1962) filmed in Arizona's Sedona region, Yellowstone Cubs (1963) filmed in Yellowstone, The Incredible Journey (1963) filmed in rural Ontario, Canada, Run, Appaloosa, Run (1966), and Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar (1967) filmed in the Pacific Northwest. Allen also narrated several similar episodes of Walt Disney's Disneyland and Wonderful World of Color  television series, like The Best Doggoned Dog in the World, The Horse of the West, Ringo, the Refugee Raccoon, and A Country Coyote Goes Hollywood. Of all his work for Disney, Rex Allen is probably best remembered today as the original voice of the father in Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress.    

On Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in 1966, Ranger Woodlore and Humphrey the Bear returned to fill the role of television wildlife documentarians. They were assigned to host A Ranger’s Guide to Nature, mixing live wildlife footage with animated vignettes. The series would continue with Nature’s Charter Tours (1968) and Nature’s Better Built Homes (1969). Subsequent to A Ranger's Guide to Nature, Disneyland Records released A Nature Guide on vinyl LP, which had music from the episode as well as True-Life Adventures films. In order to reacquaint audiences with the characters, Grin and Bear It, Beezy Bear, Hooked Bear, In the Bag, Rugged Bear and Bearly Asleep were edited down and anthologised in 1967's The Ranger of Brownstone episode. The assorted shorts were linked together into the story of a full season at Brownstone National Park thanks to the magic of nearly flawless new animation and three new songs that educated about - and often satirized - life in the National Parks. In one ditty, Ranger Woodlore mocks the ridiculous questions asked by tourists, like when they turn the geysers at Yellowstone off or if the Carlsbad Caverns are all underground.

When Walt Disney passed away in 1966, his biggest plan left unrealized was Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. He said "There's enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine," and its potential began to be realized when the Magic Kingdom theme park, Contemporary and Polynesian Village Resorts, and Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground opened in 1971. Intended to be a sleek and modern hotel for the sleek and modern Seventies, the Contemporary Resort still paid homage to the National Parks with the monumental Grand Canyon tile mosaic. This 90-foot tall masterpiece was designed by Mary Blair, the colourist who had been with Disney since the Forties and worked on such films as Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, as well as the attraction It's a Small World. To construct the mosaic, 18,000 individually hand-crafted and glazed tiles were shipped across country to be mounted on the six 90-foot tall walls that disguise the resort's main elevator shaft. Southwestern motifs from the mosaic were also utilized throughout the resort for much of its history.

The Grand Canyon mosaic.
Not far from the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, on the shores of Bay Lake, Disney built one of the grandest National Parks-style lodges in the world. Disney's Wilderness Lodge, constructed in 1994, lovingly recreates the architecture, motifs, and romance of such classic hotels as the Old Faithful Inn, Crater Lake Lodge, El Tovar Hotel and Grand Canyon Lodge, Zion Lodge, and Glacier Park Lodge. Entering beneath the green gabled roof, either from the porte cochere in front or the boat dock on Bay Lake, guests stand in awe in the magnificent seven-story lobby. This rustic atrium is fringed with Douglas Fir logs imported from Oregon, a grand fireplace sculpted to resemble the geological profile of the Grand Canyon, and two totem poles carved by Native American craftsmen from the Pacific Northwest. Artifacts from the settlement era, imitation (and genuine) folk art, replicas of Plains Native American clothing and headdress, and rugs from the American Southwest give colour and detail to the space, specific to no park or region but evoking everything "rustic." A bubbling artificial spring in the lobby feeds a stream running out to the resort grounds, which appears to feed the outdoor swimmin' hole. Next to the pool is Fire Rock Geyser, an artificial geothermal feature that remains faithful due to a computerized timer. Guests heading out to the lake can rent a boat from Teton Boat and Bike Rentals, or take out a two-wheeler or a surrey for a pleasant trip down the surrounding bike paths and nature trails. These routes lead to Fort Wilderness and its amenities, including the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue, Mickey's Backyard BBQ, Crockett's Tavern, a campfire singalong with special appearances by Chip and Dale, and the Tri-Circle-D Ranch, where Disney's hoofed castmembers are housed and from which one can book trail, wagon, and carriage rides. This relationship between the two resorts is very close to that found in the National Parks between the grand lodges and local outfitters. Restaurants back at Wilderness Lodge include Artist Point - a tribute to landscape artists like Thomas Moran who immortalized the National Parks on canvas - and the high-spirited country hospitality of Whispering Canyon Cafe. The Disney Vacation Club Villas added in 2000 included the Carolwood Pacific Room, a recreational space paying tribute to Walt Disney's love of steam trains and the connection between the railways and the National Parks. Just outside the gift shop is a third totem pole featuring Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Humphrey the Bear, who has been enlisted to serve as a fitting mascot to the resort.

Silver Creek Falls and the Wilderness Lodge. Photo: Jared.
Wilderness Lodge's lobby. Photo: Original Rudie.
In 2001, Disney added to the original Disneyland Resort with Disney California Adventure, a new theme park designed to encapsulate the spirit of the state of California. The iconic feature of the park is Grizzly Peak, a 110-foot tall mountain shaped like the eponymous bear, through which flows the Grizzly River Run whitewater rafting ride. The peak and the ride serve as the centrepiece of the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area, designed to pay homage to Yosemite, Sequoia, and the National Parks, Monuments and Forests of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Initially themed to extreme sports but more recently rethemed to the same Fifties milieu as Disney's True-Life Adventure films and Humphrey the Bear shorts, this area also includes the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail and Grizzly Peak Airfield with the Soarin' simulator ride. Flanking Grizzly Peak Recreation Area is Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, designed in the spirit of Yosemite National Park's Ahwahnee Hotel and the California Craftsman style. The lobby boasts cabinets filled with ceramic pieces by modern practitioners of the Craftsman, or "Arts and Crafts," style. The Napa Rose restaurant, designed with Art Nouveau and Frank Lloyd Wright-style flourishes, is widely considered one of Disney's best, having won several awards including the Distinguished Restaurants of North America. Storytellers Cafe offers more relaxed surroundings with murals depicting famous California stories, such as Mark Twain's The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Both the Wilderness Lodge and Grand Californian were designed by architect Peter Dominick.

Grand Californian exterior.
Grand Californian interior.
Before Disney's Wilderness Lodge and Disney's Grand Californian Hotel was Disney's Sequoia Lodge in the Disneyland Paris Resort. Opening along with the resort in 1992, the Sequoia Lodge was intended to capture the adventure and majesty of the American National Parks for a European clientèle. Amenities include Hunter's Grill and Beaver Creek Tavern, Redwood Bar and Lounge, a spa and fitness centre, a charming indoor pool with waterfalls, and grounds landscaped with hundreds of sequoia and other trees imported from the United States and Canada. The Sequoia Lodge was designed very much in the style of Gilbert Stanley Underwood by architect Antoine Grumbach.

Sequoia Lodge. Photo: Loren Javier.
Not content simply to recreate the environment of the National Parks, Disney has also taken an active role in helping conserve them. Through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, the company provided a $500,000 grant to the National Park Foundation in 2012 to help connect the nation's youth with their shared natural heritage. A portion of the funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund is gathered through the documentary films released under the Disneynature imprint, such as Earth (2007), Oceans (2010), African Cats (2011), Wings of Life (2011), Chimpanzee (2012)Bears (2014), and Monkey Kingdom (2015).

Newton Drury, National Parks Service director from 1940 to 1951, summarized the meaning of the National Parks eloquently:
The American way of life consists of something that goes greatly beyond the mere obtaining of the necessities of existence. If it means anything, it means that America presents to its citizens an opportunity to grow mentally and spiritually, as well as physically. The National Park System and the work of the National Park Service constitute one of the Federal Government's important contributions to that opportunity. Together they make it possible for all Americans--millions of them at first-hand--to enjoy unspoiled the great scenic places of the Nation.... The National Park System also provides, through areas that are significant in history and prehistory, a physical as well as spiritual linking of present-day Americans with the past of their country.
Just as the National Parks are intrinsic to the identity of the United States of America, they are also a key inspiration behind Walt Disney and the company that bears his name. Through their artificial landscapes in film and theme park resorts, Disney continues to celebrate the romance of the American wilderness and the historic grand lodges of the National Parks.

Walt pointing out Yellowstone on a map of America's National Parks.
Photo: Disney.


  1. Great post! I was very much amused by the Bambi fire safety poster in Grizzly Peak Airfield and had no idea it was derived from actual Forest Service posters featuring the characters!

    1. Thank you very much! I was rather pleased when I saw that they put that poster in there. It's a nice call back to Disney history.