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Disneyland Article
Rivers Of Fun

Fort Wilderness
Cal Jones
September 17, 2016
September 18, 2016
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The Rivers of America is as old as Disneyland, with the Mark Twain Riverboat as its only attraction (with the dry docks for refurbishments), though Mike Fink Keel Boats would open in December that same year. The Rivers and all green waters in the park are interconnected underground, allowing the water to naturally filter and de-stagnate the way a lake would. They act as a single body of water and prevent it from becoming foul like an abandoned pool. These tunnels also allow the aquatic life that ends up in the waters to go other places. Eggs get stuck to the bottom of ducks' feet and become dislodged when the ducks land. Among the eggs are carp, Koi fish, salmon, catfish, bivalves, and even Red-Eared Slider Turtles. At some point in the Rivers' history, Disney added mosquito fish to all waterways to eat insect larvae and algae, which are then preyed upon by other river fish. Because the waterways are filtered without dangerous chemicals, it's good for the fish.

There had been a couple of tries to fill the Rivers before opening but the water had been absorbed by the sandy substrate. A natural clay was applied to prevent that from happening again, giving the water a brown color. When that clay was replaced by concrete, the water was dyed with green chalk to hide things like guide rails. That chalk doesn't settle or bother the wildlife, real and fake.

When it was first built, the Rivers were supposed to be drained every five years, a process that takes about a week to do, for cleaning and maintenance of the guide rails. In 2010, the Rivers were drained after seven years. Some of the things found at the bottom included hundreds of cell phones and walkie-talkies, pacifiers, sunglasses, Mickey ears, swords, and beads from Tiana's Showboat Jubilee. There was even a computer tower, a prosthetic leg, and half a Davy Crockett Explorer Canoe. When it was emptied in 2003, they found a toaster and a full bottle of rum (yo ho). There was a disproven rumor that there was bowling ball as well.

When the Rivers are drained, the underground tunnels that connect all water sources are plugged with air bladders to keep them from draining as well. The wildlife is placed in the remaining waters. In the 2010 draining, all Koi fish, including the fish in the Disneyland Hotel, were donated to the Huntington Library. With that refurbishment, a specialized pump and cleaning system that wouldn't disturb the fish was installed so that the Rivers wouldn't need to be drained for twenty years, following the completion of Star Wars Land.

Tom Sawyer Island opened the June after the park opened. It didn't see much change prior to May of 1992 when Fantasmic! premiered. The south end (by New Orleans Square) was rebuilt for the show and then the whole Island was completely re-themed in 2007 and called Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. It eradicated much of the Tom Sawyer theme for the Pirates of the Caribbean films, coinciding with the release of "At World's End." Fantasmic! got a major show upgrade, especially the Maleficent dragon, which went from an obvious dragon's head on a cherry picker to a full bodied dragon, nicknamed Murphy for, rather obviously, Murphy's law for how often the thing broke down the first few months.

The Burning Settler's Cabin has spent the last few decades going between burning and not burning. A gas crisis in the 70s turned the flames off and they became simulated. The flames were turned back on in 1984 and the settler became a moonshiner. In 1991, both settler and flames were removed, because a nest of birds was too close to it. 2010 gave us Mike Fink's cabin with his keel boat tied to the front.

Mark Twain was the first functional steamboat built in the US in fifty years. It's 5/8 scale to a regular steamer and departs every twenty-five minutes from Frontierland. The queue area is designed to look like a real riverboat landing, down to having cargo sharing the dock with passengers. The Twain has three levels. All three house chairs and benches, and the highest level gives a better vantage point for viewing landmarks in transit. The wheelhouse, where the pilot stays, is also on the upper deck. The pilot can grant permission for a few select passengers to ride in the wheelhouse, who are given a souvenir Pilot Certificate when the journey is finished. The finale of Fantasmic! has the Mark Twain carrying most Disney characters around the Rivers as they do a routine with ribbons.

The Sailing Ship Columbia is a replica of the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe. Disney's ship builders had to use the plans for the HMS Bounty because the builders couldn't find the plans to the original Columbia and the two ships had similar dimensions. Built in 1958, it was the first three- masted barque (a vessel with at least three masts) made in the US in more than a hundred years. It has served as the Jolly Roger, Captain Hook's pirate ship, in Fantasmic! for more than twenty years. It departs from the same landing as the Mark Twain every twenty-five minutes.

Because both vessels are on a track, the pilot and captain are there as lookouts for other River traffic and signaling to the traffic, and communicating with the person who controls the speed. Both have a prerecorded narration of sights, as well as stories (Twain) or sea shanties (Columbia). Both of them are powered by natural gas. Columbia fires a cannon at Fort Wilderness twice and the Fort used to fire back.

When Fort Wilderness was open, it was really cool. It had been made of authentic hand-hewn logs. After fifty years of weather and termite damage, it was torn down. It was rebuilt from standard lumber and is now closed to guests, serving as a break area for Cast members and performers.

I think I've said it before, but Fantasmic! is my favorite of all the Disney shows I've seen. The fact that it premiered on my fifth birthday has nothing to do with it. The show uses a lot of pyrotechnics and a large water screen thick enough to capture projections and hide the Island for set changes. There are specially designed barges for Ariel, Snow White, Belle, and their respective princes to dance on, each one covered with lights to match the flora of the film. The music may or may not inspire some of my fiction or a slightly different show I like to imagine. I conduct quite a bit while I listen to the soundtrack and wonder what it would be like to perform in the show. There are multiple videos of the show on YouTube and I highly suggest you watch it.

Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island and Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes are not on tracks. The rafts are diesel powered and the Canoes are human powered. The four Rafts were named for the main Tom Sawyer characters: Tom, Becky Thatcher, Huck Finn, and Injun Joe. Everyone but Tom were changed to Blackbeard, Ann Bonny and Captain Kidd in 2006. The Canoes have guides in the front and back of each canoe who point out the sights. They typically move faster than the large boats, which have the right-of-way. How fast the Canoes go depends on how fast the paddlers go and the amount of traffic. They close when the year isn't as warm and when it rains.

As previously stated Mike Fink Keel Boats opened in December of 1955 and are based on two Davy Crockett mini-series. The boats were called Gullywhumper and Bertha Mea and both were free-floating and powered by diesel. In one of the mini-series, Mike Fink and Davy Crockett raced keel boats, with Davy winning. The attraction closed when the Gullywhumper capsized. The Gullywhumper became a prop on the River until hull damage caused it to sink and a replica was built. The original two window boats were also used the "Adventures of Tom Sawyer" movie.

This is going to be the first in a series of articles about Disney's various lands. I am not entirely sure if Star Wars Land will be part of this series, but it for sure won't be until after the land is built. Until then, see you real soon.
Attractions Referenced

Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes


Fort Wilderness

Mark Twain Riverboat

Mike Fink Keel Boats

Pirate's Lair at Tom Sawyer Island

Rafts To Tom Sawyer Island

Sailing Ship Columbia

Tom Sawyers Island

Lands Referenced


New Orleans Square

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