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It was 40 years ago today that a busload of reporters went on a long & twisty trip. Leaving out of Three Rivers, CA., they first crossed the bridge in Oak Grove ...
Copyright 1966 Walt Disney Productions
... then traveled another 20 miles on a narrow 1-&-1/2 car-wide dirt road through the Northern California wilderness. Up, up, up into the mountains that bus climbed. Before finally stopping outside of a modest collection of cabins that sat at the base of a truly impressive mountain.
And who should then step out of one of these log cabins to come greet these reporters? Walt Disney!
Copyright 1966 Walt Disney Productions
Yep, it was 40 years ago today that Walt announced his Mineral King project. Which would have transformed this remote section of the Sierra Nevada into a skiers paradise.
In the image capture below, Disney (left) is showing then-California governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown (center) a conceptual painting of what the finished resort would look like. These plans had been drawn up by WED with the help of noted skiiing coach Willy Schaeffer (I.E. The gentleman in the light blue sweater on the right). Who -- decades earlier -- had helped develop the plans for the popular Squaw Valley ski area.
Sadly, for a variety of reasons (I.E. Walt Disney's untimely passing in December of 1966, the Sierra Club's aggressive campaign against the development of this remote section of national forest), this project never actually made it off the drawing board.
But still the Mineral King name holds a lot of mystery for Disney dweebs like myself. It's one of those great "What Ifs." As in: What If ... Walt Disney had lived just a few more years and used his considerable personal charm to persuade the Sierra Club to abandon all of its lawsuits? Would this ski area then have actually been built?
Me personally? I always wondered what it was about this particular section of the Sierra Nevadas that made Walt say "This is where I want to build my ski area." Soooo ... During a recent trip to California, I persuaded the ever-wise-and-patient Nancy to join me on a drive out into the woods.
Photo by Nancy Stadler
Mineral King really does sort of redefine the term "remote." In order to reach this backwoods section of Sequoia National Forest, you have to travel up a narrow, mostly dirt road which (Seriously. I'm not lying about this. You can look it up for yourself) features 698 turns.
Mind you, the turns and those steep drop-offs aren't the only things to worry about. Between early June and mid July, you actually have to watch out for marmots. Who -- in a desperate search for salt -- will gnaw on the wiring of your car. Not to mention chewing through your radiator hoses.
You also have to keep an eye out for wayward livestock. Like these cows that just wandered out into the road, slowing our trip to the summit.
The higher you went, the twistier & narrower the route got. Here, Nancy demonstrates that this old logging road really was just 1-&-1/2 cars wide.
Photo by Jim Hill
Okay. So the drive up to Mineral King was (obviously) a little nerve racking. But the view along the way was spectacular ...
... Not to mention the Sequoias that you'd spy as you drove deeper into the forest.
And -- every so often, through the trees -- you'd get a glimpse of Mineral King itself.
Still, at every turn, there were these reminders that this remote wilderness can be a pretty tough place to get around. Particularly between April & November, when this section of the Sierra Nevadas is typically snowbound.
Finally, after over an hour of driving, we reached the Mineral King Ranger Station ....
... Where -- 40 years ago today -- Walt Disney made his last public appearance at the press conference for his proposed ski area.
Now what was kind of intriguing about finally making it up to Mineral King was ... Well, you have to understand that one of the main ways that the Sierra Club derailed this proposed ski area was the argument that -- by going forward with this particular project -- the Mouse would be defiling this pristene wilderness. Well, as you can see by the photos below ...
... Mineral King is hardly what you could call a pristene wilderness. There's ample evidence of the silver mining ...
... and logging operations that worked in this remote area as far back as the 1870s.
And -- yet -- once you got to the end of Mineral King Road (This literally was where you'd turn your car around for the trip back to Three Rivers) ...
... and took in all the beauty that surrounded you ...
... you eventually began to think that maybe the Sierra Club was right ...
... that maybe it was a good thing that Walt Disney Productions didn't ultimately build a ski area back here in this remote corner of the Sierra Nevadas.
Though -- that said -- one look at Mineral King Mountain and you can just see Walt Disney saw in this place. How the natural lay of the land would have lent itself to skiing. How this remote location would have been a spectacular setting for a new Disney-designed resort.
Anyway ... In the months ahead, we'll be revisiting the Mineral King story here at JHM. What Walt's original dream was ... And how that dream got derailed.
But -- for now -- I just thought you'd enjoy getting a look at this section of the Sierra Nevadas. Where -- 40 years ago today -- Walt made his last public appearance by talking with a bunch of reporters about his plans for Mineral King.
Chris Barry talks about the role that Walt Disney played in the founding of the Sugar Bowl Resort, which was one of Northern California's very first ski areas
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