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JHM Photo Safari: A twisty, turny trip up to the proposed location of Mineral King

JHM Photo Safari: A twisty, turny trip up to the proposed location of Mineral King

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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.


Copyright 1966 Walt Disney Productions

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.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

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. 


Photo by Nancy Stadler

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 ...


Photo by Nancy Stadler

... Not to mention the Sequoias that you'd spy as you drove deeper into the forest.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

And -- every so often, through the trees -- you'd get a glimpse of Mineral King itself.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

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.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

Finally, after over an hour of driving, we reached the Mineral King Ranger Station ....


Photo by Nancy Stadler

... Where -- 40 years ago today -- Walt Disney made his last public appearance at the press conference for his proposed ski area.


Copyright 1966 Walt Disney Productions

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 ...


Photo by Nancy Stadler

... Mineral King is hardly what you could call a pristene wilderness. There's ample evidence of the silver mining ...


Photo by Nancy Stadler

... and logging operations that worked in this remote area as far back as the 1870s.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

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) ...


Photo by Nancy Stadler

... and took in all the beauty that surrounded you ...


Photo by Nancy Stadler

... you eventually began to think that maybe the Sierra Club was right ...


Photo by Nancy Stadler

... 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.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

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.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

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.

Your thoughts?

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  • Please don't leave us hanging, Jim -- please please please REALLY FOR REAL revisit this, okay?
  • I love the "Parks That Never Were..." stuff.  Disney's America and that St. Louis history park thing come to mind, along with this "themed ski area" project.  Jim- any info you can give us on other parks that Disney considered building that got derailed would be MUCH appreciated! :-)
  • Make sure you talk with Buzz Price ... he has a lot to say about Mineral King (mostly that developing a first-class ski resort is still a good idea). Also I heard that Disney really had dealt with many of the environmental concerns -- especially in regards to auto traffic -- with a proposed tram/train directly to the resort.

    I think that most of us enthusiasts who look back at Walt's life see that he wanted to exceed the public's expectations to deliver an excellent product.

    In retrospect, isn't it a bit more upsetting that Walt wasn't focused on one specific project at a time? If he had focused on EPCOT before his untimely death, would we have a true testing ground for mass transit, communication and urban land use issues?
  • Very interesting.  Thanks for the link to Mickey News, too, because I had never heard of this proposed park.  It's also sad that 40 years today was Walt's last public appearance.  I wish you took a picture of a marmot!  
  • It's especially great for me to see this.  I grew up in Tulare County, where Sequoia National Park is.  I don't think I got all the way up to Mineral King, but spent many a weekend in the Park.  Thanks for the memories, Jim.  And I agree, please really for real revisit this.  I'd love to see what was planned for my 'backyard.'
  • Great article, Jim. That was really cool. Must have been a fun adventure. Glad you took lots of photos.

    For anyone who doesn't know, Walt had planned an animatronic stage show for his Mineral King resort. One that featured a bunch of singing bears. Never one to let a good idea go to waste, after the Mineral King plans fell through, the singing bears attraction was moved to the new Walt Disney World resort in Florida, as "The Country Bear Jamboree."
  • For those who are further interested in the Mineral King project, pick up a copy of the Country Bears Jamboree DVD from the extinct attractions club.  Not only does this DVD feature the great Disney attraction, but also discusses the Mineral King project (for which Jamboree came from).
  • Jim, I would REALLY love for you to do a series on Disney's America. I have looked and looked and found nothing about the project itself, just how and why it got derailed.
    What St Louis park?!??! I have NEVER heard of this before.
  • Interesting stuff in spite of the sad anniverary.  I'm looking forward to more details, including artwork.

    Maybe I'm jumping the gun, but I seem to remember hearing of a wooden sculpture of Donald Duck perched on one of the cabin's rooftops(?).  the only physical evedence of what might have been.
  • If I recall, the St. Louis park was going to include some sort of boat ride through American frontier history.  This ultimately got derailed (if I recall) because Auggie Busch was underwriting it(?) and told Walt that beer would be served at the park, Walt kiboshed that idea, falling out between them, park died, etc.  I think Jim had this item in his Western Rivers Expedition info.  Marc Davis had done work on the boat ride and it eventually morphed into the WRE expedition ride that was to be at MK...  I could be mixing my facts up... read Jim's "Western Rivers Expedition" articles (IMHO, the best stuff he ever did).
  • If you’re a true Disney Geek, you’ve heard of the Mineral King Ski Resort that Walt Disney wanted to build in the California Sierra backcountry. It was going to be a huge, first class resort, rivaling any at Tahoe or...
  • PingBack from http://bullfrog117.wordpress.com/2006/09/21/visiting-mineral-king-eric-idle-spills-his-life-and-nbc-shows-up-american-idol/
  • I've backpacked out of Mineral King and it is a very beautiful area. I'm skeptical about how popular it would have been as a ski resort since the access is very limited (as Jim's 698 turns attest). Sure they could have built some type of train or tram to the resort, but I doubt it would have carried enough people to make it highly successful. Remember that Squaw Valley had Interstate Highway 80 nearby and money from the 1960 Winter Olympics to build itself up.
  • 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

  • PingBack from http://www.bullfrog117.com/unfiltered/?p=210

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