The Big Thunder Ranch was an attraction at Disneyland which included an outdoor petting zoo, a walk-through cabin, and a variety of scenery meant to create the atmosphere of a Western ranch in Frontierland nearby Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Inside one could find sheep, goats, cows, and other farm animals. Among these animals were the two turkeys who received presidential pardons in honor of Thanksgiving in 2008 and the attraction was hosted by Brawny.
The Big Thunder Ranch opened in 1986 and housed the Big Thunder log cabin, a building constructed with real logs provided by the Rocky Mountain Log Company. The cabin was initially intended as a replica to simply be looked at by visitors, but it was later used as a gift store and finally as a children's crafts center. Walt Disney Imagineering designed the building, and building designer Bob Ybarra drew the plans. Care was taken to use real materials and hide modern structural hardware to make the cabin look as authentic as possible.
The cabin was accompanied by a petting zoo and a dining area known as the Big Thunder Barbecue.
Eventually the petting zoo was removed to make room for an outdoor theater that served as a home for a live show The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Festival of Fools beginning in June 1996. The show ended in April 1998; Big Thunder Barbecue closed soon after. Another film tie-in overlay would come in 2004 through 2005 for the release of Home on the Range with the Ranch being presented as Little Patch of Heaven and the petting zoo being brought back. A few props such as the Alameda Slim Wanted poster were left in the area well after this overlay ended.
The ranch hosted the Billy Hill and the Hillbillies show after they left the Golden Horseshoe Saloon until they left Disneyland on January 6, 2014 and moved to Knott's Berry Farm. After being used on occasion for special events and seasonal attractions for several years, the outdoor dining area reopened in spring 2009, serving seasonal confections and an all-you-can-eat American-style barbecue menu, including chicken, pork, sausage, beans, corncob, cornbread, coleslaw, lemonade and fruit cobbler. Musicians performed traditional American country and folklore sing-along on the stage and interacted with diners.
The log cabin was called "Miss Chris' Cabin" and had two large tables stocked with baskets of crayons and coloring pages. During the Little Patch of Heaven overlay, it was presented as Pearl's Cottage and during Christmas it housed meet and greets with Santa Claus.
The entire ranch rotated through seasonal-appropriate decorations:
- Summertime Roundup decorations featured summer flowers, eagles, and red/white/blue color motifs.
- Autumntime Roundup decorations featured fall flowers, carved pumpkins, and orange/brown/yellow color motifs.
- Wintertime Roundup decorations featured winter flowers, snow, and red/green/blue color motifs.
- Springtime Roundup decorations featured spring flowers, baby animals, and purple/yellow/green color motifs.
The Big Thunder Ranch often hosted seasonal and holiday-themed shows, including Woody's All-American Roundup during Fourth of July events, Woody's Halloween Roundup during Halloween events, and Santa's Reindeer Roundup during Christmas events.
Following the closure of Big Thunder Ranch, the Disneyland Railroad was rerouted to pass near where it used to stand. As trains reach the end of the Frontierland portion of the route, passengers can spot a pair of lanterns that both feature the brand logo of Big Thunder Ranch, as a small tribute to the former attraction.
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