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For many fans, Disney Parks are as well known for the projects that didn’t come to fruition as the ones that did. We’re fascinated by closed attractions, forgotten concepts, and plans that simply never made it off the drawing board. That's why Theme Park Tourist set out to recall and record the spectacular, never-built parks, attractions, and lands that – for one reason or another – aren’t around today.

That's why our Possibilityland series is here. Over the years, we've explored the mystical Beastly Kingdom once planned for Disney's Animal Kingdom, toured the Disney-MGM Studios' lost Muppet Studios, summitted Disney's never-built "Mountains," been launched into the future in Tomorrowland 2055, and many more in our In-Depth Collections Library. But today, we'll step into the most inventive lost land ever planned for Disney Parks.

In the 1970s, Walt Disney Imagineers officially announced a stunning new area to join Disneyland’s seven – an extension of Walt’s love of Americana and the impossible fantasy environments that only Disney’s Imagineers could create, Discovery Bay would’ve been the flagship land of Disney’s theme park empire. The gorgeous, thoughtful, brilliant concepts of Discovery Bay would’ve easily been one of the strongest lands at any Disney Park, even unto today. But Discovery Bay never opened. Today, we’ll explore the tumultuous tale leading up to its design, what this magnificent land would’ve contained, why it never opened, and where you can find its DNA scattered around the globe. Hold on tight as we uncover the sunken mysteries of Discovery Bay. 

Hints in the West

Image: Disney

If you’ve visited Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, or Disneyland Paris, you’ve likely been awe-struck by the towering, geometric “natural” formations of Big Thunder Mountain. At each of those parks, the ride’s iconic rock towers were modeled very precisely after the inspiring stone monoliths of Arizona’s Monument Valley, a massive and expansive desert National Park. Like their (relatively) massive and overpowering castles, those three parks all built imposing, harsh, angular, geometric peaks in expansive desert settings on purpose - it builds a larger-than-life scale (above).

But did you ever notice something subtly different about Disneyland's version of the ride?

Sure, the roller coaster track itself in California is a scaled-down replica of Florida’s, meant to fit more snugly into the miniscule park’s cramped quarters. But there’s something else about Disneyland’s that simply doesn’t match the others.

Image: Disney

There, the iconic mountain range is not modeled after the geometric, harsh, intimidating towers of Monument Valley. Instead, famed Imagineer Tony Baxter opted to use the softer, rounded “hoodoos” of Utah’s Bryce Canyon, a National Park famous for its eroded desert formations nestled amid a dense forest. The hypnotic towers are not gigantic, powerful and strong. Like Disneyland's castle, they're not about size and dominance. Rather, they're more charming and warm. The hoodoos are somewhat… well… unbelievable. They’re more fantasy than forceful (above), and of course, it's not just a coindence that Disneyland's is different from the others. In fact, that’s just the way Baxter wanted it.

The softer towers of Disneyland’s Thunder Mountain tell a subtley different tale... The fanciful formations are certainly more appropriate for the quaint park (and the ride’s proximity to Fantasyland), but they also signal the existence of Discovery Bay.

Manifest destiny

Imagine this: when you step into Frontierland, you’re supposed to feel that you’ve been transported to the 1860s Old West, when prospectors discovered gold in the fresh mines of Thunder Mountain. And for all we know, the miners there simply settled into the town and spent their winnings at the saloon, right?

But what if they didn’t? What if, instead, those prospectors – now flush with gold – continued their Westward Ho journey to manifest destiny and found themselves along the Golden Coast of California? Imagine, then, if those prospectors settled into San Francisco, right at the start of its economic boom – right as it became known as the “Paris of the West?”

Imagine if they created in San Francisco an international coastal city for explorers, adventurers, thinkers, artists, and scientists – a golden, seaside port of crystalline towers, technology, cogs, hot air balloons, steel, gadgets, and wonder? Welcome to Discovery Bay.

On the next page, we’ll begin our in-depth exploration into this seaside mechanical Mecca and its origin story, then we’ll go in-depth into the rides and attractions planned for Disney’s most impressive lost land.

Comments

Bravo, Brian!

This was such a well researched and thought out article, fascinating to read. It gave me a much deeper appreciation of Tony Baxter.

Looking forward to more of your work.

Thanks Chris! On my profile you'll find quite a bit more that I've written on lost concepts and closed attractions that you might find interesting! But I'm a huge fan of Tony Baxter and it's hard not to be. He's responsible for so many of the modern attractions we love, and for so many more that fans beg for.

I know that Claude Coats was his mentor, but this is the first I've heard of Marc acting as such. In those days, Davis people and Coats people stayed in separate camps.

In reply to by Shelly Valladolid (not verified)

Coats was definitely his mentor more than anyone else out the gate, but Baxter benefited from both schools of thought, it seems. When you think about it, most any successful and "classic" Disney ride has elements of both designers (and obviously many more), and Baxter seemed to have registered that and incorporated a balance between them into his creative process!

Sometimes, Tony's projects leaned more toward Davis' style! Think of his Phantom Manor, which more or less conceded the Haunted Mansion debate to Davis' character-driven favor. Other times, he took Davis'-style concepts and made them a bit more abstract, as in Paris' Pirates. But altogether I think he simply learned that their two styles are complimentary, not mutually exclusive. Which has been a tremendous benefit for us as guests!

It would be a fantastic land to be added to the Disney Parks. The film "TomorrowLand" was an excellent film though I feel it had it's release dampened by its competition in the box office. It had Steampunk and Jules Verne elements tied with a theme of timeless optimism and development. Discoveryland could be just what the world needs, even if it doesn't know it.

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