An illustrated property map from 1971 (portion reproduced below), which could be found in most WDW hotel rooms until the mid-1980s, shows the relative scope of Thunder Mesa relative to its surroundings.Although the accuracy of the illustrated map is somewhat dubious given that Tom Sawyer Island, prior to its 1973 opening, was covered in pines vs.Davis' death in 2000; and the more rampant dispersion of WRE artwork into various forms of print; more than enough information and images have surfaced to double the amount of Thunder Mesa / WRE content on this site.As has been the case with EPCOT the city, information coming forward over the past 25 years demonstrates that these Magic Kingdom projects were much more than rough ideas given some quick treatments; they were compelling and well-developed proposals that came very close to realization. Text copyright 2006 Mike Lee WYW acknowledges the thoughtful assistance of Dave Barker, Howard Bowers, Russell Brower, Bill Cotter, Michael Cozart, Jim Hill, Mike Hiscano, Bob Kammerer, Jerry Klatt and Ross Plesset with its research on Thunder Mesa & The Western River Expedition When the master planning of WDW kicked into high gear in late 1967, after Walt Disney's death and the securing of vital legislation from the Florida State Senate that granted Walt Disney Productions autonomous control over its 27,443 acres of property, the company had no intention of building a Pirates of the Caribbean ride for their new venture's theme park component. audiences would be better entertained by a taste of something less familiar and more removed from their geographic region's past.
Another was a series of hiking trails atop the mesa, past natural arches, waterfalls, desert flora and fauna and a Pueblo Indian village.
There was also to be a pack mule ride working its way across the stone bluffs.
But the star attraction would be staged inside the mountain, where guests would set sail for the legendary days of cowboys and Indians in the Western River Expedition - which has repeatedly been called the most famous Disney ride that was never built.
Its size and scope would have made it by far the largest and most dense single component of the Magic Kingdom.
This is why WED decided to hold off on its construction at first, slating it for realization toward the end of WDW "Phase One" i.e., the first five years after opening.