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Big Rocks and Snakes

“Where are we going today, Mark?” One Direction member, Niall, asked his manager.

“Arizona, Arizona! Big rocks and snakes!” Mark exclaimed.

Like Mark, most people associate Arizona with cactus, rocks, snakes, and barren desert. What if I told you that Disneyland and a whole land in California Adventure was influenced by scenery in Arizona? I bet that would blow your mind.

Most tourists traveling to Arizona normally come for one of two things: The Grand Canyon or Sedona. Sedona of course is the less popular attraction, but it still draws a good amount of tourists each year (believe me, it used to take me a half hour to drive to Sedona and now it takes at least fifty minutes because of the traffic from all the tourists). The trails within Oak Creek Canyon on the scenic drive to Sedona is a big draw for tourists. The main attraction here is West Fork. The last (and first) time I hiked the trail, I had to park nearly a half mile away and gingerly walk on the side of the highway until I reached the trailhead. It’s so immensely popular because hikers cross the river multiple times throughout the hike making it a very unique experience.

That time I hiked the trail with my mom and sister, we walked by remains from a building, not even realizing what we were missing. Last week, my parents hiked the same trail, and unlike the time I hiked it, they stopped to read a plaque next to the abandoned building remains. According to the plaque, the building use to be Mayhew Lodge. The lodge opened in 1926 by Flagstaff photographer, Carl Mayhew, and it operated until 1968 by Mayhew’s family. Unfortunately, the lodge burned down in 1980, leaving only the foundation behind as remnants of the once popular lodge. Here’s the really cool part. Celebrities such as Herbert Hoover, Clark Gable, and the one and only, Walt Disney, stayed at Mayhew Lodge. My dad marveled at the remains of lodge’s fireplace, thinking to himself that at one point, Walt Disney was warming his hands in the exact same spot more than 50 years ago. When my parents came back from the hike and told me what they discovered, I couldn’t fathom that I lived so close to a place that Walt Disney visited.

Sedona’s unique landscape is the perfect location for many famous films such as Rounders, Colorado Territory, Leave Her to Heaven. Like many filmmakers, Walt was drawn to Sedona’s red rocks and canyons. While visiting Sedona, Walt was inspired to construct an attraction in Disneyland that would convey the same western, small-town feel that Sedona conveyed. And just like that, Thunder Mountain was born! Yup, one of Disneyland’s most iconic, E ticket attractions was based off of scenery in Arizona.

Sedona isn’t the only place in Arizona that captured Disney’s attention. The quaint town of Seligman in western Arizona managed to draw in Disney Imagineers when they were researching for one of their early Pixar movies. Imagineers were traveling Route 66, The Mother Road, for inspiration for their new film, Cars. They slept in famous Route 66 motels such as the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino and ate in Route 66 diners like Mr. D’z Diner in Kingman, Arizona. As the imaginers wound their way back to LA, the quaint town of Seligman caught their attention. Seligman used to by a booming town, but since the town was bypassed in the late 1970s, Seligman was completely out of the way for Interstate 40 traveler. Unique, local dives and tourist boutiques that line the main street are normally empty, and locals watch longingly as travelers along I40 pass by without even knowing what they’re missing.

The only business Seligman gets is from Route 66 motorcycle buffs and car clubs that travel through the town. Seligman is so off the grid, that most Arizona residents don’t even know the town exists.

Disney Imagineers saw potential in Seligman, and because of this, the town in Cars, Radiator Springs, was solely based off of Seligman. And in 2012, a whole new land in California Adventure was dedicated to Radiator Springs. I can’t help but smile while walking through Cars Land. It brings me so much joy to see that Disney is taking some of the natural wonders of my home state to implement in their parks.

Even though Arizona may still be made up of a lot of rocks and snakes and deserts, one thing is for certain: Arizona is still beautiful, so beautiful that Disney drew inspiration from the state, and that’s pretty cool.

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