I’m going to start this post with an embarrassing apology: although I describe myself as a Disneyland fan and lover of all things Disney, there are many experiences at the park I have yet to enjoy (gasp!). Many of the things I have yet to try are restricted or limited in some way (I’m not at the park when said event is being offered, it’s not in my budget, I don’t have access to it, etc.), but other things have always been there, patiently waiting for me to experience them once I realize what I have been missing out on. Or, as with the topic of this post, the imminent loss of a particular experience makes you regret enjoying it too little, too late. I suppose this adds to my human-ness, in the cliche that I “don’t know what I’ve got until it’s gone” sort of way. For my previous lack of experiencing Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue, I apologize to the readers. I made an effort to correct this mistake over the weekend by trying it out for the first (and last) time, and have a few thoughts about the whole thing.
To start this off, I want to say that if you haven’t been in the Big Thunder Ranch area, I highly suggest you go visit it before it closes in January. Unfortunately, the Jamboree section of the area is now permanently closed (as far as I understand), which is a significant loss. The area was always beautifully decorated, peaceful, and large and open that was used for many different purposes, but was particularly charming over the holidays when they had character meet-and-greet’s and themed activities depending on the season. The cabin and the animals are still there, however, so you can get a small taste of what the larger experience had been like. To the right of Big Thunder Ranch is the Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue, which I visited for lunch with my family over the weekend.
The restaurant is a family style, all-you-can-eat outdoor picnic type venue. The picnic benches, where you sit and dine, are surrounding a center stage where there are musical acts and performances throughout the afternoon and evening. The restaurant is currently decorated for Halloween and fall, in shades of oranges and browns, tastefully done and festive. The wait staff was wonderful, the food was good (it wasn’t excellent, but I’m also not a huge fan of messy eating… yes, I knew this was a barbecue… but the meats could have been better), and I did not feel rushed. We got dessert, their halloween cookie bake (a very large baked sugar cookie in an iron skillet with pumpkin ice cream on top with caramel syrup), which was superior than the actual lunch food (but of course it was, we’re talking about dessert!). We were told another family would join us at the table, but it never happened, so we had a lot of space and were very comfortable throughout our meal.
I don’t consider myself a “foodie,” nor do I know how to describe food in any kind of professional, detail-oriented way, so I’ll leave what I said above alone and pass food critiques on to those who speak the language. What I do know, however, is how places and environments make me feel. My emotional experience of Disneyland is what keeps me coming back. It isn’t the rides or the food, but instead a cumulative feeling that I get each time I go there. I wish, for the sake of how I felt during my afternoon at Big Thunder Ranch, I had experienced this sooner. The area is calming by default, a nice change from the hustle and bustle of other areas of the parks, especially on crowded days. I couldn’t hear much noise outside of the light country folk songs playing in the background and the easy conversation I was having with my family, and the occasional child running around playing tag with a friend or sibling. Things were slower, I didn’t notice time passing, and I wasn’t anxious to be anywhere. For me, relaxing environments like this are hard to come by anymore. The Court of Angels and the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree used to provide this experience as well, but neither are available. The restaurant gave me the opportunity to enjoy a meal with people I love, in a secluded and homey area that had all the comforts of the private and personal experiences I associate with Disneyland. A part of me wishes that more of this was still available at the Parks, without having to pay an additional price to access it.
We decided to finally eat here once we learned that it would be gone at the end of the year. The experience was wonderful, I made great memories, but it makes me think about why we waited to experience something until we knew we would lose it. In the work I do professionally and the way I try to experience life for myself, I always wonder what makes us wait to show appreciation or make a change towards something, or more importantly, someone. And then, once we have concrete proof that we are going to experience loss, we change our behavior. Isn’t the threat of loss always there anyway? I like the idea of living in a more fulfilling way, being grateful and taking risks and trying new things, so that we don’t experience regret when the inevitable happens. I do regret not enjoying the Big Thunder Ranch area in its entirety more while it was still around. The tall walls blocking my access to something I used to take for granted were a cold reminder of that loss yesterday. Although the barbecue is ultimately a small thing, the appreciation I have for the small things grows once I realize that they’re gone.
I highly encourage you to enjoy the restaurant before it closes. Take your first, or one of your last, trips over there and enjoy your time and company. The walls are going to expand quickly, and it would be a shame to stand in front of them wondering what it would have been like if you had only done something different sooner.