The Ponderosa Ranch was a theme park based on the popular 1960s television western Bonanza. The amusement park operated in Incline Village, near Lake Tahoe, Nevada, from 1967 until 2004. Portions of the last five seasons of the TV series and three TV movies were also filmed at that location.
The Ponderosa was the fictional setting for Bonanza. According to the storyline, it was a 600,000 acre ranch on the shores of Lake Tahoe, nestled high in the Sierra Nevada, with a large ranch house in the center of it. Ben Cartwright was said to have built the original, smaller homestead after moving from New Orleans with his pregnant third wife Marie and his two sons, Adam and Hoss. The grown Adam, an architect and engineer, designed the later sprawling ranch house as depicted on TV.
The idea for the theme park came about in 1965. Bill and Debbie Anderson owned a small horse ranch, which happened to be located at about the same area as the Ponderosa on the fictional burning map. According to the Andersons, tourists would regularly show up at their gates, asking where the Ponderosa was. The Andersons contacted NBC and proposed turning their small ranch into a theme park. NBC saw the idea as a great promotional tool for the series.
The park opened to the public in 1967, complete with a scale replica of the Cartwright ranch house and barn, similar to the ones seen on TV each week. A replica of Virginia City was later added to the property. The original plan was to open the set to tourists, once filming had wrapped. However, shuttling cast and crew up to Incline Village on a weekly basis became cost prohibitive. Thus, very few episodes of Bonanza were actually shot there.
The ranch and park remained a popular seasonal attraction for decades after the network run of Bonanza ended, having outlived most of the series' original cast; business finally began to dwindle in the late 1990s. The land was purchased by billionaire software entrepreneur David Duffield in 2004. In September 2004, he closed the Ponderosa "indefinitely".
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