Skull Mountain was built during Time Warner's ownership of Six Flags, and was a great example of their efforts to bring theme elements to the parks. The idea was to take a basic family style coaster and give it something more to enhance the ride experience, and the creation of Skull Mountain exemplified the Time Warner management's creation of more immersive guest experiences following the introduction of Batman: The Ride, The Right Stuff Mach 1 Adventure, and Viper in previous seasons, each featuring more and more elaborate experiences from the beginning of the line to the exit.
In the fall of 1995, a section of the Adventure Rivers area of the park was closed off and a construction fence went up as the land preparation began for what would become Skull Mountain.
The Rotor ride was removed from the man made hill that was built around it, and the surrounding landscaping was removed.
The construction site covered the area from Red River Taco (Panda Express today), to the rock waterfalls that served as the portal into Adventure Rivers.
The area was leveled and cleared before the end of the season, though construction of the building and coaster were still not complete on opening day of the 1996 season and the ride did not open until June.
The news release, concept art and employee
promotional button from the 1996 season.
The park's marketing team polled guests about the name and the type of
ride to decide what name would be most fitting for an indoor coaster
suited to families, and the name chosen as least appropriate by guests
polled was Skull Mountain, but (then) park management decided that the
Skull Mountain name was most marketable and went with it despite it not
fitting the style and intensity of the coaster.
The coaster itself was designed and built by INTAMIN, and uses a series of drive tires to lift the train from the station, to a middle level, and up a final section of lift to the drop.
The coaster was constructed inside a generic metal building which was then covered with fake rock and painted murals which further extend the illusion of the "mountain". The front of the building was left open for the construction of the ride, and a special and unique front section which would serve as an opening where trains would pass on their way up to the top.
A "cave" entrance was created, which led boarding riders through the base of the building, under the lift and into the station, all with very elaborate theme elements.
In the pictures to the left and the right you can see the seldom seen helices which lay just beyond the "cave" walls of the ride entrance. The wooden frame on the track is the clearance gauge which was used to make sure the train had enough room for passengers to safely pass below the steel beams.
Below, the lift has been topped off and construction of the steep curving first drop is beginning to take shape.
With the turn on the mid level of the lift in place, the roof structure
for was framed out, and the front wall of the upper section framed.
Application of the fake rock face had begun at this point in construction as well.
In the picture below, you can see the interior wall taking shape on the inside of the lift turn. The interior walls of the "cave" are beginning to get framed and sheathed.
Above, the siding for the out of service trains turns behind the
Construction of the queue area was also taking place as the the building took shape. The queue extended behind the restaurant and over to the remote control boats.
|The frame work of the
rock face was applied to the exterior of the steel building, and the
concrete surface was applied. After the rocks were created,
paint and was applied to accentuate the rock texture and age the
The front extension on the building was covered completely in the rock facing, and the upper levels were covered with large "rock" panels.
On the site currently occupied by the Jolly Roger, a covered queue house was constructed and the winding pathways of stamped concrete with rope fences were designed to hold large crowds. The line could be opened fully, or shortened to enter directly into the "cave".
Theme elements of the queue included some jungle huts and giant cauldron. The area was planted with bamboo and other tropical plants to give the area a jungle feel.
The ride exit was designed to resemble a mine shaft, and opened into a newly created back entrance of the Trading Post gift shop where all manner of Skull Mountain souvenirs were available.
Rustic wooden fences were added to screen the back areas, and a layer of thatch was applied to the roof of the queue house.
Construction of Skull Mountain ran longer than anticipated and early
season visitors were disappointed to learn that Skull Mountain was not
ready to open.
The Red River Taco restaurant was given matching theme elements to make it fit the queue line.
The full queue was rarely used, so few people got to appreciate the details and elements that were included as part of the overall ride experience.
On the left you can see the "huts" that were part of the queue line, and you can see the attention to detail even included thatch on the lights over the pathway. Also shown is the stylized map depiction of Skull Mountain.
The Skull Mountain sign features a 3D rendition of the ride logo, and layers of thatch and spears.
The ride building was elaborately lit at night, with up lighting accentuating the rock walls and glowing eyes inside the skull.
One of the favorite features for many guests has been the waterfalls which provide a welcome refreshing mist for passers-by, people on line, and riders as they spill out of the skull and down the front of the mountain into the pool at the base.
The interior of Skull Mountain has maintained much of its original dark and eerie feeling over the years, with low lighting through the cave, and the station lit by hanging lanterns.
Over time the rocks of Skull Mountain have faded, and the seams have begun to be more visible.
In 2007 the addition of Wiggles World to the area next to Skull Mountain has created an incongruous contrast with its bright colors against the faded rock formations. Walking out of the exit tunnel from the darkness of the ride into the vibrant colors of the Wiggles is shocking.
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|Skull Mountain has
delighted thousands of riders over the years since it was built and shows
what theme elements can do to make an ordinary ride into something
memorable and interesting. The coaster offers many young
visitors their first "big coaster" experience, yet is still tame enough
to be enjoyed by the whole family.
The same kind of "family appeal" that was being created by Six Flags Management under Time Warner ownership is was forgotten with additions in following years, but the current corporate management seems to be trying to go back to the idea of creating a more immersive experience that is an escape from the everyday world.
As the Skull Mountain Queue House
As the Jolly Roger ride site