Fall for it! Adventure Park’s new attraction drops 110 feet into mountain
For Steve Beckley and his crew at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, building a drop ride inside a vertical tunnel rather than in the light of day was just a solution to a problem.
Beckley, the park’s owner, and employees wanted to add a drop ride to the park’s growing list of attractions. But Beckley didn’t want such an attraction’s mountaintop location to be a visual impact to residents living below in Glenwood Springs.
He had no idea that the solution the park would arrive at also would end up being the world’s first underground drop ride: the Haunted Mine Drop.
“We took the normal drop tower and inverted it — started the ride at the top instead of the bottom,” he explained during the ride’s grand opening Monday.
There’s something else you can do when you put a drop ride underground: turn the lights out so riders are falling through darkness, as if through space.
“It takes my breath away every time,” said Jeanne Beckley, Steve’s wife and the park’s co-owner, remarking about dropping in the dark and wondering when you’ll come to a stop.
Paul Ruben, North American editor for Park World, a trade magazine for the industry, joined Jeanne Beckley and four others on the first drop after the ride’s grand opening.
“It’s a unique experience, unlike any other drop tower I’ve even been on,” Ruben said. “The ride experience is enhanced by dropping into the dark, into a cold, dark mineshaft.”
“I appreciate creativity. This is the most creative ride I’ve seen all year,” he said.
And Ruben’s seen a lot of rides. His job and love of amusement parks has taken him to 327 of them, and he’s ridden 875 roller coasters alone, not counting all the other types of amusement park rides. He recently spent a few days at the new half-billion-dollar Pandora — World of Avatar attraction at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
“It’s amazing what people can do with $500 million, but this guy on a budget (Steve Beckley) came up with something no one’s seen before,” Ruben said.
He said there are a few roller coasters in the world that drop underground, but they keep going, unlike the Haunted Mine Drop.
“Here you come to a smooth — hopefully a smooth — stop,” he said with a smile.
(This reporter’s experience: Two or three blind seconds of hoping that the ride’s brakes would work.)
Ruben said most amusement parks wouldn’t be able to build this kind of ride because of shallow water tables. Just a few parks are built into mountains where hitting groundwater is less of a problem.
“But they didn’t think of it and Steve Beckley did,” Ruben said. “My readers are always interested in what’s new and what’s different, and this takes the cake for being different.”
Mark McDonough’s St. Louis-based Creative Visions did the theming for the ride. The story line basically involves ride participants being recruited for mining jobs that turn out to be a little less safe than promised and in a mine that turns out to be haunted.
McDonough has done work for big parks such as Six Flags and Busch Gardens.
“It’s great and all, but it’s not the same kind of thing” as working at Glenwood Caverns, which he said has a “great vibe.”
“Steve always comes up with the neatest little things. It just didn’t surprise me when he came up with this, and it turned out to be every bit as cool as I hoped it would be, something that doesn’t always happen. This is one of those cases when I’m happy with it,” he said.
He said of the mine drop, “You don’t really hear people scream that much, and when you’re riding it you’ll realize why. It’s very hard to scream when you’re dropping that fast.”
“That was awesome. Holy cow, I’m weak in the knees,” said Stan Checketts, after his first ride.
While a novice as a Haunted Mine Drop rider, he was integrally involved with the project. His Logan, Utah, company, Soaring Eagle, built the attraction.
His company builds rides around the world, including the Giant Canyon Swing at Glenwood Caverns and the Stratosphere Tower Big Shot in Las Vegas.
“I started with bungee towers back in the late ‘80s and have been thrilling people ever since,” he said.
He’s thrilled with how this project turned out, but also didn’t pass up the chance at the grand opening to needle Steve Beckley about the fact that he hasn’t tried out the ride.
While an intrepid caver, Steve Beckley generally avoids some of the more stomach-churning thrill rides at the park. He didn’t ride the Giant Canyon Swing, which soars out above Glenwood Canyon, until agreeing to do so with television personality Bert “the Conqueror” Kreischer for the Travel Channel.
As for the mine drop, “we’ll get him on it. We’ll get him on it,” Jeanne Beckley said.
But she conceded she won’t be able to persuade him on her own, and it may require some more star power.
“It’s gone from Oprah (Winfrey) to Ellen (DeGeneres),” she said of the candidates her husband has mentioned he might be willing to ride with.
Steve Beckley said he told his marketing personnel to try for someone such as Jimmy Fallon.
“I’ll ride it with him,” Steve Beckley said. “I’m saving myself for, like, famous celebrities.”