Dolly Parton
Chattanooga Times Free Press
May 6, 2007
Dollywood’s new Mystery Mine is mind-blowing
By Lisa Denton

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Dolly Parton squeezed that famous body into a black leather outfit and strapped a glowing headlamp over a blond wig last month for the grand opening of Mystery Mine, the new ride at her Dollywood theme park.

But the loading zone, where the first riders clambered aboard the steel coaster, was as close as she got to firsthand experience.

“I have too much to lose to get on one of these rides,” she told the crowd. “My hair, my eyelashes — Lord, there’s no telling what might spill out if I got on these rides.”

Mystery Mine, the only ride of its kind in the country, represents a $17.5 million investment, the largest in the park’s history. The ride is set in an abandoned 1900s coal mine, where eight-passenger mine carts maneuver passengers through a series of uncertain encounters, including a fall from a collapsed trestle and a plunge into an abandoned tunnel. Carts reach a top speed of 60 mph on the 1,811-foot track.

The highlight of the 2.5-minute ride is a 95-degree, 85-foot vertical drop. Gerstlauer, the German ride manufacturer, has similar attractions in Europe, but the 95-degree drop is unprecedented in the United States, according to Dollywood officials.

“The drops are amazing,” said American Coaster Enthusiasts member Matthew Lambert, 30, an urban planner in Knoxville who has ridden Mystery Mine 102 times, including warm-ups before its official unveiling on April 13.

“The drops come out of nowhere, and the last drop is kind of intense,” he said. “It takes your breath away.”

The climbs are just as impressive. Twice, the mine carts screech to a halt at the bottom of the shaft for a mindblowing view of the track towering straight up into darkness. The 85-foot climb, particularly, is a lesson in “What was I thinking” second-guessing.

Mystery Mine follows The Thunderhead, a massive wooden coaster with a 100-foot drop and top speed of 55 mph, which was added in 2004, and Tennessee Tornado, a triple-spiral looping roller coaster with a 128-foot drop and a top speed of 70 mph, which debuted in 1999.

Like Blazing Fury, the indoor coaster set in a fireengulfed 1880s town, Mystery Mine relies heavily on theming and special effects to heighten the mystery of the mine’s eerie past.

Red eyes peer out from random hidey-holes. Bad omens such as crow sightings and abandoned boots pervade the mine, as does the sound of whistling, considered bad luck. Grinding gears, hissing stream and roaring engines add to the unnerving effect.

For Ms. Parton, the unexplainable events associated with the new ride began in the boardroom as the designers went to work.

“That is the true mystery of the Mystery Mine,” she said, “that they thought I would actually get on this.”