Guests who visit theme parks enjoy immersing themselves into rides and attractions that will take them to fanciful and exotic locales but unfortunately the ride experience is usually over in just a couple of minutes.  Realizing that park patrons spend much more time waiting for these rides rather than on the ride itself, theming and entertainment is now often incorporated into the queue line, setting the scene and peaking the interests of riders long before they step into their ride vehicles.


Following a string of extensively themed attractions which included Batman The Ride, the Right Stuff Mach 1 Adventure, and the Viper, Six Flags Great Adventure introduced its first indoor roller coaster for the 1996 season.  Located next to the highly successful and impeccably themed Adventure Rivers water ride area, Skull Mountain, with its massive human skull-topped peak and three tiered waterfall, beckoned riders to temp fate and discover what mysteries lurked inside its simulated stone edifice. 

However, long before stepping foot inside the cavernous structure which housed the roller coaster attraction, guests were sent on an adventurous trek through the outskirts of the "mountain" where they learned that previous explorers may not have been all the successful in learning the secrets of Skull Mountain.  A 1996 excerpt from a press release for the ride sets the stage as follows:

The primary area used for Skull Mountain's themed queue began as it does today, following along the left side of the Skull Mountain building.  From there it wrapped to the left behind the neighboring food stand which was on the site of what is today Panda Express.  It then worked its way around the stand's outdoor patio and filled the space which now is home to the Jolly Roger ride.  The path then doubled back onto itself and led to the opening in the mountain which today still serves as the entrance to the structure.
The layout for the queue seemed tucked away from the rest of the park.  The entire area was surrounded in natural branch fencing and the heavy foliage of the lake front combined with newly planted lush landscaping all helped to create a jungle themed environment. 

Bypassing the lengthy queue was originally not an option as no shortcut was provided to allow guests to go directly from the entranceway into the building.  And after all, the majority of Skull Mountain's theming was not in the mountain itself but instead throughout the outdoor queue line.  It was considered an integral part of the story, not to mention a big part of the park's investment in the ride.
Construction of the outdoor queue was still in its earliest stages when opening day 1996 rolled around.  Pathways were just beginning to be defined and land clearing was well underway.  The majority of the construction efforts were still being invested in the massive mountain and the coaster which it would host. 

Even by mid-May, with just a little over a month until opening day, the majority of themed elements were yet to be installed, let alone any of the landscaping or detailed props.
Skull Mountain officially opened on June 3, 1996 and guests were greeted by one of the most elaborate queue line experiences ever offered at the park.  To the beat of native drums and jungle animal squeals, guests started their journey to Skull Mountain through a meandering pathway flanked by native shields and colorful totem poles.  Sharpened spears hinted that whoever had claimed this land may not be that receptive to visitors but brave explorers were encouraged to venture further, deep into the jungle passages.
  Never missing an opportunity to woo hungry adventurers, the park offered one last chance to purchase rations at the Mountain Dogs food stand.  Originally the Junction Inn, this food facility's windows were dissected by the ride's perimeter fence making several of its serving windows accessible to guests waiting in line, while also being available to guests on the opposite side of the fencing divide. 

Just past the food stand, guests turned left behind the facility and were confronted with the abandoned camp of previous seekers.
Canvas tents used to protect exploration equipment from the elements were pitched close to the foot of the mountain.  Meanwhile, a little further into the jungle, thatch huts signaled the presence of some native tribesmen that may have confronted the explorers.

Located next to this main concentration of props, eager riders were forced to navigate a three aisle queue house.  The permanent queue bar configuration made traversing its entire length mandatory, but at least the themed thatched cover provided shade.
  Once out of the queue house, a massive cauldron could be heard bubbling away.  It was positioned so that no one could see what was cooking inside, but everyone had a feeling it was previous guests who sought to challenge the mountain. 

The cauldron itself would outlive the themed queue by many years, often being used as a prop in Fright Fest shows, haunted hayrides, and terror trails for seasons to follow.
  The final part of the path paralleled the lakefront where guests once again reentered the explorers part of the theming.  Here, passerby's examined a dig site which was recently excavated, and a larger tent complete with an extinguished camp fire that mush have been the temporary home to a previous intrepid team.  Just as guests made the last turn to the right to head into the mountain, an abandoned truck, which was also used in later years for Fright Fest, seemed to careen out of control into the fencing which did not forebode well for our journeys inside Skull Mountain.   
Skull Mountain's original themed queue lasted from 1996 through the end of 1998, however, it was rarely used beyond its first season.  The lengthy pathway combined with the interior passages leading to the station proved superfluous for the crowds looking to experience Skull Mountain, especially given its short ride time and relatively high capacity.  Before its second season, a shortcut was added allowing guests to enter the mountain directly from the main entrance path, bypassing the need to even enter the themed queue. 

The queue line was removed before the 1999 season and replaced by the Jolly Roger ride.  In 2000, the Mountain Dogs food stand was replaced by a new Wok & Roll indoor restaurant (which is today Panda Express) occupying the land of the original stand, its neighboring patio area, and the passages which were once located behind the original building.  Sections of fencing from Skull Mountain's queue are still visible behind Panda Express.

Today, Skull Mountain is often criticized for its lack of indoor themed props and scenery during its near-pitch black ride offering.  If only today's explorers knew of all the theming which once could be discovered just outside of Skull Mountain.
Special thanks to Michael Hammer of NewsPlusNotes for several photo contributions to this Spotlight.