Coyotes, Bats and TNT
After a short run through dark tunnels the train slows down and begins its ascent towards a majestic waterfall. We finally have a moment to admire our surroundings: a dimly-lit grotto filled with rats, bats and left-over equipment from the first expeditions that explored these caverns. Down below we can spot rainbow-colored pools of water.
Eventually we pass under the waterfall and find ourselves right in the middle of Big Thunder Island, on a ledge overlooking Foreboding Gorge. Between the red rocks, fir trees and cactus plants we can make out the river down below in the distance. The train picks up speed and we travel through a series of hair-raising curves. Judging by the debris below, an ore car couldn’t handle the steep inclination of these rails and dropped down on the canyon floor.
Arriving at the waterfront, an opossum and its young are sent spinning on their tree by our passage. Up ahead at Mill Landing we notice that the trestle has given way and we’re headed down through the river with a huge splash before climbing back up the track toward Mill Camp.
The old prospector is taking a bath in his hut and has just spotted a goat gnawing away at a shirt on his clothesline, as two mules look on. We hear him shout as we pass:
“Clarabelle! You let that be! Daggummit, ya stubborn mule! Let go o’ that, ya flea-bitten varmint! Clarabelle!!!”
Our train is pulled up through an old wooden A-Frame by a steam-powered winch. From the top of a natural arch bridge we get an impressive view of the canyons and the river down below before plunging back down the track.
Rushing past a sign warning of a broken trestle, our train rattles twice around Spiral Butte before heading into Cactus Canyon. Two coyotes howl at the train as it ducks under Head Knocker Tunnel. A sharp turn over another trestle brings us to the main Big Thunder Mine. A sign says “Danger! TNT!” but we’re already on our way in.
As we climb the track deeper into the mine, a voice from a small mine shaft shouts out:
“Fire in the hole!”
Mere instants later, an explosion rocks the mine. Smoke, swaying timbers and falling rocks surround us. Up ahead, a spectacular display of sparkling gold dust indicates that we just might have rediscovered the fabled gold vein of Big Thunder.
But there’s no time to stop and examine our find. The track gives way due to the explosion and we find ourselves back outside where a grand view over Thunder Mesa awaits us…
The train, however, keeps picking up speed and passes through an old wooden snow shed. As we plunge into the dark caverns at breakneck speeds, a swarm of bats passes over us. A bell warns us to slow down but we’re already back on the mainland. We surface in an old delivery shed and, slowed down at last, make our way back to the station.
“Messieurs dames ! Veuillez rester assis jusqu’à l’arrêt complet et attendre qu’on vous dise de descendre !”
“Howdy folks! Please remain seated until the train comes to a complete stop and wait until you’re asked to disembark! Much obliged!”