Type:   River Rafting Ride
Year Built:   1993

Flat rides. Spin-n-spews. Whirl-n-hurls. Whatever you call them, every park has 'em. They are the few, the proud, the sickening. These colorful, spinning rides can be found at everything from traveling carnivals to our favorite theme parks. And what would a theme park be without the occasional twisting thriller? Love them or hate them, flat rides have always been and always will be.

Silverwood can tell you that.

It was for years that Silverwood had nothing but flat rides. The park was virtually a permanently installed, travelling carnival. Even variations of non-flat rides such as their log flume and lone coaster the Corkscrew could be found at large fairgrounds. The point was that early on, Silverwood wasn't burning any bridges. The park was just a baby, and wasn't quite sure that it could, or would, survive for a long time. There was still a lot to prove. Consequently, Sliverwood was little more than an assemblage of flat rides and such, with the potential to be quickly packed up and moved out, should the park ever go under.

A huge, wonderful, gutsy risk was taken in 1993 when the park jumped into the theme park waters with both feet (literally) and announced the construction of a new raft ride called Thunder Canyon. Located at the West end of the park, the ride would be similar to many others found at various parks across the country. It would feature free-floating rafts careening down a man made river through thick foliage, caves and wilderness. It would include several large rapids to literally drench passengers, sprays of water, and whirlpools. Once it opened, Silverwood would be making a statement that they were here to stay.

A journey down the queue of Thunder Canyon sets the mood. This is Silverwood's first, and to date, only highly-themed ride. And a marvelous job has been done. For starters, the area is extremely secluded. Thick, dense foliage of all kinds engulf both riders and those who wait their turn. The scenery gives the impression that the Thunder Canyon is buried within the depths of the mountains along white waters and throughout thick forests. The pathways venture around, near, and over the river, and the screams of riders can be heard throughout the trees. Just what exactly is happening to those unfortunate souls?

Just as fear and hesitation begin to kick in, the wait ends, and it is time to board the rafts. The eight-passenger boats are quickly filled. It was an excellent choice by Silverwood not to make the rafts too big. The idea here is: the fewer the riders, the better the chance of everyone getting drenched. It's an idea that pays off big time.

Thunder Canyon begins with a release out of the station into a large, lake-like area where passers-by can catch a rare glimpse of the rafts and its victims. Placed here, in full sight, is one of the most ingenious features ever created: a coin-operated water shot directly onto the boats. Those who have chosen to ride Thunder Canyon are at the mercy of on-lookers who can, for a measly 25 cents, push a button that shoots water out of jets hidden in the lake. The spray douses the rafts and their passengers. Hilarious. Not much can beat the screams and laughs as a waterfall of cold H2O comes falling all over the riders. Well folks, you didn't expect to stay dry on this thing, did you?

After a brief chance for all to enjoy a few laughs, the boats leave the open area and embark towards the river. One look down toward the rough water that passengers are about to face says it all: you gonna' get wet on this thang. Quickly, the rafts drop into the raging trench, heading for the first rapid. Trees, hills and scenery engulf the rafts in a virtual paradise, as riders are quickly immersed in Thunder Canyon. But with what awaits, scenery is a detail that receives little attention.

It's clear that the first rapid is about to hit, and with the speed that these rafts are moving in, it's about to happen quickly. But some shrug it off, thinking that it doesn't look big enough to make much of an impact. Soon they're singing a different song. The wave comes leaping up into the boat, sure to drench at least two unfortunate souls. Screaming, they prepare the rest of the riders for what is inevitably their turn. Glancing at each other, those who remain dry will begin to wonder, "now, why did we want to do this?"

Deeper into the canyon riders venture, the raft being knocked amid the walls, side to side. With each bounce the vehicle rotates so that a new set of riders can experience the fun. Soon, any chance of remaining dry is abandoned, and each rider screams with joy as a new wall of water is poured over onto their laps. The scenery begins to engulf the boat even more, as the rafts journey further and further into the unknown.

Around another turn the boats enter a dark cavern, filled with mist, colored rocks, and the sound of...rushing water. Moving deeper into the darkness, the tension builds as the sound of waves approaches. Then, BOOM! The wildest, wettest part of the journey begins as unseen water splashes in from all angles in the blackened cavern. Any sense of direction is lost as buckets pour into the raft. Finally, riders journey back into the daylight, and each has the chance to see what has become of their friends during the adventure through a tunnel of white water.

Completely soaked now, passengers and their floating puddle exit the cave and move toward the unloading dock. One of our favorite features, there is no boring climb up the lift to create a pathetic end to an otherwise wonderful ride. Nope, Silverwood decided to spare us the climb and let us off right after the action, thereby preserving a wonderful experience. Make a note theme parks of the US: this works wonders.

The end of a bath down Thunder Canyon will leave you wet, laughing and completely satisfied...unless the weather doesn't cooperate. Like most raft rides, Thunder Canyon gives riders a wonderful journey, but many won't care to get soaked when the temperature drops below 75 degrees. And that's about our only caution when boarding a raft: hope it's warm outside, or else you're in for a long, cold, soggy day.

But hey, what did you expect?