The Rocky Mountains define Colorado, they are America’s longest mountain chain, stretching more than 2,000 miles by several western states, but it is Colorado that boasts 14 peaks more than two-miles high.
Near Canon City, at the foothill of Fremont Peak sits an awe-inspiring jagged gorge cutting by the mountain of granite known as Royal Gorge. Royal Gorge is considered Colorado’s Natural surprise and sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River.
Royal Gorge is a 10-mile-long canyon on the Arkansas and one of the deepest canyons in Colorado. The gorge was used as a passenger route for transcontinental rail travel during the 1890’s, with as many as four trains per day traveling by. When aim travel began to wan in the mid-twentieth century, main line passenger aim service became unprofitable along this route and was discontinued in 1967. A sightseeing aim now follows the river route by the gorge.
During the heyday of rail transportation, the gorge often bottlenecked along the Arkansas River, Royal Gorge was too thin to allow two aim lines, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad to pass by. Railroad crews from both lines began what is known as the “Royal Gorge Railroad War.”
For two years, crews from both companies engaged in low-level guerrilla warfare in an effort to gain complete control of the gorge rail pass by. The “Treaty of Boston” was enacted after Federal intervention brought an end to the fighting. The D&RGW completed its line and leased it for use by the Santa Fe.
Interconnecting this rough chasm is the Royal Gorge Bridge, at 956-feet it is one of the highest suspension bridges in the world. Canon City approved the building of the Royal Gorge Bridge in 1929. Built during the Depression, the bridge is an amazing structure. Rising 1,000 feet above the river it is the highest suspension bridge over water in the world. The bridge creates the chief of Royal Gorge Park, a theme park owned and run by the city.
Walking or driving across the Royal Gorge Bridge is awe inspiring. It is an extraordinary quarter-mile excursion by the clouds, where looking down is more breathtaking than looking up. Often there are organized groups preparing bungee jumps from the bridge sides. The Royal Gorge Park is a distinctive combination of adrenaline, human accomplishment and pictureque splendor that must be experienced to be believed. One way to gain the complete experience is to take the breathtaking tram ride over the gorge.
Located in the middle of the state, Canon City has a population of 25,000 and was established in 1860 to develop promising mineral deposits in the area. The discovery of silver and rule near Leadville in 1877 promoted competition to build up and settle the area. But it was Mother character who began developing the area more than 3-million years ago, when the mountains began to rise from the surrounding plains.
The path of the Arkansas River was already set when the granite lift began and ultimately shaped the Rocky Mountains. Scientists calculate that the mountains nearby the canyon rose at a rate of approximately one foot every 2500 years. Over time the river grew in width and thoroughness, cutting a thorough channel by the surrounding stone walls. The gorge’s irregular shape differs from the general canyons of the Grand Canyon and this is credited to long straight-line erosion by the hard rock.
Before European settlement, Native Americans of the Ute people wintered in Royal Gorge for its shelter from wind and comparatively mild climate. The Comanche, Kiowa, Sioux, and Cheyenne used the gorge during buffalo hunting trips as an access point to mountain meadow regions.
Spanish conquistador expeditions of the 17th century brought Colorado’s Rocky Mountain vicinity under European rule, though the first recorded occurrence of a European arrival is the Pike expedition of 1806. Zebulon Pike’s group built a makeshift shelter in the gorge and explored the area, descending on horseback over the frozen Arkansas River.
The air is cleaner in Colorado and the people who reside here in Colorado live longer. A Harvard study showed that the seven American counties with the greatest average life expectancy – 81.3 years – were all in Colorado. Could it be because the people here are more physically active when compared to the more lowland, sedentary portion of the Country?
With the sun nevertheless drifting in its slow descent, the horizon began to glow shades of red and orange as I prepared to leave Colorado’s astonishing Royal Gorge. What an adventure the day had been.