A Big Hole In the Ground: Royal Gorge Bridge
It’s a big hole in the ground with a bridge over it.
Let me restate that, it’s a REALLY big hole in the ground with a suspension PEDESTRIAN bridge over it.
“It” is Colorado’s Royal Gorge, located about 60 miles southwest of Colorado Springs.
Royal Gorge is a six-mile-long, 1,250-feet-deep, canyon carved out by the Arkansas River.
The bridge crosses it at a point where it is “only” 955 feet deep. The bridge stretches 1,260 feet long and is 18-feet wide.
That width is what makes it so very NOT scary. If you aren’t especially concerned about heights you won’t think twice about it. Most people take time while walking across to hang out on the bridge, taking selfies along the railing.
Even the couple of people I talked to who were heights phobic simply stuck to the middle, it’s wide enough that puts you nine feet from either side, and though a bit anxious they made it to the other side without a great amount of discomfort.
Of course, there’s only one way back and that’s the way you came, over the bridge.
Wait, that’s not exactly true. There are gondolas and a zipline that'll take you back.
Both the gondola and zipline are 2,200 feet long and stretch out 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River at the bottom of the gorge. Nope, I didn’t do any ziplining. I would have done the gondola but sadly it was out of service.
A couple of short video clips, one walking across the bridge and the other from an observation area, higher up on the opposite side of bridge:
At the time of its opening in 1929, the Royal Gorge Bridge laid claim to being the highest in the world. Those darn Chinese have since surpassed it with a number of different bridges. Even so, Royal Gorge is still the highest in the United States.
The bridge was built as a tourist attraction, it was never about getting vehicles from one side to the other.
However, speaking of which, yep, car clubs can and do drive across, for a fee of course, prior to the bridge opening to the public at 10 a.m. (During the covid lockdown, everything at the park had to be shutdown so bridge operators opened it up for anyone to drive across for just $20.)
But I digress.
The bridge was constructed by 80 crazy men in just seven months.
They began by erecting steel towers on either side of the gorge, stringing two half-inch steel cables down and through the gorge, and then pulling them back up on both sides. From there, they literally hung on tight, hundreds of feet in the air, building the bridge piece by piece.
The bridge was privately owned with the land surrounding it leased to the owner by nearby Cañon City. Over the years it has changed hands and now is owned by the city.
Here’s the thing, because of the income from the bridge, Cañon City has the lowest property tax rate in Colorado. You might want to think twice before turning your nose up at the next big idea someone has in your community.
Royal Gorge Fire
I can’t tell the story of the Royal Gorge Bridge without including a note about the fire. A wildfire started west of the bridge on June 11, 2013, and before it was extinguished devastated the area, burning down most of the buildings as well as 90 percent of the 360 acres surrounding it.
Somehow, the bridge was not only saved, it was barely touched with only about 100 of the boards needing to be replaced. Everything has since been rebuilt, though you can still see where the fire claimed some of the surrounding land.
Once you get to the other side of the bridge there’s plenty to see and do.
Everyone crossing the bridge should visit the Plaza Theater and watch the movie to learn the full story behind building of the bridge.
There’s a three-story playland for the kids, a daily birds of prey presentation, entertainment on holiday weekends, a viewing area from which you can get a higher view down into the gorge, and if you’re into rock climbing, there’s that too.
The highway area leading to the gorge has already developed quite a bit and obviously, from just looking at construction going on, is only going to get bigger.
The Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience is probably the biggest attraction outside the bridge. You will literally pass by it along your way and those huge dinosaurs are pretty hard to miss.
And the Royal Gorge Yurts look like a pretty cool place to stay. I didn’t know about them until I was driving by, otherwise I might have booked one for myself.
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