Colorado’s royal vacation spot
With spending money in tight supply these days, more people are choosing to vacation closer to home. Fortunately, Colorado has a wealth of getaways to choose from, including one with a “Royal” feel.
Hanging 1,053 feet above the Arkansas River’s surging rapids, the Royal Gorge Bridge is the world’s highest suspension bridge and a marvel of engineering known throughout the globe. While long-time residents of our rocky mountain state may be used to high places, leaning against the edge of a bridge suspended above a towering granite canyon is an experience sure to produce adrenaline for all but the most experienced thrill seekers.
Built in 1929 for $350,000, the structure is 1,270 feet long and 18 feet wide. With 1,270 planks of deck on top of 1,000 tons of steel in its floor, the bridge is rated to handle more than 2,000,000 pounds (so go ahead and grab that extra slice of pizza while you’re there, it can take it!). Added to the awe-inspiring figures are 2,100 strands of No. 9 galvanized wire suspending the bridge between its 150-foot tall towers, with the weight of those cables running 300 tons.
As you might guess, it was amazing to see it all up close and personal, and walking across its length is something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. Despite its size and strength, the floor of the bridge kind of “bounced” when a car rumbled across the span – not a feeling designed for the faint of heart, let me tell you, especially when you could already see daylight between the planks of the floor. Reaching the far side brought expressions of relief from a steady flow of travelers navigating its breadth, while the braver tourists took time to peer over the side of the bridge down to the rushing river a long way below.
There was more than just the bridge to experience during a visit. Also available inside the tourist spot (entry fee $24.00 for adults, $19.00 for children, with a discount coupon available online) are options such as a petting zoo, carousel, food, shopping, incline railway, aerial tram and skycoaster ride (skycoaster ride is extra).
Built in 1968 for the price of $350,000, the aerial tram hangs even higher over the gorge and parallels the celebrated bridge for the entire ride. While 1,178 feet seems too daunting for those afraid of heights, the tram ride was a smooth and safer-feeling alternative than walking across the bridge itself. It also provided a stunning view of the Royal Gorge Bridge and its surrounding scenery, great for photos or just soaking up the amazing sight on the ride.
Built in 1931 by the same crew responsible for the bridge, the Incline Railway is considered “one of the most difficult structures ever built.” Enclosed by multiple steel-meshed rail cars holding four people each in a standing position, it traveled 3 mph at a 100 percent grade and 45-degree angle over solid granite for more than 1,500 feet until reaching the floor of the canyon and the Arkansas River below it – a 5.5 minute journey of contemplating the diligence and skill of crews blasting the canyon walls to make this option a reality.
Upon disembarking the Incline Railway, the rush of the Arkansas River lured tourists into watching both the class five rapids and the sight of river rafters furiously navigating them on their way through the gorge. You could choose to relax and watch the river at your leisure before deciding to make the 1,500-foot trip back to the top.
Royal Rush Skycoaster:
According to Royal Gorge Bridge publications, the Royal Rush Skycoaster “is the most awesome adrenaline rush in the state of Colorado. Imagine a free-fall tower sweeping you 50 mph to hang momentarily over 1,200 feet above the Arkansas River, which looks like a tiny blue line far, far below. The Royal Rush Skycoaster is one of only 87 in the world, and was recently named the scariest Skycoaster of them all.”
One of the fun aspects of walking the bridge and surrounding area was hearing the happy, and very loud, screams of everyone brave enough to strap into the Skycoaster for a ride over the gorge they would never forget.
While the Royal Gorge Bridge and its accompanying options are the main reason for visiting the area, there are other things to do and see in nearby Canon City.
Dinosaur Depot Museum and Garden Park Fossil Area:
A small facility catering to families with children, the Dinosaur Depot Museum offered impressive fossils and information regarding dinosaurs of all kinds, as well as the chance to watch fossils being cleaned and categorized right in front of your eyes. Among their dinosaurs on display was the “world’s most complete Stegosaurus.”
Visitors can also visit the nearby Garden Park Fossil Area where that Stegosaurus and many other dinosaurs have been excavated over the last 125 years. The Garden Park Fossil Area is said to have produced some of best dinosaur fossils found anywhere, as evidenced by its finds ending up in prestigious locations like the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Holy Cross Abbey and Winery:
The Holy Cross Abbey in Canon City was beautiful both inside and out; a serene location for contemplating stained glass art inside its chapel or admiring ornate 1926 stone architecture of its exterior. The abbey also had an award-winning winery and gift shop on the grounds for lovers of the vine.
With some travel season still left, consider treating your family like kings and taking a vacation close to home at the Royal Gorge Bridge. You might even say the experience is a jewel in your summer’s crown.