A remarkable place to visit to explore the amazing Arkansas River in Colorado
As part of our exploration of central Colorado we headed to the Royal Gorge Park, some 50 miles south of Colorado Springs. The journey takes us through Caňon (pronounced Canyon) City. Along the route we stumble upon the largest rocking chair in the world outside a store – another photo opportunity. As we pass through the city Karen is most excited as there are Correctional Facilities and a prison museum – fortunately we have a schedule to keep and cannot stop to exercise her fetish for imprisonment.
Royal Gorge is a wonderful natural marvel in itself, a 1000 foot plus deep gorge cut through the mountains by the Arkansas River. Early pioneers to the area recognized the beauty of the spot and also it provided an access route for the railways through the mountains. The railroad passes through the base of the narrow gorge just feet away from the bubbling rapids of the Arkansas.
The gorge also provided a challenge for the engineers and in 1929 they undertook a feat of engineering, a marvel for the age and erected a suspension bridge 1053 above the gorge below. Truly a spectacular piece of construction and still today is the world’s highest suspension bridge. When we read of this we simply had to go across it. But first we had to try some of the other engineering marvels at the park. Our first trip was down to the bottom of the gorge on the world’s steepest funicular railway. The track is wedged in a vertical shaft cut into the gorge by an ancient water fall. The cars are more or less cages in which you stand for the 1500 foot descent to the bottom. This is not a journey for those who suffer from vertigo or claustrophobia. Emily is a bit panicky but once under way it is not so bad and the views at the bottom are amazing. You can almost reach down and touch the river and you are standing just a few feet from where the trains pass. Look up and you can see the suspension bridge dangling way above. We hang around for a few minutes and catch the next train up.
Our next choice is how to cross the gorge. We could of course take the bridge across, but more exciting is the tramway – which is the longest single span cable car in the world. Nothing more exciting than being suspended above a 1000 foot gorge by a single cable!!. We the intrepid Hoblets have to try this, but in all honesty with the exception of Jack none of us are too keen – but we do it anyway. It is not too bad but if the vertigo sufferers coped with the funicular they would almost certainly freak at this ride. Fortunately, it is all over in four minutes and nearly all the passengers seem only too happy to disembark at the other side.
On the far side there is a small animal park with some very sad looking bison, elk and big horn sheep – Emily likes this but the rest of us are a bit sad to see these wonderful creatures kept in somewhat small and inhospitable enclosures.
To return to our car we have to cross the gorge again and this time we finally cross the bridge. Although most people choose to walk the bridge it is shared with cars. This would not be too bad except for two reasons; (i) it is narrow and (ii) the floor is made of wooden planks which bounce up and down when the car goes over them. This is not a bridge for the faint of heart. As you cross the bridge you feel secure with the very strong looking multi-stranded cables firmly fastened into metal plates – it is not until you look down at the wooden plank flooring which has some rather large gaps between each that you feel once again nervous. For through these gaps you can clearly see the Arkansas River some 1053 feet below. We of course were perfectly safe and made it safely to the other side. Just to prove how safe it was we then jumped into our van and crossed the bridge – the noise of the planks jumping up and down was deafening and disconcerting all at the same time. The good news is that once you reach the other side you can’t get out and have to come all the way back again!