The Royal Gorge is a steep canyon on the Arkansas River near Cañon City, Colorado. The canyon is 10 miles (16 km) long, only 50 feet (15.2 m) wide at the base, and about 1,200 feet (366 m) deep in some places. One of the world’s highest suspension bridges spans the length of the gorge, with a height of 956 feet (291 meters) and a length of 1,260 feet (384 meters). One of the world’s longest areal trams was built over the gorge in 1968 at a height of 1,178 feet (359 m) and length of 2,200 feet (671 m). The tram and bridge at the Royal Gorge Park have offered a spectacular view of the gorge for anyone brave enough to trust the wonders of human engineering and walk or ride across the open sky above the river.
The history of the canyon is as interesting as the view. The Royal Gorge anticline is a chunk of Precambrian metamorphic rock with Precambrian granite intrusions. The area was once home to many Jurassic dinosaurs, and fossils of allosaurus, stegosaurus and comptosaurus have been found just a few miles from the bridge at the gorge. Uplift during the Late Cretaceous and again during Pliocene changed the flow of the Arkansas River toward the southeast, and the river began eroding the granite of Fremont Peak to create the steep gorge we see today.
Unfortunately, the fire this past Tuesday destroyed the tram and its buildings, and the cable has dropped into the canyon. Most of the buildings in the park around the gorge were destroyed, and the suspension bridge sustained some damage. Luckily, the damage to the bridge was light, and only about 32 of the 1,292 wooden planks need to be replaced. Although the man-made structures have been damaged, the natural beauty of the gorge remains. The park is closed for now, but plans are already underway to rebuild and reopen as soon as possible.
Image of Royal Gorge bridge, looking west, credit Bkthompson