The Royal Gorge Bridge. Or, as I call it, the Royal Gouge Bridge. During the peak tourist season, it costs a shocking $23 per person for the tremendous privilege of going across it on foot. A slight discount is in thrown in if you get there before 10 AM, but who gets up that early?
Yes, you can grab some decent views of the Royal Gorge for free – “Colorado’s Grand Canyon”, the brochures promise – but the best views to be had are owned by Royal Gorge Bridge & Park.
So we paid their king’s ransom. I reasoned that I’d probably never be out this way again, and what’s $23 in the grand scheme of things? What would I regret more on my death bed?
Which, of course, is the exact train of thought the opportunistic people running the park are counting on, I’m sure.
I got a stamp on my lower arm (of all places) from a careless employee and exited the extravagant visitor center through the thick glass doors. And, putting aside my cynical objections to crass commercialism, I have to say… the Royal Gorge itself is majestic. Carved in red granite by the mighty Arkansas River, the canyon is well over 1,000 feet deep in places. It’s long and narrow, the rock pitching a relentless fight against erosion.
At its base, the canyon is only about a mere 50 feet wide. The sonorous white noise produced by the river echoing against the steep walls has the all the power of the ocean, or a waterfall.
It gets pretty loud as you approach the bridge, which is an impressive sight in its own right. Until 2001, it was the highest bridge in the world, the deck over 900 feet above the Arkansas. Built in 1929 using over 1,000 tons of steel and 300 tons of cable, it was always intended as a tourist attraction, and remains one of Colorado’s most popular destinations. It’s meant for pedestrians to gawk from, not to get to work.
Walking across it, you can see the river through the slits in the wooden planks. Fierce gusts blast through the canyon, strong enough to send Donald Trump’s comb over clear up into the stratosphere. Peering over the edge of the bridge, the Arkansas looks more like a scale replica, tumbling over miniature rocks.
The craggy cliffs are breathtaking, the hot mountain sun coloring the rocks a deep burnt orange. Somewhere, below, painted grasshoppers forage on plants and blue herons stalk the river under cottonwood trees.
And once, long ago, ancient Utes wintered here.
OK, so $23 was a rip. It sucks to have a high price put on nature.
But hey, the Royal Gorge is priceless.
Photo by Marnie Pix.