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2016 Summer Mountain Trip Part 25; the Royal Gorge Bridge

The morning after visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve I headed out of Alamosa via US Route 160 west and US 285 north to US Route 50.  I followed US Route 50 east along the Arkansas River to Fremont County Road 3A.  Upon pulling onto Fremont County Road 3A I took it 4 miles south to it's terminus at the Royal Gorge Bridge.


This article serves at the 25th entry in the 2016 Summer Mountain Trip Series.  Part 24 covered former Colorado State Route 150 over Mosca Pass and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.

2016 Summer Mountain Trip Part 24; CO 150 and Great Sand Dunes & Preserve

The Royal Gorge Bridge is a suspension span which crosses the Arkansas River and namesake Royal Gorge.  The Royal Gorge Bridge is 1,260 feet length and has a clearance of 955 feet above the Arkansas River. The Royal Gorge Bridge was built by George E. Cole Construction Company between June and November 1929 as a purpose built tourist attraction.  The Royal Gorge Bridge opened for visitation on December 8th 1929.  At it's opening the Royal Gorge Bridge had had the highest clearance of any structure in the world and wouldn't be surpassed until 2001. In June of 2013 the Royal Gorge Bridge was damaged by a wild fire but the wooden deck was quickly replaced.  The fire of 2013 damaged the narrow gauge incline railway next to the Royal Gorge Bridge which had opened in 1931.

The Royal Gorge Bridge makes an appearance on the 1931 Clason Highway Map of Colorado just south of US 50/CO 6.


Both sides of the Royal Gorge Bridge contains segments of it's attached Park.  From the eastern cliffs of Royal Gorge the depths below to the Arkansas River are strikingly obvious.





It might not seem like it but the Royal Gorge Bridge is designed to carry the weight of vehicle traffic over the Arkansas River.  The deck width of the Royal Gorge Bridge is 18 feet wide which can handle two-way traffic.  Vehicles are typically only allowed to cross the Royal Gorge Bridge early in the day to set up shop at the western part of the park.  In the photo below the entrance to the incline railway can be seen on the right.


Walking across the Royal Gorge Bridge in my opinion is far more of an experience than driving it.  While on foot the true height of the Royal Gorge Bridge feels much more intimate than it does behind the wheel.  The wooden road deck of the Royal Gorge Bridge shakes easily and the Arkansas River can be seen below the planks.  When vehicles cross the Royal Gorge Bridge the whole structure shakes which can be pretty extreme in the middle of the main 880 foot span.




Looking northwest from the Royal Gorge Bridge the full width of Royal Gorge can be seen.  The Royal Gorge Route Railroad can be seen below the Royal Gorge Bridge on the Arkansas River.   The Royal Gorge Route Railroad was the point of contention of what led to the so called "Royal Gorge Wars" between the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad.  Ultimately the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad gained control of the Royal Gorge Route by 1880.  The Royal Gorge Route carried passenger service until 1967, freight traffic ended in 1996 when the Union Pacific Railroad merged with the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The Royal Gorge Route was sold in 1997 and reopened to passengers in 1999.


The Royal Gorge Route is best observed looking southeast from the Royal Gorge Bridge.


Upon leaving the Royal Gorge Bridge I returned to US Route 50.  I stayed on US Route 50 eastbound to CO 115 where I turned north towards Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Highway.

2016 Summer Mountain Trip Part 26; the Pikes Peak Highway

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