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Royal Gorge Bridge

A Bridge to Nowhere

Caon City, CO

September 19, 2004

While traveling through southern Colorado, we came across a most unusual and unique attraction.  Here nature has treated the land to some very drastic manipulations.  For millions of years, literally, waters of the mighty Arkansas, mixed with sand, scratched away at the solid granite, eating away, day by day until now, a narrow canyon was created some 1500 feet into the ground.  Although beautiful and gigantic in nature, this canyon didn't get much attention until the discovery of silver in the 1800s.  This brought on the first of the man-made marvels.  In order to get the silver out of the canyon, a train was needed and that meant a train track.  Although the canyon was too narrow in places for a train to pass beside the river, man prevailed and engineers drilled into the side of the canyon and placed I beams out over the river and laid the tracks on them, right over the river.  Soon, with only one train and several silver mining companies, the Canyon silver train wars were started as each interest employed "hired guns" to protect their interest.  The train still runs as a tourist attraction.  Around this time several energetic people decided to string a cable across the gorge at one of its narrowest points.  By throwing lines from the top of each side, down to the train tracks, and then splicing them together, they made the first span across the gorge. Soon there was a wooden swing bridge connecting the two sides.  Tourists, wanting the thrill of looking down into the narrow passage were invited out onto the suspension.  As is true with all mining adventures, the silver soon ran out and the mines moved on to new hills in other parts of the country.  The area slipped into depression as businesses closed and people began leaving.  The story varies after that, according to the old-timers and workers. Times were hard in 1929, and the leaders of Caon City needed a boost to the city coffers. So they decided to build a bridge across the gorge where the old suspension bridge once swung.  The interesting thing about the plan was that the bridge went nowhere.  There's nothing on the other side except open range.  No roads, no houses, no businesses, nothing.  It would strictly be a tourist attraction.  There were those who thought the idea a bit daft and many wondered if the city fathers had been tipping a few when they thought it up but the idea caught on.  There seems to be a difference of opinions as to where the money came from but somehow the City came up with the needed $350,000 to build a marvelous new bridge across the Royal Gorge as it was now called.  The challenges were immense. It would require a span of almost 1300 feet with no center supports.  It would have to be a suspension bridge. We drove down the 4 mile access road from the city and arrived at the park entrance.  The entrance fee gave us access to both the bridge and the rail car ride to the bottom of the gorge.  As we entered we found one of the more fascinating clocks I have ever seen.  Powered by a large water wheel, a series of cogs designed to move precisely so that 4 clocks keep almost perfect time.  there is one for minutes, another for hours, a third for days and the last one is for the year, each clock powered by the same slow movement of water traveling over a wheel.  After studying the clock for a while, we moved on to the main attraction.  The bridge.  This is no place for those who shy away from heights. It opened to traffic on December 8th, 1929, involves several unusual features in its design and construction.  It first is unique as being located higher above the river than any other bridge yet built.  It stands 1053 feet above the tracks of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad which follows the canyon wall only a few feet above high water.  It has a main suspended span of 880 feet and a total length of 1200 feet.  A width of only 18 feet and the fact that no stiffening trusses are used make it necessary to use wind cables and to cradle the main cables.  A novel anchorage involving a series of pipes set upright in a trench in the rock face of the canyon is a feature of the design.  A special telescoping traveler operating on the cables, was a feature of the erection. 

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