Built in 1929, the park has entertained over 26 million guests and ranks as one the premier attractions in the state. The City of Canon City was originally deeded 5,000 acres in 1906 by the U.S. Department of the Interior called the Royal Gorge Park. With the blessing of the 1928 Canon City Council, the Royal Gorge Bridge was built by a private investor, Lon Piper, a Texas businessman for the sole purpose of being a tourist attraction. Construction started June 5, 1929 with the Grand Opening on December 7. Built in less than 7 months with a $350,000 price tag, and a small army of approximately 80 men lead by Chief Engineer George C. Cole, the world's highest suspension bridge was built, a title it would hold for over 70 years. It was considered an engineering marvel, or feat, then and still is today. There was no serious injury or death of any of the crew members.
Construction started June 5, 1929 with the Grand Opening on December 7. Built in less than 7 months with a $350,000 price tag, and a small army of approximately 80 men lead by Chief Engineer George C. Cole, the world's highest suspension bridge was built, a title it would hold for over 70 years. It was considered an engineering marvel, or feat, then and still is today. There was no serious injury or death of any of the crew members.
In all of the 84 years the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park entertained millions of guests, no one ever imagined it would be demolished by a devastating wildfire. It started burning on the south side of the park only to jump several hundred feet over a 1,000 foot chasm to rage across the north side during the Royal Gorge Fire, June 11, 2013.
The Royal Gorge Fire started to pose a serious threat shortly after noon that day and close to 1,200 guests and employees were safely and quickly evacuated. The fire chewed up approximately 3,000 acres of trees, brush, and over 90 percent of the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park. It threatened the City of Canon City as it marched over the foothills dangerously close to the city's water plant and Colorado's Territorial Prison which evacuated all inmates. Citizens and businesses close to the Royal Gorge area were evacuated, and those on the west side of town were on alert to evacuate on a moment's notice.
When the flames died down and land stood smoldering, the Royal Gorge Bridge, one of the world's highest suspension bridge's stood majestically and relatively unscathed among the rubble on either side of the park, only 98 boards were replaced on the south side. 48 out of 52 attractions were gone, including the world class attractions, the Aerial Tram and the Incline Railway. The "rebuild" was on.
Before the 2013 fire, the park, carving out 360 acres of Royal Gorge Park had over 21 rides, shows, and attractions.
Today, the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park provides brand new adventures with a new visitor center styled in pure Colorado tradition with lots of glass for spectacular views and a natural park theme--a great place to shop or grab a drink and bask on the deck to enjoy the awesome scenery. The redo of the park includes a brand new tram system traversing close to 2,200 feet across the gorge, and a new scarier than ever zip line racing across the gorge. The Royal Rush Skycoaster, left unharmed by the fire is still an internationally acclaimed thrill ride swinging the brave out and over the Royal Gorge, 1,200 feet above the river. (Both the Zip line and the Skycoaster are extra pay features.) The mini-train which only lost its depot, will still clack around the tracks for a fun-filled ride for all ages.
The most popular guest attraction is of course, the 360 degree view of pure Colorado from the middle of the bridge. The spectacular views are still, and forever breathtaking.
The Plaza Theater and Historical Expo on the "other side" of the bridge, a fire survivor, portrays the history of the park, and live entertainment during the summer. Look for the new large children's play area in the gorgeous wooded area behind the theater on the way to the Skycoaster, and the new South Side complex with more shopping, fun, and food. In the tradition of combining beautiful Colorado Scenery with wonderful music.
Built in less than 7 months with a $350,000 price tag and a small army of approximately 80 men, the world's highest suspension bridge was built in 1929. It held this title for over 70 years.
It's true that first-time visitors are immediately struck by the mild climate and the breathtaking natural beauty of the Royal Gorge region, but often it's the rich artistic expression andcultural diversity that brings people back.
Musical and theater offerings span the palette - from lavish stage productions presented by the Fremont Civic Theatre and solo and ensemble chamber recitals at the Fremont Center for the Arts to knee-slapping humor at the Brew Ha-Ha Microbrew & Comedy Festival and summer-long outdoor pop/jazz/bluegrass/eclectic musical performances in the park.
Since its 1947 adaptation of "You Can't Take It With You," the Fremont Civic Theater's boards have reverberated with great live theater multiple times each year. Along the way, audiences have been treated to such works as "Blithe Spirit," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Up the Down Staircase," "Music Man," "Arsenic and Old Lace," "On Golden Pond," "Godspell," "The Sound of Music," "The Wizard of Oz" and many, many others.
And to satisfy tactile yearnings, the FCA is home to a number of programs geared to youngsters, including PeeWee Art, as well as exhibits showcasing local, regional and out-of-area artists. In addition, the many galleries of Cañon City and Florence bring an exciting and inspiring array of talent to the fore. Southwestern mixes and mingles with abstract impressionism, and mixed media contrasts beautifully with glasswork and metalsmithing.
Summer activities and festivals keep the pace lively in Fremont County. The annual early-May Music and Blossom Festival in Cañon City draws junior and high school marching bands from across the nation to a spectacular competition in the parade. The parade itself is a happy mix of clubs, civic organizations, private businesses, first responders, veterans and active military, equestrians, kids, seniors, jugglers, clowns and politicians. A huge arts and crafts fair also takes place over the weekend.
Florence celebrates its Pioneer Days in September with an equally ambitious parade that features an in-character salute to the town's founders. Food, games, a tractor pull, street dance, Junktique sale and arts and crafts fair are a few highlights of the one-day event.
Part and parcel of the events' success is the Fremont Community Foundation, a volunteer group that stages three major fundraisers annually. Proceeds from the Whitewater Festival, the Royal Gorge Holy Smoke BBQ Showdown and the Flashback on Main Street dance and antique car show go to Fremont County non-profits who in turn organize a myriad of activities and events for visitors and locals alike.
Civic leaders in both Cañon City and Florence are dedicated to preserving the cultural past of their towns, and architectural gems are lovingly restored and maintained. Florence, the Antique Capital of Colorado, has more than a dozen antique stores lining its streets. Time-worn trinkets and treasures of yesteryear are tucked into nooks and crannies of each store, inviting a first, second and often third look. Many of the items you'll find on the shelves have been rescued from area farms and ranches that "went the way of progress."
Shop tenders are well-versed in the origins and uses of the sometimes obscure bits of nostalgia. The item that looks like a metal plunger is actually a primitive "washing machine," to be used with a wash tub. The liquid-filled, lightbulb-shaped globe in a wire bracket? It's a fire extinguisher. The box filled with sepia-toned tintypes? A collection of memories that have no home - yet. And the print of dogs playing poker… is something no American home should be without.
Amidst those treasured pieces of yesterday, local and regional fine artists, jewelry makers, artisans and craftsmen also display in the antique shops, galleries and in fairs held throughout the summer months.
Somewhat easier to access is the public art in the Royal Gorge area. Macon Plaza, the pedestrian-only area on Macon Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets in front of the FCA in downtown Cañon City, has a welded metal dinosaur created by local artist Mike Singer, and along Main Street you'll find Cañon City artist John Alderman's cougar. Two young girls and a lovely angel are the works of Colorado sculptor Bobbie Carlyle.
With a history as richly woven as Fremont County's, it's no wonder the region serves up parts of its past in a variety of museums. The Price Pioneer Museum in Florence tells the tales of the roughneck days of drilling for crude and mining for coal. While some men worked on the rigs and others underground, a certain contingent of Florence's heyday was involved in building the Denver & Rio Grande railroad through the Royal Gorge - but not without major skirmishes with the crew working for the Santa Fe Railway, which was also hell-bent on laying tracks through the Gorge. Add to the mix the rowdy traildrivers who moved cattle through the area and the farmers and ranchers who were settled in the area as well. The Price Pioneer Museum offers a wonderful glimpse back into the rich history of Florence.
Cañon City is home to the Local History Museum and the Museum of Colorado Prisons - both in close proximity to each other but worlds apart in presentation.
The Local History Museum, inside Cañon City's historic municipal building, includes written and oral accounts of the region's early settlers through cemetery and church records, census data, newspaper microfilm and archived photos.
Sitting adjacent to "Old Max," the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility that now houses medium-security prisoners, is the Museum of Colorado Prisons. A stark window to the past, the museum houses a once-working gas chamber, a hangman's noose, a collection of contraband, artwork by prisoners, photos of uprisings and the account of a horrific riot and fire in 1929 that resulted in the deaths of a dozen prisoners. The museum, which was at one time the women's prison, also has the newspaper clippings and photos of the 1947 daring prison break in which 12 inmatesactually escaped. All 12 were either recaptured or killed, and the event led to the feature film "Cañon City," which came out in 1948. Prison Warden Roy Best played himself in the movie, which met with critical acclaim. The museum's gift shop has a good selection of history books and inmatemade crafts.
Art and culture, two faces of a single creation, bind a community to its better self. And the Royal Gorge region, with its wealth of beauty to see, touch and experience, shares it with the world.