The place where adventures begin
The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is more than just your average theme park. It’s a part of Colorado’s history. Bridge construction started back in 1929, but the Gorge itself is millions of years in the making. And even the Royal Gorge Fire of 2013 couldn’t stop the fun and excitement from happening for years to come. The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park: Combining God’s Splendor with Man’s Ingenuity. Sit back and see how it all came to be.
Read more history of the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park below.
Once upon a gorge
One day, about 3 million years ago, a trickle of water slowly began to carve out a canyon from the solid granite bedrock around it. Little by little, that tiny trickle became the raging Arkansas River, one of the United States’ longest rivers. And that canyon became the Royal Gorge. At approximately 10 miles long and surrounded by red granite walls towering over 1,000 feet, it’s no wonder some of the first American explorers referred to it as the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas.
The Grand Canyon of the Arkansas
The width at the bottom of the Gorge is only 40 to 50 feet across, but the Arkansas River continues to carve to this day, increasing the Royal Gorge’s 1,000+ foot depth by about one foot every 2,500 years. So no matter where you are in the Park, you’re watching history in the making.
The Earliest Visitors
Dinosaurs and humans welcome
From stegosaurus to Sioux, the Royal Gorge has seen many kinds of visitors throughout its long history. Over 100 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Royal Gorge region, including allosaurus, comptosaurus, stegosaurus, and the mighty brontosaurus. Unfortunately, there was no zip line for the dinosaurs to ride yet! Paleontologists have made fossil discoveries of these ancient species less than three miles from the Royal Gorge Bridge.
Many, many years after the dinosaurs lived here, the Native American Indians arrived, hunting and camping in sheltered canyons throughout this region. In fact, the Ute Indians, a mountain tribe, often wintered in the Royal Gorge to escape the wind and the cold. And a number of Plains Indian tribes, including Sioux, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Blackfeet and Comanche, followed buffalo herds down into the meadows in the warmer months.
Unfortunately, there was no zip line
for the dinosaurs to ride yet.
Following the Native American tribes were the fur traders and Spanish conquistadors of the 17th century, who may have traversed the Gorge in their travels. But the first European arrival ever recorded was none other than Zebulon Pike, namesake of Pikes Peak. In 1806, Pike and his men set up camp and explored the canyon.
When you visit Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, you’re following in the footsteps of prehistoric dinosaurs, Native Americans, and fearless explorers!
The Royal Gorge Railroad War
Freights and fights
The Royal Gorge hasn’t always been as peaceful as it is now. Back in 1877, a war broke out over the rights to silver deposits along the Arkansas River. After months of dynamiting each other’s construction and exchanging bullets, two rival railroad companies finally brought in some hired guns.
The Rio Grande Railroad vs. the Santa Fe Railway
On one side, the Rio Grande Company, former Governor A.C. Hunt and his 200-man posse. On the other, the Santa Fe Railway, legendary gunfighter and U.S. Marshall Bat Masterson and his Kansas posse. Eventually, after a final six-month battle in the courts, the Rio Grande was named the victor.
Interested in more history? Visit our Plaza Theater & Historical Expo to see it come to life!
The Royal Gorge Fire
A phoenix story
On the afternoon of June 11, 2013, a wildfire started west of the Royal Gorge Bridge. Not long after, the flames jumped to the walls of the Gorge itself. All guests and employees were safely evacuated, but most of the buildings, rides, attractions and landscape surrounding the Bridge were damaged or lost in the fire. In fact, 90% of the 360-acre Park was destroyed, except our historic 1929 Bridge, which survived with only about 100 scorched boards (which have all been replaced).
The fire burned for four days before it was declared contained.
In the end, 48 of the 52 buildings and attractions were destroyed, including the 9,600-square-foot Visitor Center, Aerial Tram, Incline Railway built in 1931, caboose of Railroad Engine 499, antique carousel and zip line. A total of 3,218 acres were burned across the region including 2,156 acres of the Royal Gorge Park.
However, this ending also marked a great new beginning. The rebuild started less than a week after the fire and made way for an even bigger and better Park. And the following Saturday, in the midst of all the destruction, a white buffalo calf, “Smoky,” was born at the nearby Wapiti Western Wildlife Park, where all the animals were fortunately left untouched by the fire. Six months later, a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Visitor Center took place.
48 of the 52 buildings and attractions were destroyed.
The date? January 31, 2014 – the Bridge’s 85th anniversary. Adventure finally made a comeback when the Park officially reopened a little over a year after the fire. Rising from the ashes and still standing tall. After the fire our motto became “Royal Gorge Bridge & Park: Combining God’s Splendor with Man’s Ingenuity.”