Royal Gorge Route

The Royal Gorge Route runs on old Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG) track through the bottom of the Royal Gorge. When Union Pacific took over Southern Pacific, who had taken over the D&RG, they closed the Tennessee Pass route. The Royal Gorge Route purchased track rights 12 miles through the canyon, from Canon City to Parkdale. There is a mining operation just beyond Parkdale that still uses the track and Union Pacific is responsible for maintenance.

They run a variety of dinner, mystery, winemaker, and lunch trains. Service is great, food is great. Day trips are two hours, evening runs are three hours.  Several classes, from coach to parlor, are offered.  Cab rides are available for an additional cost.  Open observation cars give a spectacular view of the gorge.  Lights are mounted on top of several cars to illuminate the gorge walls at night.

They run F7's on each end with either a "B" unit or a road switcher helping on the uphill end. A brief stop in Parkdale allows the crew to walk to the other loco for the return run.

Rumor has it that UP is considering reopening Tennessee Pass in the near future, all track and signals are still there, they just cut the track above the mine. The track is still accessible from Minturn, they occasionally store excess equipment along the route and run regular maintenance inspections.

A little history...

"Wars" between competing railroads were common. If railroads wanted to build in the same area, and none had previously filed with the government, the first to initiate construction was granted prior right to the area. Construction crews fighting and building alongside of each other, while owners argued in the courts as to who had rights, were normal.

The D&RG had long running battles with the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) throughout the early years - blocking tracks, harassing crews, shooting at each other, etc., though few were seriously injured and even fewer killed.  1878 found the D&RG battling with the AT&SF for control of the Royal Gorge route to Leadville. In April, the D&RG sent construction crews to start construction through the Royal Gorge, AT&SF construction crews arrived three days later

In 1879, the US Supreme Court ruled that the D&RG had prior right to the Royal Gorge route. Sheriffs were sent out to evict AT&SF employees, meeting armed resistance in several areas. Most of the confrontations were resolved without shots fired. The "Battle of the Roundhouse" occurred at the Pueblo roundhouse where a large party of AT&SF employees, fortified by several hired gunslingers, resisted the sheriff and his posse. Bat Masterson is alleged to be the leader of the resistance. Shots were fired and at least one gunslinger died before the resistance surrendered. (If you visit the Royal Gorge you can see remnants of "forts" built on hillsides by both AT&SF and D&RG construction crews to shoot, and roll boulders down, at the men and equipment of the rival railroad.)

The Treaty of Boston was signed in 1880 by several railroads operating in Colorado. The treaty covered several issues, but the one concerning us here is that the ownership of the route through the Royal Gorge belonged to the D&RG, in exchange they granted track rights through the gorge to the AT&SF.

Hanging Bridge

Hanging bridge

The Royal Gorge is narrow and deep.  The narrowest point is only 30 feet wide, and 1050 feet deep.  When the AT&SF reached this point, their solution was a 175 foot bridge spanning the narrow stretch, with its north edge anchored to the gorge wall and its south edge suspended from A-frame girders wedged between the gorge walls above.  It soon became a photo spot and a platform was built along the tracks so passengers could get off and take photos.  Numerous politicians and sports teams had their photos taken on the hanging bridge.

1911 Sox
1911 White Sox post card pic  Theodore Roosevet

Alas, it is not much of a hanger anymore.  As trains got heavier, it was reinforced by pouring concrete under it.  Today, the A-frame girders are little more than decoration.

The Royal Gorge Route continues the tradition of stopping on the hanging bridge, but you are not allowed off the train.  Good photos can be taken from the observation cars.  Royal Gorge Park has a vertical cable railway to the old platform area at the east end of the hanging bridge too.

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