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So Deep You’ll Dig It!

Royal Gorge, a Massive Granite Splendor

One of the deepest gorges in Colorado, the Royal Gorge is approximately 10 miles long with the Arkansas River running through it with granite walls towering over 1,000 feet. The gorge was created some three million years ago when a trickle of water first began to slowly carve a canyon out of the solid granite bedrock. That trickle is now the raging Arkansas, one of America’s longest rivers. The Arkansas river continues to carve its' depth at a rate of about a foot every 2,500 years.

The Royal Gorge is considered a world wonder with its rare red granite formations and has been referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas by the first American Explorers. The width at the bottom of the gorge is no more than 40 to 50 feet.

A Landmark Three Hundred Million Years in the Making

Did you know some of the earliest and largest dinosaurs roamed the Royal Gorge Region over 100 million years ago? One of these residents was the brontosaurus, among the largest of all the earth’s inhabitants. This was the original “Jurassic Park!”

Noted paleontologists have discovered some of the most complete dinosaur remains less than three miles from the Royal Gorge Bridge. Dating from 100-200 million years ago, fossil bones found here include the allosaurus, stegosaurus, and comptosaurus.

The First Human Visitors

The story of how the Royal Gorge was discovered is as compelling as how the Royal Gorge Bridge was built. The first to visit were Native American Indians, who hunted and camped in sheltered canyons and mountain parks of this Colorado region.

The Ute Indians, a mountain tribe, frequently wintered in the Canon City area. In fact, many of the Plains Indians—Sioux, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Blackfeet and Comanche—followed the buffalo herds as they moved to the mountain meadows during spring and summer.

Spanish missionaries knew of the Royal Gorge as early as 1642. Fur traders and trappers—the Mountain Men visited the region during the 1700s. In 1806 the first American Explorer to the area, Lt. Zebulon Pike –for whom Pikes Peak Mountain is named—established a camp at the eastern portal of the Royal Gorge and he along with a scouting party explored the canyon.

The Royal Gorge Railroad War

In 1877, silver was discovered on the upper waters of the Arkansas River. This sparked a controversy between two competing railroads: The Rio Grande and the Santa Fe. Both wanted rights to build the new freight railroad to carry the ore down from the mountains.

From dynamiting competitor’s railway efforts to exchanging gunshots, the Royal Gorge War eventually evolved into a six-month court battle. The Santa Fe Railroad was unhappy with the results and hired legendary gunfighter and U.S. Marshal Bat Masterson and part of his Kansas posse to help protect their crew and materials, while the Rio Grande countered with a 200-man posse led by former Governor A.C. Hunt. The Rio Grande eventually won out.

An Incomparable Story

There are so many stories and fascinating details to share about the Royal Gorge, so while you’re at the park, check out the Plaza Theatre and Historical display.