The Royal Gorge Railroad played Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues – I hear that train a comin’, It’s rollin’ ‘round the bend – as I climbed on board. I smirked at the choice of music. It hardly seemed appropriate, but I didn’t care. I love the song. And so I tapped my toe while sitting in my seat, impatiently waiting for the train to start rollin’.
The last time I was in Canon City it was for a ghost hunt at the prison museum. This time I made the drive for a scenic railroad ride up the Royal Gorge, a 50-foot-wide canyon as deep as 1,250 feet in places. The Arkansas River has continued to cut away at the Rocky Mountains since they were formed some three million years ago, creating one of the most spectacular canyons in Colorado.
Approximately a century ago a rail line was placed in the canyon to ship materials mined from Leadville, high up over 10,000 feet in the mountains. They were brought down from there to Canon City and then on to many other destinations. Today the Royal Gorge Railroad traverses part of the scenic canyon for pure enjoyment, including murder-mystery dinner rides. I was on one of the daytime rides, though, snapping and clicking photos of the towering walls as we rode west into the mountains.
During an introductory announcement as the train crept west, the narrator said it was OK to leave your seat and walk out into the open-air cars. I had passed over it as I boarded, but I did not believe it was possible to stand there – essentially neglecting whatever seat you purchased for a much better view. I didn’t argue with the recorded message, opting instead to get out on the flat bed as quickly as I could.
Whereas only the Arkansas River and a partial view of the canyon walls were visible from my seat, the whole of the canyon towered over me on the flatbed car. It did not have a roof, so there was nothing to obstruct my view during the ride that averaged a speed of 12 miles per hour. Yes it was slow, but no one complained – passengers only uttered oohs and ahhs as if they were watching holiday fireworks.
Unable to utter a sound, I simply stood there smiling and admiring the impressive view as the Royal Gorge Bridge came into sight. I had expected it to be high above us, that much was obvious, but it was a jaw-dropping example of just how deep the canyon really is; profound enough to not have a photograph do it justice.
Shortly thereafter we passed under the bridge, the train stopped. It had not reached the end of the line, the tracks continued on far past where we could see – and I would head up there later to raft the Arkansas River - but the train had reached the extent of its journey into the canyon. After the brief pause we reversed our course and continued back under the bridge toward Canon City.
I had loved my time outside on the flatbed car, but it was now crowded with other passengers. So I removed myself, passing through the snack car, and headed back toward my seat. Other train songs were now playing overhead. I did not recognize any of them, though. I tapped my toes again anyway, happy at the opportunity to just relax and enjoy one of the most beautiful stretches of land in Colorado on the Royal Gorge Railroad.