In 2013 a man made wildfire came close to destroying a bridge which reigned as the world’s highest from 1929 when it was built until 2001 when it was lost its status in the record books to the first of China’s ever higher engineering marvels. It remains the highest bridge in the US and that record won’t change in the foreseeable future.
Unlike most bridges, the Royal Gorge suspension bridge near Canon City, Colorado was specially built as a tourist attraction rather than as a means of transport from A to B. It is situated 291 m (955 feet) above the Arkansas River. An estimated 26 million tourists have visited the bridge since it first opened.
Initially, tourism was slow and not very profitable because the Great Depression started soon after the bridge was completed, and was closely followed by World War Two.
The bridge enjoyed an extensive facelift and restoration programme during the early 1980s.
During the four days before it was contained the disastrous fire of June 2013 destroyed 48 of the 52 buildings in the national park around the bridge, as well as the funicular railway and the aerial tramcar, which had been added to the park’s attractions in 1969. The bridge itself sustained only slight damage and needed replacement of about 100 of the 1292 wooden planks covering the roadbed.
The park reopened in 2014 with most of the original attractions plus a few new ones. A grand opening took place on 8 May 2015 after some $30 million had been spent on repairs.
If you feel crossing the gorge using the bridge is too mainstream you can use the newly installed zipline or the Skycoaster (built in 2003 and survived the fire) to get an adrenalin rush. A single-span aerial gondola is also available for the more adventurous tourists.
The bridge has witnessed its fair share of tragedy with the first suicide recorded in 1931. In October 2003, a very experienced and well known base jumper and wingsuiter, Dwayn Weston, was killed in an attempt to fly over the bridge. Misjudging the wind conditions, he catapulted into a railing of the bridge at an estimated 180 km/h. Videos of this incident are available to view online but not for the faint of heart!
The total length of the structure is 384m (1260 feet) of which 270m (880 feet) is between the towers, which rise to a commanding height of 46m (150 feet). The width of the bridge is 5.5 m (18 feet).
A railroad runs alongside the river at the bottom of the gorge.
Personal vehicles are not allowed on the bridge at any time, neither are heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses. The park management makes an exception for car clubs which have made prior arrangements to visit.
The park, which is situated in a semi arid region of Colorado at an altitude of 2042m (6700 feet) above sea level, is open throughout the year and well worth a visit. Maybe not as grand as the Grand Canyon, but still an impressive sight to behold.