Part 8: Royal Gorge Railway Excursion


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The Trip

Since we were right next to Royal Gorge, we decided to check out the train excursion.  We rolled from our campground to Canyon City and got on-board.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

Canyon City sits astride the Arkansas River.  The city built a nice riverside park.  Above, they moved boulders to form a whitewater obstacle for kayakers.  The bridge at the right of the photo above was built in 1891 according to it's plaque.

On the south side of the river was another park with a large river-fed lake.

We walked to the station and spotted an old steam locomotive that was used on the narrow gauge tracks in the area.

This locomotive is a Shay which, among other things, has a non-symmetrical design.  The boiler sits toward the left side.

The boiler location was designed to allow room for the steam cylinders on the right side.

The triple cylinders drive shafts with universal joints that turn the wheel gears.  This is the steam locomotive equivalent of all-wheel drive commonly used for logging and operation on steep, narrow-gauge lines.

Our locomotive was modern as was the balance of the rolling stock for our excursion.

The passenger cars had fully modern suspensions with sway-supression bars and shocks.

We purchased seats in the dome car.  This car was very long and had many tables to handle the crowds of tourists that take the train.  The seats are on the second level of the train so visibility is good.

The first thing that we saw after we started rolling is the Colorado State Prison, built by the prisoners themselves from rock quarried from the hillside.

The Arkansas River is actually quite small by any standard but has strong currents due to the steep grade on the river.

The powerful currents of the river carry much sand and sediment and cut through the rock like a saw leaving steep canyon walls.  The dark bands are due to volcanic intrusions.

On the upstream side of the main gorge the canyons widen and the river slows.

The Arkansas River hosts lots of anglers and rafters.  At the end of the travel route, the train stopped, reversed direction and then started back down the canyon.

Near the top of the canyon we encountered the intake weir for the now-decommissioned Canyon City aqueduct.  A portion of the intake ports are visible on the face of the concrete.

Further downstream from the intake weir was the sediment pond that allowed particulates and sand in the aqueduct to settle prior to entering the piping.

The aqueduct was built around the turn of the century and required substantial infrastructure including pipeline bridges and siphons.  This bridge collapsed many years ago.

The material of choice for plumbing "back in the day" was redwood staves bound together by cable and steel hoops.

The entire aqueduct project was performed with conscript prison labor from Canyon City.  In narrow portions of the canyon the pipes were hung from the cliff walls with cables and rock bolts.  In many areas the pipeline went through hand-dug tunnels in the canyon walls.

In the steep portions of the canyon, wires were strung over the tracks to provide warning of rock falls.  Falling rock would break wires, thus setting off an alarm in the railroad dispatch office.

The canyon got narrower as we headed into the main part of the gorge.

Several side canyons produced big floods and debris flows during rain so bridges for the side canyons were constructed to carry water and debris over the tracks rather than under them.

Our first view of Royal Gorge Bridge.  Also visible above are cable cars crossing the chasm.  To provide a sense of scale, people are visible on the suspension bridge.

The narrowest part of the gorge required creative engineering.  In this portion of the route, the train passes over a suspended trestle.  Rather than supporting the bridge trestle from below, it is hung from a overhead structure that spans the whole canyon.

The bridge abutments were built into the canyon walls.  Four spans were required to support the whole weight of the train on the trestle.

The rockfall warning system is particularly important in this part of the canyon.  The wires run above the bridge.  I did not see any rock damage on the top part of the structure.  But, look carefully at the UNDERNEATH side and you will see damage from over-height cargo on the train.

Amazingly, only two bolts per beam were used to hold the bridge to the rock.

While stopped at the suspended trestle we could see zip liners crossing the gorge high above us.

A bit further downstream we could see some of the Royal Gorge Bridge suspension towers.

The train trip was nice.  The food was good, albeit expensive, and the service was great.  Royal Gorge in an impressive place and the train is the only way to see the entire canyon.  Just beware that this is a very popular attraction during the summer months, so get your tickets ahead of time.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2018 all rights reserved.
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