Royal Gorge Bridge

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Royal Gorge Bridge
Royal Gorge Bridge (looking west).jpg
Royal Gorge Bridge
Map of bridge location in Colorado
Map of bridge location in Colorado
Location in Colorado
Location Crosses the Arkansas River in Fremont County, Colorado
Nearest city Cañon City
Coordinates 38°27′42″N 105°19′30″W / 38.46167°N 105.325°W / 38.46167; -105.325Coordinates: 38°27′42″N 105°19′30″W / 38.46167°N 105.325°W / 38.46167; -105.325
NRHP Reference # 83001303[1]
Added to NRHP September 2, 1983
Royal Gorge Bridge
Carries Pedestrians and passenger vehicles[2][3]
Crosses Arkansas River[4]
Owner City of Cañon City, Colorado[5]
Design Suspension
Material Steel with timber deck[4]
Total length 1,260 ft (380 m)[6]
Width 18 ft (5.5 m)[6]
Longest span 880 ft (270 m)[6]
Load limit 2,000,000 pounds (910 t)[6]
Clearance below 955 ft (291 m)[6][7][note 1]
Architect George E. Cole
Constructed by George E. Cole Construction Co.[4]
Fabrication by Colorado Fuel and Iron Corp.[3]
Construction begin June 5, 1929
Construction end November 30, 1929
Construction cost $350,000[6]
Opened December 8, 1929
Map of local area around bridge and gorge including Cañon City and U.S. Route 50
Local area map

The Royal Gorge Bridge is a tourist attraction near Cañon City, Colorado within Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, a 360-acre (150 ha) amusement park located along the edge of the Royal Gorge around both ends of the bridge.[8] The bridge crosses the gorge 955 feet (291 m)[note 1] above the Arkansas River[7] and held the record of highest bridge in the world from 1929 until 2001 when it was surpassed by the Liuguanghe Bridge in China.[9] The Royal Gorge Bridge maintained the title of the world's highest suspension bridge until the Beipan River Guanxing Highway Bridge was completed in 2003, also in China.[9] The bridge remains the highest bridge in the United States and was among the ten highest bridges in the world until 2012.[9]

The main span of the bridge between the towers is 880 feet (270 m),[note 2] the total length is 1,260 feet (384 m), the width is 18 feet (5.5 m) and the towers are 150 feet (46 m) high. The steel base structure is covered with 1292 wooden planks.[6] Passenger vehicles are allowed to cross the bridge but only before park attractions open or after they close, times depending on season. Oversize vehicles including large trucks, RVs and buses are not permitted to cross.[2][10]

The bridge was built in six months between June and November 1929 at a cost of $350,000.[6] In 1931, an incline railway, or funicular, was added beside the bridge to reach the bottom of the gorge.[11] In the 1950s, a miniature railroad was built by the edge of the gorge and an aerial tram was opened in 1969.[11] In the early 1980s, the bridge was renovated with new cable anchors, suspension rods and paint.[6] A Skycoaster attraction was added in 2003 with riders being swung out over the edge of the gorge.[12]

In June 2013, a wildfire destroyed most of the park's buildings and the aerial tram, and damaged the funicular. The bridge sustained only slight damage to the wooden deck and was otherwise unharmed, along with the Skycoaster.[8] The park was rebuilt and partially reopened in August 2014.[13] The park had a grand reopening in May 2015 with new gondolas and a new zip-line crossing the gorge on the east side of the bridge.[14][15]

Construction and location[edit]

Construction began on June 5, 1929 and ended November 30, 1929.[6] The bridge cost $350,000 and was constructed as a tourist attraction, not as a through route for transportation purposes. The road leading to the bridge from U.S. Route 50 continues on the south side of the gorge eventually re-connecting with Route 50; however, all visitors are required to enter and exit through the north park gate. The road on the south rim is blocked shortly beyond the bridge and all traffic must turn around.[2]

The road leading to and across the bridge from Route 50 is designated as Fremont County Road 3A and begins about 10 mi (16 km) west of Cañon City.[16] The Royal Gorge Route Railroad runs under the bridge along the base of Royal Gorge.[17]

Highest bridges[edit]

Sign on bridge with inaccurate height in 2008

The Royal Gorge Bridge held the record of highest bridge in the world from 1929 to 2001 with a deck height of 955 feet (291 m), measured from the deck to the river surface below.[6][7][note 3] In 2001 it was surpassed by the Liuguanghe Bridge in China with its deck height of 974 feet (297 m). In 2003 it surrendered the title of the world's highest suspension bridge when the Beipan River Guanxing Highway Bridge was completed, also in China. Since 2003, several more even higher bridges, mostly in China, have been completed which caused the Royal Gorge Bridge to drop out of the top ten highest bridges in the world. As of 2016, the Royal Gorge Bridge remains the highest bridge in the United States and among the top twenty highest bridges in the world; however, nine additional very high bridges are scheduled for completion in China between 2016 and 2020. If all the planned bridges are completed, they will move the Royal Gorge Bridge out of the top twenty places in the rankings. The current highest bridge is China's Sidu River Bridge opened in 2009 with a deck height of 1,627 feet (496 m).[18] The Beipanjiang Bridge Duge with a deck height of 1,854 feet (565 m) will become the new highest bridge when completed in 2016.[9]



The bridge was built between June and November 1929 at a cost of $350,000 which was $100,000 over budget.[11] Adjusting for inflation, the cost to rebuild in the 2010s would be over $20 million. The project was financed by Lon P. Piper, president of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Amusement Company of San Antonio, Texas. Piper hired George E. Cole as the Chief Engineer and the bridge was completed in about six months with no deaths or serious injuries.[6] The formal opening occurred on December 8, 1929. Piper agreed to a twenty–year lease of the gorge and surrounding land which is owned by Cañon City, paying a $1000 yearly fee to the city with a reduced fee of $500 in some years of hardship.[11]

In June 1931, a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge incline railway, or funicular, was built to the bottom of the gorge through a narrow cleft just west of the north end of the bridge.[11][19] In August 1931, the first suicide occurred when a man from Pueblo, Colorado jumped off the bridge.[11] In 1937, a lighting system was installed to illuminate the bridge and the gorge walls.[11]

In 1947, after struggling for many years through the Great Depression and World War II, Piper sold the bridge and leasing rights to a group of local Colorado businessmen and a Texan named Clint Murchison who had made a fortune in oil, gas and real estate. A long–time employee of the park stated that Murchison, who died in 1969, never visited the bridge he had bought even after he became the sole owner.[11]

In the 1950s, a lodge was built by the gorge and the Silver Rock Railway 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge train with a Chance Rides miniature C.P. Huntington locomotive began running along the edge of the gorge near the bridge.[11] In 1956, Murchison and his Royal Gorge Bridge Company based in Dallas agreed to pay the city a percentage of its revenue instead of the $1000 yearly fee for the lease. The percentage arrangement has proven very favorable for the city in the ensuing years which has allowed it to lower property taxes significantly. The property tax rate has since become the lowest in Colorado.[11]


In 1967, an open bid was held for the leasing rights with several companies expressing interest in the acquisition. The bid was won by Murchison's company which signed another twenty–year contract with the city.[11] The aerial tram was opened in 1969, crossing the gorge just east of the bridge. Also in 1969, following the death of Murchison, his sons—John and Clint, Jr.—inherited the bridge and lease.[11]

In 1979, Lucille Murchison—the wife of John Murchison—inherited the bridge and lease after her husband's death.[11]

The bridge and the incline railway were listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 2, 1983. The official government registration papers indicate that the city of Cañon City had become the owner of the bridge and incline railway at some point since the 1940s, besides owning the land which they leased to the Royal Gorge Bridge Company.[5]

The bridge underwent significant renovations from 1980–84. New cable anchors and suspension rods were installed and the bridge was re-painted. The cost of the renovations was over $2.8 million which is more than the original purchase price when adjusted for inflation up until the 1980s.[6]

In 1984, Leisure and Recreational Concepts, a Dallas–based company, was hired by Murchison to oversee operations at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.[11]

View from below

In July 1998, William Fehr, the owner of a gravel business based in Parkdale at the entrance to the gorge, purchased the rail lines through the gorge. The sale came after the Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific had merged in 1996 and decided to run their trains on better tracks through northern Colorado. As a part of the purchase, and unbeknownst to Fehr at the time, the sale included the "air rights" above the tracks through the gorge, including the space occupied by the Royal Gorge Bridge. An air rights fee had been negotiated with the railroad companies for $200 per year since 1929, plus another $200 per year for the space occupied by the base of the funicular. In January 1999, Fehr placed a bid to purchase the entire concession from the city since the operating company's lease was due to expire in 2001. When the bid was declined without consideration, Fehr decided to increase the fee for the air rights to $750,000 a year. The city began investigating legal procedures to possibly condemn the air rights.[11][20] Eventually, the city and Fehr agreed on permanent easements that cost the city a one–time fee of $99,000.[21]

21st century[edit]

The Royal Rush Skycoaster was opened on the south side of the gorge in 2003 just east of the bridge.[12]

In October 2003, while performing a proximity demonstration, wingsuiter Dwain Weston was killed attempting to fly over the bridge.[22] Weston was wearing a wingsuit, a skydiving suit with fabric extended below the arms to the body and between the legs to catch air allowing for horizontal travel when skydiving. He was to go over the bridge while fellow skydiver Jeb Corliss was to go under it. Misjudging his distance from the bridge, Weston struck a railing while traveling an estimated 120 mph, severing his leg at the hip. He fell onto a ledge in the gorge under a parachute that had opened on impact, though it is assumed he had already died.[23][24][25]

In March and May 2012, three people committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. The average number of suicides in the previous twelve years had been one per year according to the general manager for the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. As a result of the larger than normal costs incurred in retrieving the bodies, the city of Cañon City was billed by the Royal Gorge Express, LLC—owners of the railroad that runs below the bridge—for $5,025 for use of specialized equipment and qualified personnel in the body recoveries. The three suicides occurred March 6, March 14 and May 8. The third incident required four trips into the gorge with the body being found a week later by river rafters.[26]

2013 wildfire[edit]

ISS image of burn scars with bridge circled in red

On June 11, 2013, most of the park structures on both sides of the gorge were devastated by a man-made wildfire.[27] The fire jumped from the south to the north side of the gorge just west of the bridge and burned 3,218 acres (1,302 ha), of which 2,156 acres (873 ha) was park property, over the next four days until it was contained.[8] The bridge itself sustained only minimal damage with approximately 100 wooden deck planks of 1292 total planks requiring replacement on the south side;[6] however, 48 of the park's 52 buildings were destroyed.[8] No visitors, park employees or any animals in the wildlife park were injured or killed by the fire.[8] The funicular was severely damaged and the aerial tram was destroyed.[8] Park executives announced on June 13 that the bridge would be repaired and the park rebuilt.[28][29] Rebuilding began about a week after the fire and demolition of all damaged structures took about five months. The new visitor center's groundbreaking ceremony was on January 31, 2014.[8]

Park reopening[edit]

The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park reopened on August 30, 2014 and then had a grand reopening ceremony on May 8, 2015 after completing $30 million in repairs.[13][14] The rebuilding plan did not include the wildlife park and those animals have been relocated.[8] The bridge entry is open daily from 7 am until dusk with the visitor center, rides and attractions opening at 10 am, weather permitting.[10] Attractions that have been refurbished or rebuilt since the fire include a new visitor center with an observation deck, a new water clock, new gondolas to replace the aerial trams, the Silver Rock Railway, new Plaza Theater and Historical Expo, new Children's Playland,[30] the original Royal Rush Skycoaster[12] and the new Cloudscraper ZipRider which opened on March 28, 2015.[15][31] The damaged funicular is not yet listed among rides that have been re-opened.[30]

In January 2016, the Royal Gorge Company of Colorado paid the city a record high $2.1 million lease payment. Attendance in 2015 was the highest in the park's history at nearly 350,000 visitors. The attendance figure represented an increase of 20% from the attendance of about 292,000 in 2012, the last full year of operations before the 2013 fire.[32] For the 2013 season the city was paid $1.68 million by the park's operating company, mostly from business continuation insurance. Park officials estimated after the fire that more than 26 million people had visited the park since it opened in 1929.[33]


Wide view from the river

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 1,053 ft (321 m) was the original claim but that figure has since been adjusted twice after an independent laser rangefinder measurement of 955 ft (291 m) was made in 2005. The first adjustment was to 969 ft (295 m) and then a second adjustment went down to 956 ft (291 m) which is such a negligible difference from 955 ft (291 m) that the latter figure is used throughout this article.
  2. ^ The main span measurement on the HighestBridges website is 938 ft (286 m), measured with a laser rangefinder.[9] The main span figure of 880 ft (270 m) continues to be listed on the Royal Gorge Bridge website. No official or other independent confirmation exists for the main span length.[6]
  3. ^ Bridge height information currently relies on the only known reference - - for comparing bridge deck height measurements. No additional independent sources are known to exist for deck height measurements of all high bridges worldwide.


  1. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b c "What to Expect". Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. Retrieved 2016-01-15. 
  3. ^ a b "Historic and notable bridges of the U.S."., James Baughn. Retrieved 2016-01-15. 
  4. ^ a b c "Royal Gorge Bridge". Structurae, Nicolas Janberg. Retrieved 2016-01-15. 
  5. ^ a b "National Register Digital Assets". National Park Service. 2013-11-02. Retrieved 2016-01-15. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Engineering Facts". Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. Retrieved 2016-01-15. 
  7. ^ a b c Rappold, R. Scott (March 4, 2010). "Arizona man topples Royal Gorge Bridge's lofty claim". The Gazette. Colorado Springs, CO: Freedom Communications. Archived from the original on March 5, 2010. Retrieved March 4, 2010. (Eric Sakowski) stood on (the bridge) in 2005 and pointed his range finder at the discover it was 955 feet to the river below, 98 feet less than had been claimed...Royal Gorge officials measured the bridge themselves and discovered it is 969 feet to the water. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Royal Gorge Fire, June 2013 - Still Standing Tall 2013-2014". 2014-01-01. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  9. ^ a b c d e "List of Highest International Bridges"., Eric Sakowski. 2015-12-17. Retrieved 2016-01-15. 
  10. ^ a b "Operating Hours". 2016-01-01. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Dexheimer, Eric (1999-04-29). "The Royal Grudge Bridge". Denver Westword, LLC. Archived from the original on 2016-01-20. Retrieved 2016-01-21. 
  12. ^ a b c "Royal Rush Skycoaster". 2016-01-01. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  13. ^ a b "Royal Gorge Park reopens Saturday, 14 months after fire damaged the park and bridge". 2014-08-29. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  14. ^ a b "Grand Reopening Showcases How Far Royal Gorge Bridge & Park Has Come Post-Fire". 2015-05-08. Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  15. ^ a b "Royal Gorge zip line opens". 2015-03-30. Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  16. ^ "Map and address". Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. Retrieved 2016-01-15. 
  17. ^ "Unplug in Colorado's Royal Gorge". Royal Gorge Route Railroad. Retrieved 2016-01-15. 
  18. ^ "Highest bridge deck". Guinness World Records. 2009-11-15. Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  19. ^ Zeitschrift Blickpunkt Straßenbahn (Tram Focus Magazine) - Trams of the World 2013
  20. ^ Staff (1999-06-01). "New battle looms for the Royal Gorge". Colorado Central Publishing, LLC. Archived from the original on 2010-12-13. Retrieved 2016-01-21. 
  21. ^ Dexheimer, Eric (2000-01-05). "The Royal Grudge Bridge - see addendum at end of article". Denver Westword, LLC / Archived from the original on 2016-01-23. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  22. ^ "Stunt Attempt Proves Fatal for Skydiver". Los Angeles Times. October 6, 2003. Retrieved 2010-08-29. 
  23. ^ Abrams, Michael. "A Sport To Die For". ESPN Internet Ventures. Retrieved 6 October 2012. 
  24. ^ Jones, Lola (16 November 2008). "The Legend's last jump on the last day - whatever happens happens". XtremeSport. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  25. ^ "Base jumper was 'meticulous'". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 October 2003. Retrieved 6 October 2012. 
  26. ^ Canterbury, Carie (2012-09-05). "Cañon City receives bill for recovery of remains from Royal Gorge Bridge jumpers". Daily Record - Canon City. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  27. ^ Canterbury, Carie (2014-02-28). "Cañon City Police Department: Royal Gorge Fire man-made". Daily Record - Canon City. Archived from the original on 2014-03-05. Retrieved 2016-01-19. 
  28. ^ "Officials talk about moving forward for Royal Gorge Bridge & Park". 2013-06-13. Retrieved 2013-06-13. 
  29. ^ "Official: Royal Gorge Bridge damaged by fire but intact". 2013-06-13. Retrieved 2013-06-13. 
  30. ^ a b "Rides & Attractions". 2016-01-01. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  31. ^ "ZipRider". 2016-01-01. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  32. ^ Koen, Andy (2016-01-26). "Visits to Royal Gorge surpass pre-fire levels by 20 percent". KOAA-TV Channel 5, Colorado Springs/Pueblo, Colorado, NBC News Digital, LLC. Archived from the original on 2016-01-28. Retrieved 2016-01-30. 
  33. ^ Canterbury, Carie (2013-10-01). "Royal Gorge Bridge & Park gives $1.06M lease payment to City of Cañon City". Canon City Daily Record, Digital First Media. Archived from the original on 2016-01-30. Retrieved 2016-01-30. 

External links[edit]