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USA: Colorado: Canon City, Colorado Springs, Denver, Garden of the Gods, Vail
Colorado, USA : Call of the mountains
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
I did what everybody does. Went up the ski slope on a cable chair. Then I did something that nobody does. Used the chair to come down the slopes. I don't know to ski but that didn't stop me to answer the call of the Rockies. Colorado is about mountains… exciting in the winters and beautiful in the summers.
I was to be in Colorado Springs for 3 days of business. I added few more days to the trip to make the most of the mountains. After landing at Denver international airport, I took the Colorado Mountain Express shuttle that got me to Vail, about 3 hours away. Vail ranks amongst the best ski destinations of the world. I stayed at Vail Raquet Club, buried deep in snow away from the village. Temperature was many degrees below zero. A swim in their open-air heated pool was very refreshing.
The next morning I was ready for the slopes. Like I mentioned earlier, I got nothing to do with skiing. Unlike me, there were thousands of other tourists ready to go up and down on their skis and boards. World class slopes are within miles of each other in this lovely neighbourhood. There are schools that teach you to ski and snowboard. Despite the assurances of the teachers, I refrained from taking my first lesson. Not a good idea, I thought, to go on business with broken bones. While others skied, I walked the slopes above and the villages below.
With a hearty breakfast, I was ready to leave for Denver. In 2 hours I was downtown. I checked into Adams Mark Hotel. Conveniently located, this is a good business hotel claiming to have the world's largest lobby. That evening, I went to the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo. It was a spectacular show with hundreds of cowboys in performance. Gun shots, lassos, races … the Wild West.
The next day I toured Denver, rightly nicknamed Mile High City. The city is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level. I walked most of the time and did use the free city bus that runs frequently in the Mall, downtown Denver. Make it a point to visit Denver's many museums especially Denver Art Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art. In the afternoon I headed to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, just 15 miles West of Denver.
Located at the base of the foothills inside Red Rocks Park, the amphitheater is anchored by two large sand stones reaching three hundred-feet high, offering natural acoustics to its summer concert lineup and annual film series. At an elevation of 6,200 feet above sea level, Red Rocks Park is in a unique transitional zone where the Great Plains meets the Rocky Mountains. The park is open from 5 am to 11 pm everyday and entry is free. Of course, you need to buy a ticket to attend the concerts. I walked the park and then with another couple of hours on the road and I was at Colorado Springs.
I stayed at the Broadmoor Hotel. This beautiful hotel is an outstanding property to spend a few days in. Definitely not cheap, but worth every dollar they ask for. It ranks amongst the best hotels in the USA. My room was facing the lake, which was of course frozen as was the hotel's 18-hole golf course. The view from the top floor was awesome… over looking the Pikes Peak, standing tall at 14,110 feet. Weather permitting; one can take a cog-wheel train or actually drive up to the top. I am told that Pikes' Peak is the second most visited peak in the world only after Mount Fuji in Japan. Sad, I couldn't make it to the top.
My meetings were scheduled in the afternoon. That gave me time to explore Garden of the Gods which was just a 15 minute drive.
Garden of the Gods is a beautiful area of sandstone formations. It's a public park and entrance is free. The 480 acre property was donated to the city by Charles Elliot Perkins family in 1909. Why the name Garden of the Gods? Well, there's a story. It was August of 1859 when two surveyors started out from Denver City to begin a town site, soon to be called Colorado City. While exploring nearby locations, they came upon a beautiful area of sandstone formations. M. S. Beach, who related this incident, suggested that it would be a "capital place for a beer garden". His companion, Rufus Cable, a young and poetic man, exclaimed, "Why, it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods." It has been so called ever since.
A road takes you through the park. Frequent stops are advisable to soak in the beautiful formations. Garden of the Gods is quite a favourite destination with bikers, hikers and climbers. However, climbers do need a permit to try their hands on.
After having wrapped up the business day, that evening I drove to Canon City which was a comfortable 90 minutes drive. Parked at the station and boarded the Royal Gorge Route Railroad that served dinner on board.
The Historic Royal Gorge Route Railroad is considered to be one of the most scenic train rides in the world. The train takes you on a two-hour, 24-mile journey through the 1,000 foot deep Royal Gorge, alongside the beautiful Arkansas River. With day trips, you'll have the opportunity to observe Bald Eagles, Blue Heron, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, and flora, native to the gorge. However, history was not to be so beautiful. Greed prevailed.
In the late 1870s miners descended on the upper Arkansas valley of Colorado in search of carbonate ores rich in lead and silver. The feverish mining activity in what would become the Leadville district attracted the attention of the Denver & Rio Grande and the Santa Fe railroads, each already having tracks in the Arkansas valley. The Santa Fe was at Pueblo and the D&RG near Canon City some 35 miles west. Leadville was over 100 miles away. For two railroads to occupy a river valley ordinarily was not a problem, but west of Canon City was an incredible obstacle - an obstacle that would result in a war between the railroads in the race to the new bonanza.
West of Canon City the Arkansas River cuts through a high plateau of igneous rocks forming a spectacular steep-walled gorge over a thousand feet deep. At its narrowest point shear walls on both sides plunge into the river creating an impassible barrier. On April 19, 1878, a hastily assembled construction crew from the Santa Fe began grading for a railroad just west of Canon City in the mouth of the gorge. The D&RG whose end of track was only ¾ of a mile from Canon City raced crews to the same area, but were blocked by the Santa Fe graders in the narrow canyon. By a few hours they had lost the first round in what became a two-year struggle between the two railroads that would be known as the Royal Gorge War.
Long story short, on March 27, 1880, the two railroads signed what was called the "Treaty of Boston" which settled all litigation, and gave the D&RG back its railroad. The D&RG paid the Santa Fe $1.8 million for the railroad it had built in the gorge, the grading it had completed, materials on hand and interest. The Royal Gorge War was over. D&RG construction resumed, and rails reached Leadville on July 20, 1880.
Depending upon the seating and meal options, you would pay from $33 to $85 for a ride on the Royal Gorge Route.
The train went right beneath the world's highest ever suspension bridge, known as the Royal Gorge Bridge, which I decided, I would definitely see before heading back home. I had seen bottom-up. I was eager for a top-down view too. Actually, a good idea is to do the bridge in the morning and the railroad in the evening. That saves travel time to Colorado Springs and back.
After 2 more days of business, I drove past Canon City to reach the awesome Royal Gorge Bridge. Hanging 1,053 feet above Colorado's wild Arkansas River, the Royal Gorge Bridge is the world's highest suspension bridge and a legendary feat of engineering renowned the world over. It was built in 1929 in just 6 months, using over 300 tons of cable and 1,000 tons of steel for the bridge floor. Those days the cost to build was $350,000; the cost today would easily exceed $15 million. I crossed the gorge using the aerial tram and walked back over the bridge. The experience was priceless.
Gliding more than 1,100 feet above the canyon floor is the world's longest single-span aerial tram. The ride offers exceptional 360-degree views of the Gorge, the Bridge, the Park and Colorado's majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Between the blue skies above and the granite walls below, it was like walking a tightrope across the very Gorge itself. Expect sweaty palms.
Once back, I took the incline railway to the base. Built in 1931, and traveling at a 45-degree angle, the world's steepest incline railway is still considered one of the most difficult structures ever built. Here, timeless granite walls loom all around as you descend over 1,500 feet to the canyon floor. Stepping out of the car I was near the roaring Arkansas River. I was there a couple of evenings ago. By the way, out here, whitewater rafters brave the Class 5 rapids. Entrance to the bridge is $24. That includes aerial tramway, incline railway, a visit to the wildlife park and the theatre. There are some exciting rides for which you would need to pay extra.
On my way back to Colorado Springs, I made a stop at Buckskin Joe, Scenic Railway & Frontier Town. A 30 minute ride on the scenic mini train ($11) took me right up to the North rim of the Gorge. And a visit to the 'ghost town' ($14) which now doubles up as a set to shoot Westerns.
Bang! Bang!! Time to head home.
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