Every trip I take with my travel companions results in us climbing tall things and riding on something with views. Pandemic aside, this trip is no different, just what we are wearing on our faces when we are doing it. Our Great Colorado Vacation Tuesday found us at Bishop’s Castle climbing dangerous ramparts on strange person’s private property, walking across the Royal Gorge on “America’s Bridge” and riding Gondolas back over it.
I’ll get back to America’s Bridge over the Royal Gorge in a minute, but first our pilgrimage to see the weird – Bishop’s Castle.
Bishop’s Castle is just that, a castle, built by a man named Bishop. If you go to the website, it tells you that it is a working construction site funded entirely by the funds raised at its gift shop. It is 1.5 hours outside of Colorado Springs in the middle of a winding mountain pass road. It does not really have a gift shop, just signs about it being destroyed in a fire.
You are able to climb up and all over it “at your own risk,” and well, it is risky – both wobbly as well as worn out metal grates on stairs with no railings. In my legal opinion, I would call it dangerous, and its shocking no one has died here.
I chose to stay down below and take pictures as Jeremy climbed all the way to the top to experience the fear of taking his life into his own hands in the first person. The photos above are his from the experience. On the upside of this strange place, there were very few people at the location with us – so it was a great socially distanced tourist destination.
After exhausting all the eye could see at Bishop’s Castle, and exploring the “gift shop” for non-existent postcards we climbed back into our rental Jeep Cherokee and made our way to Canon City, to see the Royal Gorge and the former World’s Largest Suspension Bridge – our very own “America’s Bridge” to nowhere.
The Royal Gorge Bridge was built in 1929 taking only 7 months, coming in at $320,000 total costs with no deaths or major injuries in its construction. On our way to the bridge my friends and I surmised the reasons a bridge such as it was built in the first place. Great Depression era project was one guess. Mine was “a guy with a good idea for a tourist trap and a really rich investor.” My guess was correct. The Royal Gorge Bridge and Amusement Company who funded the building of the bridge and the bridge’s subsequent owners were all Texans with massive oil money to fund the private investment in a tourist destination.
It was a very successful tourist destination, hosting presidents, publicity stunts, and only a few suicides over the years. It has generated so much revenue that the lease of the land (which is a percentage of sales from annual visitors) provides Canon City enough money that it has one of the lowest property taxes in the United States for its residents.
A fire in 2013 decimated most of the original structures and facilities at the bridge, including the need to make some minor repairs to the bridge. This resulted in a multi-million dollar renovation giving the site a new zip line, new gondolas across the Royal Gorge, a giant swing thing, a theater and a new visitor’s center with a very large gift shop. For $29 per person entrance fee you get a walk across the bridge and a gondola ride. Everything else is extra starting at $40 per person, or $7 for a Zippy Dog at the Bridge Grill.
With the pandemic raging, masks are strongly suggested and the gondola cars are disinfected after every use, and only filled with families/groups traveling together versus the non-pandemic 8 per car/1400 lbs rule. Which meant for a very long wait in the hot mid-day sun after we climbed the giant hill in the high altitude. Even with all of this, it was clear that the facility was not as busy as it would be during a normal tourist season. I have great gratitude for this, as it was busy enough.
The gondola ride was so smooth, it wasn’t even scary to be hanging over a 1250 foot deep gorge. As I hate heights, I thought it might be a bit nerve wracking, but it was actually fun. And as we waited almost an hour in the hot sun to get on, we were going to do it no matter what – there was no going back.
After our long excursion at the Royal Gorge we were sun tired, people not quite wearing their masks or socially distancing tired, and still had a two hour drive to our next destination – Breckenridge for some Rocky Mountain 10K altitude air. The drive was filled with views of the range (aka a lot of nothing) and then winding mountain roads with 10 mile per hour turns. We made it in to town just in time for our “touchless check-in” to our condo, and some strange corona virus re-direction of traffic.
But after a trip to the local gourmet grocery store we made ourselves a meal of antipasto meats, cheeses, and pickled vegetables and settled into our ski condo to relax for the evening with the cool mountain air.