(AF Academy, Colorado Springs, CO) Hi 86 Lo 59 – Boy, the wonderful days and wonderful sights just keep on coming. Today was another high point of our stay in the Colorado Springs area. We drove about 60 miles southwest to Canon City (pronounced Can-yon City) to ride the Royal Gorge Railroad. It’s a two-hour round trip along the Arkansas river through Royal Gorge, sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas. It’s a narrow, 10-mile long, 1,250 foot deep canyon through the granite of Fremont Peak. We had to decide if we wanted to drive to Royal Gorge Park and cross the famous 1,000 foot high suspension bridge, or ride the train along the bottom of the canyon. Given Dee’s phobia of high bridges, the decision was a no-brainer. :)
As usual around here, the drive to our destination was almost as scenic as the destination itself. On the way south out of Colorado Springs we passed Cheyenne Mountain, site of the famous NORAD mountain complex of the Cold War era. (Be sure to click on the photos to make them larger.)
They still have operations inside the mountain, but they’re in “warm standby” mode these days, as the normal aerospace defense operations are conducted at nearby Peterson AFB.
Once we got away from Colorado Springs the terrain started taking on a distinctly desert appearance as we started the transition from the “mountain west” to the “desert southwest.”
As we neared the turnoff from CO 115 onto US 50 for the final 10 miles to Canon City I saw in the distance the large federal Supermax prison complex outside the nearby town of Florence.
Confession time… I’m somewhat of a prison buff. I know, weird, right? For some reason I’m fascinated by prisons, and I never pass up the chance to drive by one if possible. The Supermax prison is like the holy grail for prison buffs. It’s the highest-security prison in the country, where they incarcerate the most dangerous felons, and those who require special controls, like convicted international spies and terrorists. We were running ahead of schedule so we took a little detour so I could get a closer look.
The complex is huge, and has several facilities of varying security levels, including the Supermax facility, which is the home of Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Eric Rudolph (one of the Oklahoma City bombers), and several 9-11 terrorists.
OK, enough about my strange interest… We arrived at the train depot in Canon City and got our tickets.
We had about a half-hour until departure time so we walked around the gift shop and generally hung out. Finally with a loud whistle the train arrived.
The train has three classes of service. The Vista Dome (which are the blue cars in the upper photo above), coach, and a gourmet lunch in the dining car. All classes have access to the open air cars, which give you unobstructed views of the scenery.
We had tickets for coach, so we boarded and made our way to our assigned car.
Through the refreshments car...
...to our assigned coach car…
… and our seats.
The train pulled out at 12:30 and maintained a steady pace of about 10 mph. As soon as we got away from Canon City and started following the Arkansas River the scenery started getting really, really spectacular!
It wasn't long before we left our seats and went out to the open air car to take in the views.
The view to the rear was just as good.
These folks were enjoying their lunch in an unusual location.
I sure would like to know the history of this old building. If someone lived here, they sure were isolated.
We passed these three deer enjoying a drink. They didn’t pay us any mind.
About halfway through the canyon the famous Royal Gorge Bridge came into view.
That thing is really up there!
Dee is really glad we took the train through the gorge rather than drive across it. :)
Near the bridge there was a zip line ride. Now THAT takes courage!
We passed many rafters on the trip.
When we reached the other end of the canyon we saw their put in site.
The train reversed and returned to the station on the same route, so we went by the refreshments car and bought a snack to eat at our seats. It was a magnificent two hours, and we’re so glad we did it. The cost was $35 apiece, which we think was well worth it.
During the trip home we had quite a nice surprise. Just as we got into Colorado Springs I noticed a large aircraft taking off in the distance. And would you believe it? It was Air Force One!
President Obama was in town for a campaign stop. If you’re a regular reader you’ll remember we saw Air Force One take off from Buckley AFB near Denver while we were there. What are the chances of seeing Air Force One twice in 2/1/2 weeks?
As we got closer to the Academy the late afternoon light was casting beautiful shadows across the Front Range, with the lighter shadows of Pikes Peak providing a backdrop.
We never tire of the ever changing views of the mountains.
We pass this RV dealer every time we travel through Colorado Springs on I-25. Today I finally got a picture of it. We get a kick out of it every time we see it. (No, Dee hasn’t started a second career.)
Well, that was our day. Pretty eventful if you ask me! We’re going to be a little less active tomorrow and through the weekend. We’ve seen the major things we set out to see. It’s been an unforgettable four weeks in Colorado, both in Denver area and here in Colorado Springs.