Pikes Peak to Royal Gorge, Published 3 March 1937I left you last Lesson approaching Pike's Peak, on the second No. 1 of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. I told you that Pike's Peak was 14,109 feet high, and that you could take either a cog railroad or a toll road and ride an auto right to the top, but I have not quite finished with this hoary monarch yet. Pike's Peak is named for Zebulon Pike. A United States army engineer, he saw it early in the 19th century, and started to ride up to it. But its size, plus the clear atmosphere, fooled him, and it took him three days before he could camp near its slopes. Pike afterwards got mixed up in the War of 1812, and he fell mortally wounded, at Toronto, in the invasion of York. Toronto has brought about the downfall of a lot of people since.
Now I wanted to get a good snap of the peak, but the only place I thought I could do it would be at the bridge over the station at Colorado Springs. I started to rush down there, when Mr. Kemp told me not to hurry, for they'd hold the train for me; they did better than that. They ran the train down to the bridge, stopped it, and waited till I had taken my snaps. Then Trainmaster Kemp highballed the engineer, and away we went.
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Still continuing this trip south on our way north, we skirted between the plains and the peaks for a long time. Just outside Colorado Springs, a place of about 40,000 in summer, I saw some rusting engines of the old Colorado Midland. I'll have more to say about this line later, but I wanted to add another argument to my thesis about Colorado and her glamorous past by pointing out that even as long ago as the war, the Colorado Midland was so far beyond its usefulness that its rails were torn up and sold for scrap.
The mountains left us after a while, we travelled dreary semi-desert and when we finally got to Pueblo, the Rockies were some miles to the west. Engine No. 777 had brought us through on time, and there on the next track was the first No. 1, with all her smart equipment, ready to take us westward and northward. At least from now on, after two and a half hours going in the wrong direction, we were finally headed the right way.
Pueblo is known as the Pittsburgh of the southwest, and with its steel mills, may perhaps lay some painfully slim claim to that title. It is, they say, a good town to live in, but it always depresses me, located where it is on the parched southeastern Colorado. This however, is mere personal prejudice, so you can pass it up.
Mr. Kemp then led me right up to E. W. Deuel, superintendent of the Rio Grande at Pueblo. Mr. Shields' telegrams were still working, and Mr. Deuel, a fine big man, gave me a great welcome. Then he introduced me to Walter Allen, trainmaster at Pueblo.
"He's going with you as far as Salida," said Mr. Deuel. Then he added: "Now don't forget; if you want the train stopped any place, just let them know, and they'll do it."
I gazed at him as if Sir Edward Beatty had suddenly said to me: "Here, Austin, old boy, are the keys to my private car, you know, the Wentworth. Just go down there and make yourself known, order out an engine or two, and if you take the old car out to Vancouver, what's the odds!"
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While I concealed my surprise at so generous an offer as best I could, and murmured perfunctorily that I wouldn't think of having a train stopped, I was thinking under my breath that at least I'd have some fun out of the idea before I left the Rio Grande. In answer to my reply, saying that I couldn't think of his stopping a train for me, Mr. Deuel said again I had only to say the word. Ordering a train stopped was as easy as licking a postage stamp to him. However, I soon had a chance to test his willingness to cooperate. Seeing me attempting to locate in my camera finder the big 1708, soon to couple on to us, Mr. Deuel said: "Is she O.K. for you?" I thought I could do with her a little way down the track, where the light was better, and told him so. Mr. Deuel ordered the locomotive where I wanted it, and slowly the more than 100-foot long engine started to roll down to where my camera lens could best get the snap. These are real facts and not fairy stories l am telling you. In our part of the world, you do not find either Canadian or American officials so obliging. Then, as a final thought, Mr. Deuel invited me to ride the engine from Canon City up into the Royal Gorge. Elated with that, prospect, I bounded into the solarium car, bade farwell to Mr. Kemp and Mr. D., and sat down to get acquainted with Walter Allen.
I could think of no better way of getting to know Mr. Allen than over the chow, and thus we were soon in the diner, looking at the menu. When I passed over the Rio Grande before, the advertised delicacy was then, as now, mountain trout. They are always caught within a few hours of serving. The only trouble was that in 1925, the fish was a dollar a person, and that was one of the reasons I finally went broke at Colorado Springs, for in those mountains at that altitude you have an appetite like an ostrich, and you get simply ravenous when you get into the diner and get the sniff of that piscatorial delicacy in your nostrils. Anyway, with fish one dollar per, as it was 12 years ago, you had only to add potatoes, coffee and bread to the total, and the Rio diner had $2 from you, even before dessert time. But I am glad to report glad for my sake that the depression has reached the Rio Grande too, and you can have this fish now cooked to order for $1.25, table d'hote. I hope to tell you I was soon staring a big mountain trout in the eye. I say the eye, for the fish is cooked whole, and brought to you head attached. You are not obliged to down the creature, head and all, cat-fashion, for the colored waiter will offer to fillet it for you. and so my fish head, tail, dead eye and all went back to the galley, and I settled down, just as the Rockies reappeared, to the solid enjoyment of a real Colorado trout.
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Still a little east of the higher Rockies, we were in such mild weather this winter day that I actually saw a family having a wayside picnic on a table in some public park. When I got to California, it was far too cold for that, and the truth is that the finest weather I struck during the whole trip was not in California, but in Colorado a mile and a half above sea level.
Canon City is where the state penitentiary is. and at this point I jumped out of the train, ran on ahead, and climbed into the engine. There, I sat behind the fireman as the big locomotive began its steady pounding up into the Royal Gorge. To anticipate a bit, the Royal Gorge is where the muddy Arkansas river breaks through the last of the Rockies, and spills out into the flat prairie country. But though there are many gorges, there are seemingly none so narrow and steep. At its deepest point, the Royal Gorge is only 10 yards wide, and yet it is about 1.500 feet high. A bridge crosses it 1,089 feet above it, and is said to be the highest bridge of its kind in the world. Every train stops in the Gorge at a place called the Hanging Bridge. This Hanging Bridge did actually once hang from iron supports, for it is not across the river but clung along one side of it where the bank disappears into sheer rock. It has subsequently been reinforced, however, and is not now the phenomenon it once was. But the Royal Gorge, cold and gloomy, is one of the great sights of this continent. To ride the engine therefore up from the wide peach orchard country of Canon City, to a spot barely 30 feet wide, and to view this breath-taking approach from the front of a roaring engine, was a thrill not to be essayed lightly. The big 1708 kept right on pounding, scarcely a quarter-mile ever straight ahead, and often around steep curves behind huge mountains. Hoarsely heralding its coming, the wheeled giant clamored for right of way, seemingly, and got it, for the road grew narrower and more tortuous, the sun at noonday at last quit even trying to get down into that dank canyon, the air grew cooler as the day got darker, and at last, just around twilight as contrasted with noon-day a few minutes before, and in mid-November compared with the early September of five minutes down the track, the engineer put on the brakes, and we were in the Royal Gorge. For ten minutes it seemed only like two we gaped up from this tenebrous alley in the Rockies to the bridge and blue sky above, then while I was once more back in the observation car, we started to roll out of the clammy canyon back into the sunlight to pick up, some time later, the Sangre de Cristo Range away to the southwest.
In my next, two miles in the air on a train.