A River Runs Through It – The Royal Gorge, Colorado

Not content with rafting down the Arkansas River flowing through the bottom of it, we wanted to explore the magnificent Royal Gorge in other interesting ways too. First off was a brief but thrilling helicopter ride over the gorge and the famous suspension bridge strung nonchalantly over it.

Piloted by the calm and professional Eli from Colorado Vertical, we soared over the 1200 foot chasm. Circling round the bridge, we crossed the surrounding park and visitor centre, newly reconstructed after the building and 3000 acres were destroyed by a fire in June 2013 caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette butt. It was only my second time in a helicopter and lifting effortlessly off the ground, blades whirring overhead like a giant humming bird, felt immensely liberating. The views through the windscreen were gripping: as Eli said, ‘not a bad view from my office window’.

The bridge was designed by C. Shallor Smith, built in 1879 and served no real practical purpose, other than to help perfect engineering techniques which were later used to construct the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. For many years it also created a ‘claim to fame’ as the world’s highest suspension bridge, but as Ryan, our rafting trip guide had told us the day before with a certain disappointment, it was eclipsed in 2011 by a bridge in France, the Millau Viaduct, which is just a few feet higher. Sauntering across the bridge gives a vertiginous vista of the churning river way below – still brown from the rains when we visited, though lower than the day before when we’d made our rafting trip – and of the sheer rock faces that make up the walls of the gorge. It also commands a view of a series of metal wires stretching across the gorge a little way up.

Hanging cheerfully from the first pair of these wires are two pillar-box red sets of gondolas, which ferry view-hungry visitors smoothly across in a glass-walled bubble. On the first of several trips in these cars we spotted rafters bobbing below us in their yellow inflatable vessels, marvelling that we’d done the same just the day before; on another one a fellow cabin traveller spied one of the region’s famous Big Horn sheep. Other than a faint flicker as it disappeared into the scrubby shadow of a bush on the cliff face, unfortunately it eluded me.

Clinging to the other pair of wires were two harnesses, forming the world’s highest zipline (and as far as we know, this hasn’t been usurped by anyone yet!). Peering out over the sheer rocky drop below, and then up at the scarcely-visible wires marking the zipline’s rapid passage certainly quickened the senses, and I don’t mind admitting that my heart was pounding as I was strapped (I could only hope securely) into my harness alongside Sara-Marie from Wyoming.

After a hesitant wave backwards and a brief moment of terror as I looked down and saw my feet dangling over the precipitous drop beneath, the clip securing my harness was released and I was off, screaming delightedly, arms bravely outspread as I careered down the wire. The ride was over all-too-quickly. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would: possibly a combination of the altitude and the stunning views acted as a calming agent. With a back-jolting jerk the spring-loaded braking mechanism on the other side kicked in, I sprang backwards to hover momentarily over the gorge on the other side, and then it was over, marking the end of our multi-faceted interaction with the Royal Gorge.

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