This post was originally published on October 7, 2016.
Imagine rolling along the Arkansas River’s edge on a historic Western train, friends by your side and bacon Bloody Mary hand. Now that is what I call glorious. One of my favorite places to enjoy a Bloody Mary cocktail is on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad near Canon City, Colorado. Cañon City is located about an hour southwest of Colorado Springs in Fremont County and is oddly home to thirteen state and federal prisons and penitentiaries, thus deeming itself the “Corrections Capital of the World.”
The history of the Royal Gorge Route Railroad begins back in the late 1870s, when silver and lead miners came to the Arkansas River Valley in search of ores. Leadville, located over 100 miles away from where the Royal Gorge Route Railroad currently operates, was a hotspot for these ores and, obviously, a way to transport the silver and lead out of Leadville was needed. The quickest way to reach Leadville from Cañon City was through a huge river gorge– i.e. the Royal Gorge. The Santa Fe Railroad and Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad both had tracks in the Cañon City area and wanted to complete a railroad running through the steep-walled river gorge to Leadville.
With the gorge being as slim and deep as it is along with its location next to a winding river, there was only room for one company’s track to run through. Therefore, the two railroad companies fought the “Royal Gorge War,” which ended with the “Treaty of Boston,” wherein the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad paid the Santa Fe Railroad $1.8 million for the railroad. In 1880, passenger train service began. It ran for a little under ninety years, until 1967. In 1989, freight service stopped when a merger occurred between the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad. Then in 1996, another merger happened with the Union Pacific Railroad. Finally, in 1998, twelve miles of the railroad were sold in order to preserve the history and beauty of the route. Ultimately, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad was born.
I literally have been itching to ride this train for years. There are billboards throughout Colorado and TV commercials. I finally rode the Royal Gorge Route Railroad at the end of September, amidst the changing autumn leaves in Southern Colorado, with a group of international friends who attended a conference I hosted earlier that week. I thought the railroad would be a perfect way to show them the wonderful state of Colorado! We had tickets on the coach train, which was the perfect way to go because a.) it was the cheapest ticket; b.) each passenger has a large, comfy leather chair to relax in with window views of the river and gorge and; c.) you can go outside onto the open-air train car whenever you want! We spent most of our time on the open-air car because it is seriously GORGEOUS. You have 360 degree views of the entire gorge, including when you pass under the Royal Gorge Bridge (built in 1879 and located 955 feet above the river), and the incredible nature surrounding the Arkansas River. The train ride is roughly two hours long and includes a historic informational tour about Cañon City, the railroad, and the Royal Gorge.
While riding in the coach car, you are free to order coffee, breakfast, lunch, and, of course, cocktails. The Royal Gorge Route Railroad has a full bar (score!) and when I was there, a specialty bacon Bloody Mary. The Bloody is made with house-infused smoked bacon vodka (made with bacon fat), a house-made mix, and is garnished with a lime wedge and two olives. My only qualm? I had to order a $4 side of bacon to truly make it a bacon Bloody ($4 only gets you two slices!). The side was well worth it, though, because it truly wouldn’t be a bacon Bloody otherwise. In terms of tasting notes, the Bloody was spicy, refreshing, and of a mild thickness, while very subtle hints of bacon rang through each sip due to the infused vodka. The Bloody was pretty darn good for a railroad, though as mentioned before, a slice of bacon would make the bacon Bloody that much better. Cheers to the Royal Gorge Route Railroad for an amazing experience! This mesmerizing railway is surely one of my top five favorite spots to sip on a Bloody.
Interested in taking a ride on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad? Adult tickets are $44 and the train runs seven days a week. Come winter, the railroad even has the Santa Express Train adorned with Christmas lights and complete with Santa, hot cocoa, and cookies (for after your Bloody Mary, of course).
The Royal Gorge Route Railroad depot station is located at:
330 Royal Gorge Blvd, Cañon City, CO 81212