Royal Gorge, Colorado, 1940

No, I did not travel to the Royal Gorge in 1940. But my parents did, along with my maternal grandparents and most of my American aunts and uncles.

This was no doubt my grandfather’s idea, to have a train trip to the Royal Gorge, Yosemite and San Francisco (for the World’s Fair) with his wife and three of his four adult children and their spouses.

My mother did not enjoy this trip. She had a guilty conscience the whole time about leaving her six-month-old baby (me) in the care of a nurse while she went off on vacation, but her father insisted.

My parents’ photo album says nothing about the first leg of their journey, so I don’t know for sure which train they took from Chicago to Denver. But I strongly suspect it was the Union Pacific’s City of Denver, rather than the Burlington’s Denver Zephyr, simply because the City of Denver left from the C&NW (Chicago and Northwestern) station in Chicago, which was much more convenient for passengers coming from Evanston than the Union Station, several blocks away. (My father’s commute for many years was on the C&NW, from Central Street Evanston to the C&NW terminal on Madison Street in Chicago.)

Both the City of Denver and the Denver Zephyr left Chicago daily at five in the afternoon. They left from different stations and travelled by different routes, but both were scheduled to arrive at Union Station in Denver at 8:30 the next morning. (I don’t know how this worked out in practice.)

Changing trains in Denver

The train in this photo belonged to a company starting with DEN-, and a quick internet search brought up the full name, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, along with its history. This included a small but deadly war, in 1878-79, with a competing company, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, to decide who got to build a track through the narrow ‘Royal Gorge’ of the Arkansas River.

On the train from Denver to Pueblo, Colorado

The people in the train in these photos are my parents, my grandmother and one of my aunts, all looking younger than they did when I was old enough to know them in real life.

Pueblo, Colorado

I don’t know if they had to change trains again in Pueblo, Colorado, or if they just had a pause while coaches were coupled or uncoupled.

Pueblo is on the Arkansas River about a hundred miles south of Denver and forty miles east (downstream) from the Royal Gorge.

I have looked up the Arkansas River and found that it begins in the Rocky Mountains and flows generally east or southeast through the states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, where it joins the Mississippi River.

Stop at the narrowest point in the Royal Gorge

For decades, all the trains stopped for ten or fifteen minutes at the narrowest point in the Royal Gorge, on a long iron bridge suspended from the canyon walls, allowing the passengers to alight and ogle the scenery. This did not delay any other trains, because there were only two or three trains a day in each direction.

The railroad in the Royal Gorge was originally narrow gauge, later widened to standard gauge, but it was always only a single track, because there wasn’t room for a second track.

Passenger service on this line began in 1880 and ended in 1967. Parts of the line were dismantled, but the twelve miles of track between Cañon City and Parkdale, Colorado, were kept intact. Since 1998, this track has been used by a company called the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, which runs scenic round trips three or four times daily, using a 1950s streamline train “with 17 cars, 6 classes of service, 4 full bars, and 5 on-board kitchens.”

Suspension bridge across the Royal Gorge

This pedestrian bridge high above the Royal Gorge was built in 1929 and is still in use today.

Westward from the Royal Gorge

The destination of this train was Ogden, Utah, but my relatives got off at Salt Lake City, where they did some sightseeing before taking an overnight train through Nevada to California.

My father’s photos in this post are from 1940. I wrote the text in 2023.

See also: Stopover in Salt Lake City, 1940 and Yosemite National Park, 1940.
See more posts about train travel and about my family history.

23 thoughts on “Royal Gorge, Colorado, 1940”

  1. An epic journey at that time! An amazing suspension bridge too, what a fabulous walk that must be. Amusing, isn’t it, to see how formally people dressed to use public transport back then – I remember the same applying to aircraft in the 1970s.

  2. Fascinating pictures. My paternal grandfather worked on the Pennsylvania Railroad ending his 50+ year career as a conductor. He received two lifetime passes on any railroad as a retirement gift and he and my grandmother traveled all over the USA and Canada for the next 25 years. By then most railroads had gone out of business and they were into their 90s and spent most of their time gardening at home. They did make the trip through the gorge though. They loved all their trips. Good memories. I should try to find their pictures. Glad you have yours.

  3. Excellent! We visited the Royal Gorge when we lived in Colorado in the late 1980s, but up top, not down below. We walked across the suspension bridge. Seriously amazing. These photos from your family album are simply wonderful!

  4. Very interesting post. I live in Highland Park IL, about 25 miles North of The Loop. Before I retired, I would take the Burlington Northern METRA commuter train to Northwestern Station, now known as Ogilvie after a former governor. Sadly, I have never made a transcontinental train trip. But, I have traveled a bit on the TGV from Paris to the South. It is too bad our American rail system is not up to the level of European train travel.

    1. Sherman, thanks for your comment. Good that you have taken the TGV from Paris to the South of France. From Frankfurt we have several high-speed trains daily to Paris, alternating TGV and ICE. And we even have one TGV per day from Frankfurt to Marseille.

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