Riding the Royal Gorge Railroad

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Last Friday evening, we were treated to a special media preview of this summer's Royal Gorge Route Railroad tour in Cañon City.

Expecting a touristy jaunt and certainly not the fine gourmet meal we served, I was impressed by the evening and experience as a whole. Here's some snapshots, impressions and fun-facts:

The bacon-wrapped dates were the star of the appetizer plate.
  • Laurence Zankowski
  • The bacon-wrapped dates were the star of the appetizer plate.

Our menu, designed by consulting chef Donald Burns, featured a welcomed and respectable amount of Colorado products prepared elegantly. Among items: Haystack Mountain goat cheese truffles rolled in pistachio crumbles; buffalo carpaccio with a pecan-cranberry relish and a port gastrique; Colorado beet skewers with goat cheese and candied pecans; sugar-cured beef tenderloin; porcini dusted scallop spoons; mini Kobe burgers and a spring pea soup shot with white truffle oil and blue crab relish.

Several of these plates will appear at the railroad's five-wine dinners on July 17, Aug. 21, Sept. 11 and Oct. 23. Wines from the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey will also make an appearance. Seats run between $125 and $155.

Long live the charm of a train conductor.
  • Laurence Zankowski
  • Long live the charm of a train conductor.

Along with the new dinner menus, the company renovated its 1950s-era bar and lounge car, which offers local microbrews (we drank Bristol Brewing Co.'s Compass IPA that night) and a full bar. The dapperly dressed staff presents more of a mobile fine dining experience than a touristy snack-bar-type concession.

Artist Ward Hoopers poster commemoration of the tourist train.
  • Laurence Zankowski
  • Artist Ward Hooper's poster commemoration of the tourist train.

I was also surprised to learn that the railroad ferries more than 100,000 guests annually — up to 700 per trip with an average of 500 trips, March through December. Tickets range from $33 to $155, factoring in which class of seating, and meal and amenities options. Also catch special occasions like a murder mystery train and a "Santa Express."

Enjoy a drink in the open car for night air and gorgeos scenery.
  • Laurence Zankowski
  • Enjoy a drink in the open car for night air and gorgeous scenery.

A quick history on the route: It was originally established in 1879 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railraod and in 1880 was one of two routes between Denver and Salt Lake City. Regular passenger service was discontinued in 1967 and not re-established until 1999. The Royal Gorge and the Arkansas River was the official border between Mexico and the United States until the Mexican-American War. Today's ride is 24 miles round trip from Cañon City to Parkdale. A highlight of the trip, of course, is passing under the scenic Royal Gorge Bridge, some 1,000 feet above.

Roaring river — check. Dark canyon — check. Fiery sunset — check.
  • Laurence Zankowski
  • Roaring river — check. Dark canyon — check. Fiery sunset — check.

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