Saturday, September 18, 2010

September 17, Day 15

So, Royal Gorge. They took our coupon, which saved us enough to make the admission fee worth it. Before we get too far into this, I have to say that the saving grace of the park was that admission covered almost everything in the park. In a way not-typical of tourist-trappy places. We approved.

Another thing we have to get out of the way before we do this is announce that my dad has denied any knowledge that there was anything at Royal Gorge but a great suspension bridge, so he is exempt from any fault in the events you are about to witness. Not that we'd really fault him anyway - we thoroughly enjoyed our experience.

Royal Gorge felt like a wannabe Disneyland. Let's just say - they took our picture with a digital camera when we came in, and said it would be available for us to purchase. You can take it from there.

Everything was super kitschy, but somehow quite enjoyable. We think the only downfall of the park, like many like it, was overactive diversification - if they had left it at a suspension bridge, an aerial tram, and even the inclined railway it would have been just great, and a very respectable place to visit - but once you open the doors to a petting zoo and wagon rides and a miniature wild west town, you just think, where does it stop?

At the very least, we got our money's worth. We started with the aerial tram across the gorge, which lost power and lurched partway through and sent the two of us, plus about 13 senior citizen couples and a happy Asian family, reeling into each other and spilling the seniors' coffee all over the place and free-swinging on the world's longest unsupported tram wire over a gigantic chasm. Classic. The 17-year old tram operator looked totally unperturbed. The senior citizens were freaking out and Colby thought it was his favorite part of the whole day. The power came back on about 3 minutes later and the rest of our ride was uneventful.

Next was the bizarre mountain zoo, complete with elk, bighorn sheep, and white bison. Actually, that's pretty much all it consisted of, unless you count the petting zoo, which also offered llamas. We moved on to the old west town after awhile, which was unfortunately closed for the season, meaning that we couldn't buy a knockoff Stetson or experiment with tomahawk throwing. Tragic. We still had fun exploring the old buildings (and gold mine) and practicing our cowboy swaggers.

It was somewhere between the zoo and western-town that we heard the sirens. A police car came screaming past, only to be followed by a fire truck and an ambulance within the next half hour. We still don't know what was going on, but it majorly creeped us out.

To finish up the ghost town, we took about a 15-second mule-wagon ride. The driver looked like Willie Nelson and had such a thick old-mountain-man accent we could hardly understand the Indian stories he was telling us as we drove past the fake teepees. Think old man from Napoleon Dynamite, but give him long white hair and beard, and put him in the role of Disney jungle cruise guide. (Okay, it wasn't really that bad, and he was a real earnest old mountain man, too.)

After stopping in a deliciously air-conditioned theater to watch the park video (well - it was supposed to be the park information video, just like a national park, right? Except I think someone switched it out with a reel of old park advertisements, because they kept just talking it up and saying things like "We'll see you there!" and we were thinking "Wait, we're already here, what are you talking about?") we headed for the main attraction - Royal Gorge suspension bridge.

Royal Gorge bridge is the world's highest suspension bridge. It was dizzyingly high, and the views off of it were spectacular. Thanks Dad, it didn't disappoint! It was built in 1929, and as far as we could tell, still has the original wooden boards. They were loose and shaky and rippled a little bit when cars would drive over, and once I took a step and my toe went right down between two of them, because there was like a 3 inch gap. Delightful. We spit off the edge and threw a sliver of wood Colby found, and then we started thinking about how long it took the piece of wood to fall vs. how long it would take us to fall if we fell off, and then we got creeped out and started walking fast for the other side.

(Aside: while we were on the bridge, an older Amish couple rode past us. In a Ford minivan. Is that allowed? They weren't actually driving, just riding. They had also been with us in the aerial tram. Are aerial trams kosher for the Amish? Are Ford minivans?)

After we finished the bridge, we headed for the inclined railway. The stupendous park-advertisement video had lauded this railway as the "most difficult structure ever built." And we're like, we're not so sure about that, what about the Pyramids?
It was fun to ride, though: hot and slow and we couldn't see much, but it went down at a 45 degree angle and it took us to the bottom of the canyon, and having hiked a bigger version of this canyon yesterday, we figured riding was a lot better than walking. The bottom of the canyon was awesome. We saw the remains of a wooden diversion pipe that carried water to the citizens of Colorado until like 30 years ago, and I'm kind of surprised the citizens of Colorado got water at all, and didn't get giardiasis, considering the state it was in, but whatever. We also saw some people go by, whitewater rafting, and we desperately wanted to get in and swim. River-bathing habits die hard. There was also a railroad at the bottom, and having seen a train go by while we were on the bridge, we decided that next time we'd like to be on the train instead of on the inclined railway. It looked like fun.

Our final stop in Royal Gorge Bridge & Park was the carousel by the entrance. It didn't look like there was anyone in the booth when we got there, and it was one of those things where you're peering through a screen trying to make out anybody inside, and then you suddenly realize you're staring at someone's face, and it's an old man, and he's asleep. He woke up after a minute and fired up the carousel for us, and I rode a goat, and the carousel music was some weird instrumental version of ABBA. And the whole time we rode it, there was this little old woman standing by the bathrooms, just watching us go around and around. After we got off and walked toward the bathrooms, I noticed that it was actually an old Chinese man, wearing a dress. So weird.

Then we left. Overall, Royal Gorge was a terrific experience. Thanks for the tip, Dad!

Today we discovered that $5 Hot'n'Readys at Little Caesar's are now $5.99. What is the world coming to? Then we spent the rest of the day driving through beautiful, beautiful Colorado. Oh my gosh, why doesn't all of America just want to live here? We drove through some cute ski towns near Vail that looked very nordic and swanky and I'm sure are both infinitely cuter and infinitely more expensive when there's snow on the ground.

We ended up in Silverthorne, CO. One word. I don't know what you need a silver thorn for unless it's killing zombies. Colby was feeling kind of sick so we opted for a hotel tonight, even through we hadn't scheduled it in. Our hotel-picking strategy goes like this: we set our GPS to take us to any hotel - doesn't matter which one. Because where there's one hotel, there's always more. Then we drive around hotel row and look for the most run-down-looking one. "Hey, that one looks pretty dumpy, let's try there!" This time the dumpiest was the Luxury Inn. I am the runner, so I went in and asked how much it would be. I was so pleased and startled when the Russian guy behind the counter said $54.95 (it was dumpy, but not THAT dumpy!) that I said we'll take it and ran outside to get Colby before I even asked about the AAA discount.

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