What's the difference between a canyon and a gorge? While the defining characteristics are somewhat arbitrary, a gorge tends to have almost straight-up walls and be about as narrow at the top as it is at the bottom. In contrast, a canyon has more of a funneling configuration of slated walls.
After seeing Royal Gorge, there was no mistaking it for a canyon. The red granite walls were so straight-down that to look down 1,000 feet was disorienting. It made me dizzy every time I looked over the edge. It was even worse from the center of the suspension bridge that I walked across where you could feel every step reflected in an ever-so-slight swaying motion.
The bridge was built by the railroad in 1929 at a cost of $350,000. In today's money, that would be about $21 million. Today its use is restricted to foot traffic and the occasional four-wheel-drive tourist car, but the bridge itself looks well able to support more than its weight if the thousands of strands of steel cable that are anchored deep into the bedrock on either side still hold their original strength.
While I was in the center of the swaying bridge feeling each one of my individual steps on the wooden boards beneath my feet, a train went by on a track in the gorge floor next to the Arkansas River. Then a single-engine plane flew over to look at the spectacle as well. Soon, we saw several rafters coming down the river with a kayak leading the way. Each person wanted his own view of the remarkable topography and engineering.
After walking the suspension bridge, we took a gondola across the thousand-foot expanse where you could load up for a zip line to come back over the deep gorge. The whole experience gave a new, deeper meaning to the childhood phrase of "losing your stomach" when you top a steep hill in a fast-moving car. It must have taken a half-day for this feeling to go away after I left this remarkable site.