Doing time in Cañon City
Article and photo by Joe Gschwendtner
A view from the tram over the Arkansas River looking north to the Royal Gorge bridge, suspended 956 feet off the ground.
Need a new day trip or weekend venue? How about Cañon City? Some actually spend time there willingly…
Cañon City’s charm borders on the eclectic. The
prison scene is a smorgasbord, with accommodations for everyone
including women. From the fortress-like territorial facility to
Supermax outside Florence, there is a macabre theme and history here
many will find captivating. The Museum of Colorado Prisons is not to
The spectacular Arkansas River Valley to the west
meanders down from Salida. Parts of it will soon be covered with orange
ribbon by the artist Christo. There is a seven-mile Arkansas River
walk in town that follows an old rail bed. It’s rife with shady
cottonwoods and stopping points near wetlands and wildlife preserves.
Ten miles to the north is Red Canyon Park, 600 acres of trails and
unique rock formations.
There are three golf courses: Shadow Hills, Sumo
Village and the new and challenging Four-Mile Ranch. The Royal Gorge is
close by, offering a concert of thrills and sights. 100,000 visitors
annually take the Royal Gorge Railroad excursion out of Cañon City,
snaking through the granite cliffs of the Arkansas Valley. The trip is
two hours long and offers lunch, dinner, or just pure sightseeing.
Downtown is low-keyed; chock full of historic
buildings and charming restaurants. The city’s strong Italian
population demands old-country food and some of the city’s best dining
opportunities are pasta and spaghetti havens.
My favorite short-order place is the Owl Cigar
Store, a misnomer for an old-style luncheonette on Main Street
specializing in burgers, shakes, fries and malts. It’s been a city
mainstay since 1902, owned by the Santilli Family since 1942. Pete
Santilli, grill-man extraordinaire and co-owner also performs on the
keyboard as part of the famous Flash Cadillac Band.
Cañon City also touts the massive Holy Cross Abbey
Winery, once a Benedictine Monastery. If you enjoy Colorado’s boutique
wine industry, tour the grounds and buildings and then enjoy the
traditional wine tastings.
The exclamation point to your visit may be the best
white knuckle automobile experience in Colorado, Cañon City’s Skyline
Drive. Best enjoyed at night, one gets to drive an 800 foot high
limestone, knife-edge ridge running northwest of the city with
perpendicular cliffs. Love it or hate it, you’ll never forget it.
Cañon City has rooms for everyone. Some large,
some tighter quarters; some available for the short term, and some for
extended stays. Check out which is right for you!