Doing time in Canon City
A view from the tram over the Arkansas River looking north to the Royal Gorge bridge, suspended 956 feet off the ground.
by Joe Gschwendtner
Need a new day trip or weekend venue? How about Canon City? Some actually spend time there willingly…
Canon 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 be missed.
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 Canon 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.
Canon 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, Canon 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.
Canon 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!