Among it's earliest residents, Cañon City counts early
dinosaurs whose remains are scattered in the region, notably in
Garden Park Fossil Area north of town. Early man migrated
through the area from the mountains to the plains as early as
several thousand years ago.
Cañon City's mild climate, abundant water and wildlife combined with
its central location made it a rest stop for Native Americans and
white men alike during its colorful history. Indians, primarily
were said to value area hot springs for medicinal purposes and
driving out evil spirits. The Royal Gorge Hot Springs, located near
the Arkansas River right at the Royal Gorge canyon mouth, were also
a predominate tourism attraction for regional travelers.
Early trappers and traders lived in relative peace until the
Peak Gold Rush of 1858 and 1859, which drew many settlers into the
region. Historical mining town
Cripple Creek lies 30 miles to Cañon
City's north. In its boom, Cripple Creek's prospectors, proprietors
and crooks numbered nearly 100,000, making it a prospective state
capital. The mining region 125 miles upstream,
Leadville, caused the
railroad boom that sparked a war between the Denver-Rio Grande and Sante Fe railroads. Small rock fort remnants built by railroad men
can still be seen along the Arkansas River near the Royal Gorge. The
Denver and Rio Grande line won out, laying its tracks through the
narrow Royal Gorge and upper Arkansas River Valley to Leadville and
Cañon City was central to the Arkansas River's entry to the eastern
Colorado plains in addition to being a key stop on the Denver-Rio
Grande line. Just as important, access to mining country along the
Shelf Road and Phantom canyon provided men and materials to the
north. The Phantom Canyon route and Shelf Road, a railroad bed and
coach road respectively, meander nearly 30 miles into Cripple Creek.
Today, these routes comprise the
Gold Belt Tour, a drive into the
historic mining country.
Hot Springs at the east entrance to the Royal Gorge provided leisure
and therapy to early settlers passing through Cañon City. This
pavilion at Soda Point, on the west edge of the town, was a more
modern structure housing the "Soda Springs." The
Territorial Prison and Fremont Peak lie nearby. Soda Point was
destroyed in 1949 to make way for U.S. Highway 50.