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In 1870, General William Jackson Palmer incorporated the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to serve Colorado and the West. The D&RG built from Denver south to Pueblo then turned west along the Arkansas River. At Canon City, they fought the “Royal Gorge War” against the Santa Fe Railroad. The court system awarded the Royal Gorge route to the D&RG, and their narrow-gauge tracks arrived in the upper Arkansas Valley in 1880.
From the Salida rail yard, lines branched north to Leadville, south to Alamosa and Durango over Poncha Pass, and west over Marshal Pass to Gunnison, Grand Junction and Salt Lake City. The D&RG carried supplies to the mountain communities, ore away from the mines, and passengers for work and pleasure. In 1887, the D&RG added a third rail on the main line from Pueblo to Leadville, and a new roundhouse in Salida to accommodate standard gauge trains.
As economics shifted, the D&RG closed and removed most narrow-gauge track, passenger facilities, and anything else not considered profitable. It merged with the Southern Pacific in 1988. A decade later, the Union Pacific purchased the combined railroad and shut down the final segment through the valley. The tracks exist but no trains operate between Parkdale and Minturn. Tourist trains do run through the Royal Gorge and north out of Leadville.