CAÑON CITY — Hundreds braved a chilly morning and rumbled over Royal Gorge Bridge before the crack of dawn to be some of the first to celebrate the rise of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.

About 500 people attended the nondenominational Easter service at sunrise at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park west of Cañon City. Nearly all the seats were filled and worshippers crowded the sidewalks alongside the gorge. Visitors young and old came bundled in blankets and cowboy hats abounded in support of the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys, whose president, Grant Adkisson, led the service.

As the sun crept up behind the gorge and reddened the sky, Adkisson likened the dawn to the new beginning Christians believe Jesus gave to his followers when he rose from the dead more than 2,000 years ago.

“Each one of us needs a new start at some point,” he said. “He always meets you where you are.”

Sunday was Adkisson’s first time leading the Royal Gorge crowd in prayer and said he was honored to lead a service in such a gorgeous place. The backdrop’s beauty strengthens faith, he said.

“It reminds us of God’s great power,” Adkisson said. “His almightiness in creating the world.”

Lorrie Embleton, from Cañon City, said she’s been going to the sunrise service every year for at least the past 10 years. She attends Cowboy Church, where Adkisson is a pastor, and said his presence made this year’s Easter a little more special.

“(Adkisson) is just such a down-to-Earth pastor,” she said. “He always makes things easy to understand.”

Jerry Worthley and his wife, Judy, live near the gorge and have been going to the service for about 20 years. Worthley said Royal Gorge renews his belief that God created the world.

“I feel sorry for the people who think the universe just happened,” Worthley said. “Everything around me tells me there has to be a creator.”

The service has been held annually for at least 50 years, estimates the park’s general manager, Mike Bandera, and some of its attendees have been going for decades, rain, snow or shine.

“We endure the elements every year,” Bandera said. “We never call it off.”