Thursday, January 4, 2007


The Isaac Lee Patterson Memorial Bridge
Rogue River, Curry County, Oregon
Taken from the Gold Beach side
October 24th, 2006

In his book The Dance of Life, Edward T. Hall notes that working on the jointly administered lands shared by the Hopi and Navajo nations, he came to the realization that a bridge is an instrument of time. It seems that the Bureau of Indian Affairs, with all the wisdom of the Great White Father, determined that the Hopi needed a way to get their livestock across normally dry arroyos when said arroyos were filled by flash floods. And what better way to bridge an arroyo than with an actual bridge. The Hopi did not see the wisdom in this. If there was water in the arroyo, the time was not right to cross it. That was the natural way. But, in the manner in which governments have been giving people unneeded blessings from time immemorial, the bridges got built. I don’t recall if Hall informs us whether the Hopi actually used the finished product. And certainly, it was much faster crossing the arroyos, wet or dry, on sturdy bridges, than by following a track down into the bottom and back up the other side. That assumes that you value speed, of course.

If you still doubt that bridges are instruments of time, think back to any instance when a bridge you’ve counted on has been inoperable. All through the Spring and into Summer of 2006, the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and its contractors were rebuilding the US 101 bridge across the Klamath River. If you don’t know this part of the country, understand that there is only one North-South route in Del Norte County—US 101—and it crosses the Klamath River about two miles inland from the coast. If you need to drive from Crescent City to Eureka, the seats of Del Norte and Humboldt Counties respectively, you take US 101. Under normal circumstances, this 90 mile jaunt will take you a minimum of two hours. If 101 is closed for whatever reason, your only alternative is to drive 80 miles from Crescent City to Grants Pass, Oregon on US 199 (again approximately 2 hours unless you’re the only vehicle on the road), head south on Interstate 5 to Redding, California (another two hours or so) then west on California 299—a lovely mountain drive which has been known to take up to 5 hours or even more to get you across the southern edge of the Trinity Alps. If you take this route, by all means stop in Weaverville, Trinity County’s seat and visit the Joss House, an authentic Chinese Taoist Temple and now a California State Park.

Klamath River Bridge, South Abutment, US 101
Del Norte County, California
Taken November 6th, 2006

During the reconstruction of the Klamath River Bridge, the highway was never closed completely during daylight hours. There was always controlled one-lane traffic across the bridge except at night when the bridge was closed for periods of 4 to 7 hours. During the longer period, traffic would be stopped at 10:00 p.m. and would not resume until 5 a.m. If you’re on the southern side of the bridge heading north, the closest motel is 20 miles behind you. Pray that it has a vacancy or you’ll end up driving another 20 miles or more to find lodging. Fortunately I was never caught by the bridge closures, although a couple of times, driving back from dinner in Arcata, my friends and I wondered if we’d make it before closing time. It gave a whole new meaning to “Last Call.” You see, bridges really are instruments of time.

It is worth noting that the current Klamath River Bridge was built to replace an older bridge damaged beyond repair by high water in 1964. I have no idea how long US 101 was closed due to that bridge failure. 1964 was not a good year for Del Norte County as that was also the year of the Alaska Earthquake-driven tsunami that destroyed downtown Crescent City.

Another example of bridges being instruments of time can be seen in the Thomas Creek Bridge, again on US 101, but in Curry County, Oregon. The Thomas Creek Bridge is the highest bridge in Oregon. Were it not for a highway sign announcing that fact, you’d never realize how far above ground you are as you speed on your way at 55 mph. (You are driving the speed limit aren’t you?) You can, in fact, pull into a parking lot on the south end of the bridge, hike down a trail, and see the bridge above you. This bridge, built in 1961, is 956 feet long and 345 feet high. Prior to its construction, US 101 followed what is now the Carpenterville Road, a few miles inland. The old road is still available, should you wish to take your time driving from Pistol River to Brookings and assuming you have no riders susceptible to motion sickness.

Thomas Creek Bridge, US 101
Curry County, Oregon
Taken 12/29/06

When considering bridges, especially Oregon bridges, a prayer of appreciation must be offered on behalf of Conde B. McCullough, who designed and supervised the construction of so many of the beautiful 1930s era structures along the coast. The bridge across Coos Bay on US 101 is dedicated to him, The Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge, and a fine one it is. David Denenberg has a great series of photographs of this bridge at the Bridgemeister web page:

The Conde B McCullough Memorial Bridge
Coos Bay Bridge
Coos County, Oregon
Taken December 21st, 2006

The next time you’re heading down the road and come across a bridge, take some time, park, get out, appreciate the beauty of the structure (most are quite beautiful in my opinion) and contemplate how much longer your journey would be without the convenience afforded by the bridge.

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