Note: Because I’ll be at the South Coast Writers Conference Friday and Saturday and coming home Sunday, I won’t be posting my blog until late on Sunday!
It was a gray and drizzly morning as 14 multi-layered bridge aficionados boarded a small bus and headed up the coast from Florence. The plan was to learn about 14 bridges, actually see 12 of them, and make 8 stops in 8 hours. It was not a marathon; it was relaxed with a schedule. Hey, we were on a bus, not in a sports car. We kept the speed down and enthusiasm up as we chatted bridge talk between bridge stops. And who says we couldn’t stop for lunch at one of the best eateries on the coast––Tidal Raves in Depoe Bay.
It was the first bridge tour for Lane Community College’s Outward Ventures program (Florence campus) and we covered all 14 bridges, didn’t lose anybody, and were only a half hour late getting back. And best of all, it didn’t rain (although it tried) and the bus didn’t break down.
A few months ago, Barbara Baker, the new director of the Outward Ventures program, asked me if I would be interested in leading a bridge tour. It was bridges! Of course, I was interested.
I looked at a map of where 19 of the most important bridges on the coast are located and saw that 14 are clustered between Depoe Bay and Coos Bay. I knew I could do it, but I wasn’t sure it would be possible to go both north and south from Florence with stops to see all 14 bridges in one day––with a group of people.
So Barbara and I did a trial run a couple of weeks before the scheduled tour (in pouring rain) and decided which bridges we would stop and get out, which bridges we would stop but not get out, and which we would drive through slowly. We timed everything and did it in eight hours.
Based on what we learned, I came up with a detailed schedule, covering seven bridges before lunch and seven after lunch. Because I’m a past teacher, I never pass up a teaching opportunity, so on the bottom half of the page with the schedule was a glossary of bridge terms. Thirteen terms including such easy-to-mix-up words as “pier,” “piling,” “pylon,” and “portal” as well as non-swimming “dolphins” and new meanings for such familiar words as “bent” and “deck.” I also created some handouts to pass out after the last bridge stop. Then I typed up my opening remarks and had note cards ready for each bridge.
Barbara made arrangements for everything, including the bus and driver and called all the folks who had signed up. We were ready.
Everyone was there by 8:50 a.m. I gave my welcoming spiel that covered info about McCullough and the fact that these Oregon coast bridges are considered one of the world’s greatest collections of bridges. I also told about the problems caused by the salt air and the cathodic protection process to address those problems. Then I passed out the schedule and mentioned the glossary.
Off we went. First stop was right after the Big Creek Bridge where I talked about this bridge and the other two, Ten Mile Creek and Wilson River (Tillamook), that are identical tied-arch bridges. The tied arch is one of the reasons Conde B. McCullough became such a famous bridge designer. When we came to Ten Mile Creek Bridge, we passed through it slowly.
Then we turned in at Neptune State Park to see Cummins Creek Bridge. Here we all got off and followed the trail a short distance to see this deck-arch bridge that cannot be seen from the road. Yes, “deck arch” was on the glossary too. This type of bridge has its supporting arch below the road deck, making these bridges hidden treasures. Seven of the 14 on this tour are deck-arch bridges.
The half hour we spent at the Historic Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center in Waldport was enjoyed by all. It’s like a museum covering Oregon’s coastal bridges and McCullough. There’s even a replica of his office. Of course, there’s an emphasis on both Alsea Bay Bridges with a terrific model of the original and a video showing the building of the new one.
We oohed and ahhed crossing the Yaquina Bay Bridge and got out to see the best spot to photograph it and to see one of four elegant, over-the-top stairways leading from the road deck to the grassy area below. The drizzle continued to worsen.
We turned off at Beverly Beach State Park to see the new Spencer Creek Bridge built with state-of-the-art technology to last 120 years and massive enough to withstand a major tsunami. This is one of four bridges built in the past twelve years that show a return to elegance that McCullough would have approved. Three are on this tour.
When we got to Depoe Bay, we took the underpass under the Depoe Bay Bridge to see that it is really two bridges built side by side that look the same—one was built in 1927 and the other in 1940.
Our reservation for 14 was at noon at Tidal Raves, and we walked in right on the dot. They were ready for us. The food was scrumptious and the view fabulous. The ocean was really rough with great waves.
We headed back down the coast a short distance to Rocky Creek Bridge just off the highway at Otter Crest Loop. By now, the drizzle was serious and hoods came up.
We stopped at Cook’s Chasm at Cape Perpetua. I showed a photo of the 2003 deck arch replacement bridge and talked about it, but we didn’t get off the bus to see it. Then onto Cape Creek Bridge, which is best seen from Devil’s Elbow Beach at Heceta Head State Scenic Viewpoint. We could really stretch out our legs here and walk around. And the drizzle had nearly stopped.
When we got back to Florence, we cruised slowly through the Siuslaw River Bridge while I covered its history. It seemed odd to just keep going. When we came to Reedsport, we went through the Umpqua River Bridge and then drove under it. We stopped for a few minutes, but stayed on the bus. Since this had the most story behind it, I started talking about it in Gardiner and didn’t stop until after Reedsport.
The last two bridges were coming up. When we got to Haynes Inlet, I talked about Haynes Inlet Slough Bridge. It has three arches and was completed in 2004. It’s one of the three newer ones that show a return to elegance in its design. I showed a picture of it, because we didn’t take the causeway out to the North Spit. And that’s the best way to see this bridge.
From Haynes Inlet, the McCullough Memorial Bridge was in view and we continued on. As we crossed this mile-long bridge, I talked about how it was a marvel of construction and that the steel truss section is longer than the entire Siuslaw River Bridge. We stopped at the southern end in Simpson Park, and got off to look through the Gothic arches and walk up one of three elegant stairways to the pedestrian plaza and read the plaque about McCullough.
After a restroom stop at the park and heading back over the bridge toward home, I passed out a map of all the bridges stapled to a list of all 14 with some info about each one. That gave every tour participant what they needed to take their own bridge tours.
On the way back to Florence, bridge talk continued. When we passed through Reedsport, I told the story of the dedication of the Umpqua River Bridge that was 75 years late and inspired by Crossings: McCullough’s Coastal Bridges.
When we got back to the college in Florence at 5:30 p.m., these folks––these wonderful bridge aficionados––still weren’t ready to leave. I sold a couple copies of Crossings and several copies of The Crossings Guide to Oregon’s Coastal Spans. All in all, a very successful and enjoyable day! Barbara and I both felt very good about our bridge tour!