Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Port Townsend, WA - Rte 101

‘From the dawn of civilization up to the present, engineers have been busily engaged in ruining this fair earth and taking all the romance out of it.’
                                                                                                Conde B. McCullough

We’ve been on Rte 101 since April 1, when we crossed the Coast Ranges in California and began to head north through the Redwoods. It’s listed as one of the scenic highways in California, Oregon and Washington and we’ve enjoyed it all. It’s a feast for the eyes and senses. Our first glimpse of it was in California along a strip called the Avenue of the Giants, a quieter, more scenic alternative to the new 4-lane, ‘lets move on down the road’ 101. Here we saw our first redwoods, those tall sentinels of the forest. We drove between trees saved from the chainsaw on a road narrow enough that cars were scraping bark off the trees.

In Oregon, we saw magnificent bridges spanning the many creeks and rivers which emptied into the ocean and craggy sea stacks slowly eroding with the continual motion of this same ocean.


Both of these contributed to the beauty of the drive

The bridges were designed by Conde B. McCullough, an Iowa boy who graduated from Iowa State University but gained his fame in Oregon as one of the most important bridge designers of the past 125 years. He believed that bridges were not merely a way to get across a river but should add to the natural beauty of the area. He wanted to be an engineer who put the romance back and did not ruin the beauty of the earth. He designed more than 500 bridges but the ones that most travelers see are the 5 bridges along 101 from Gold Beach north to Newport with a few lesser known bridges along the way. (Usually, the 5 include the Alsea Bridge but this was replaced in 1991.)

Our first encounter with one of his bridges was in Gold Beach with the Isaac Patterson Bridge which spanned the Rogue River. I saw this bridge and knew that it was something special, that its beauty only complemented the beauty of the Rogue River which ran under it. It was only after I had taken a slew of pictures of it that I realized who Conde McCullough was and how much he had added to the traveling history of Oregon. After this bridge, I was more attuned to his accomplishments and looked forward to seeing his next bridge.

This came a few miles up the road when we got to was in Coos Bay, the appropriately named McCullough Memorial Bridge.

We saw the Yaquina Bay Bridge from our campsite.
What makes McCullough’s bridges so unique?

“Other designers don’t always get it all together,” said Robert Hadlow who has written extensively about McCullough. “The columns will look heavy, or they’ll look like there’s something missing. It’s like getting dressed and forgetting to put on a belt, or having mismatched shoes. Conde McCullough had it all together. And what’s really significant about his bridges is not just that they look nice. It’s the engineering involved.”

Then there are the details: the Art-Deco detailing


the huge arches
the symmetry

but mostly how the bridge fits the setting.
Unfortunately, Oregon has a harsh climate with all the rain, wind and ocean salt, and these have taken their toll on McCullough’s bridges, Most of these are close to 70 years old now and are beginning to show their wear. They were built with rebar and in the exposure to the elements, this is swelling and cracking the cement. One of the bridges has been replaced but the Oregon DOT is in the process of rejuvenating the rest of the bridges, to preserve the magic that McCullough added to the journey along the Oregon coast.

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