Thursday, November 2, 2006

Thoughts on the Construction and Destruction of Bridges

The San Juan River Swinging Bridge by Bluff, Utah.

An individual is defined by the bridges he builds and maintains. The most important bridges are not necessarily those that span great rivers or chasms; it is often the smaller, less well known structures that bind or bring diverse people together which make the greatest contributions.

My mind is crowded with fond memories of bridges I have successfully traversed, and regrets for the ones I failed to properly navigate or carelessly burned along the way. Songs like Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water and excerpts from The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller enter and exit my brain at the most unexpected times, reminding me that I must proceed cautiously when life delivers me to a new crossing.

Bridges have played an extremely important part in my life, so it was with great reluctance that I drove to the edge of the cliff just east of Bluff to view the status of the Swinging Bridge. This structure has for several decades connected our small, mostly Anglo, community on the north side of the San Juan River to the vastness of the Navajo Nation on the south. It had been rumored that the bridge was down, and I needed to see for myself.

Tourists and townspeople had both informed me that the Swinging Bridge was desperately clinging to its moorings, and that it simply did not have a chance of survival. I wondered what this would mean to the Navajo people, and how we, the residents of Bluff, would take our friends and families to visit the small Ancient Puebloan ruin located on the south side of the river.

The bridge’s origins are shrouded in mystery, and nobody seems to know exactly who built it or when. The most likely scenario is that it was constructed in the 1950s by an oil company to allow the enterprise’s Navajo employees easier access to the fields located near Montezuma Creek and Aneth. One thing is sure, the bridge has been an integral part of the community for many, many years.

The San Juan River Swing Bridge broken apart by Bluff, Utah.

As I turned off the paved road onto the dirt path that runs to the cliff overlooking the river, I could hear the generator of an oil pump popping loudly in the distance, its echo bouncing off the cliffs and rattling around the valley. Similarly, memories of my experiences on the bridge ricocheted through my head.

Looking back, I remembered Duke and Rose shepherding their young, expansive brood carefully across the span, over the twisting path and up the precipitous slope to the ruin, which is variously referred to as Sixteen House and Canyon del Echo. It was only a few months ago that I had taken Kira and Grange along that same route and enjoyed a gloriously sunny day digging in the dirt as the kids scrambled from rock to rock laughing and shouting.

Sitting in the sandy bottom of a small wash as my two renegades ran wild, I remembered the first time I rode a bicycle across the cable and plank structure; recollected teetering from side to side, wondering whether the bike and I would end up splashing into the San Juan; and relived the satisfaction of successfully reaching the other side.

Climbing out of the car to make the short walk to the overlook, I felt my emotions rise. What would I find? As it turned out, the rumors were correct, the old gal was partially submerged; lying on her side in the muddy river and accumulating a collection of debris that may eventually pull her downstream in a tangle of cable, cut boards and wire.

Can she be saved? Only time will tell. Many people speak of lawyers and lawsuits. “Nobody wants to take responsibility because of the potential liability,” they say. Fear of attorneys and our incomprehensible machinations and indecipherable vocabulary may doom the bridge. We all need to remember, however, that lawyers were children once too; that many of us know the value of building and maintaining quality bridges; and that a functioning, well maintained bridge is a truly wondrous thing.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

1 comment:

Sandy said...

I remember this wonderful bridge as a kid. Is there a new one yet?? I will be in the area in October and I was hoping to get on the bridge again. =)