Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bridging the Years

My first encounter with the Dewey Bridge was just before Christmas of 1974. As a young park ranger, I had moved to the Needles District of Canyonlands just two months earlier. Awed and slightly intimidated by the remoteness, I quickly adapted to the 160 mile round-trip drive to and from Moab, Utah to buy groceries, pickup mail, make phone calls, and mingle with humanity a bit. At that time, the Atlas Uranium Mill was in the process of shutting down and Moab was a depressed area. People were actually moving away and the population hovered around 4,000.

Services were limited. No liquor, of course (this was still a Mormon town). No book stores, clothing stores, record stores. There was a small Sears Catalog store across the street from the post office where I once ordered a Super 8 film projector so that I could show old movies back in the District. Most everyone I knew said that to do any real shopping, I’d have to go to Grand Junction, Colorado, another 100 miles up the road.

And the best way to do that was to take Utah Highway 128, the River Road. When I discovered the River Road, I discovered a road into my soul. Back then it was a narrow, partially paved ledge that meandered along the banks of the Colorado River, flanked by high red walls of Wingate sandstone, breaking out occasionally into small valleys like the Professor Valley where Fisher Towers, Castle Rock and other stone monoliths stood guard along the edges.

Much of the road was still unpaved including the stream crossings at Onion Creek and Professor Creek where one simply splashed on through. And then, of course, about 28 miles east of Moab, there was the Dewey Bridge, a solid little wooden structure at a sharp bend in the road where a sign warned it was a one-way crossing. It was a narrow bridge even for my little 1973 Datsun pickup. But what an adventure for a boy from the bay area.

For four years I bonded with the River Road and always had a special sense of anticipation at crossing the Dewey Bridge. In 1985 a modern concrete bridge was constructed but the historic Dewey Bridge remained as a footbridge and a palpable reminder of a not-so-distant frontier past. When I returned to the area in 2001, I quickly re-established my relationship with the River Road and the old bridge.

In the spring of 2008, a young boy playing with matches downstream ignited the dry tamarisk along the river bank and the fire rapidly spread upstream where it took out the old bridge, leaving nothing but dangling cables and supports. There is talk of rebuilding it someday but it won’t be the same. Losing the bridge was like losing an old friend.

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