Friday, April 11, 2008

Passages

The Dewey Bridge is gone. The 1916 bridge over the Colorado River in southeastern Utah was destroyed in a brush fire, apparently started by a child playing with matches. Until 1988, the single-lane wooden bridge was the only way across the Colorado along the River Road (Highway 128) between I-70 and Moab; until last week it was still used by mountain bikers on the Kokopelli Trail. The bridge even gave its name to a layer of sandstone found beneath the Entrada layer on Echo and Aeolian pinnacles, and in other parts of Canyonlands. I once did a first ascent on Aeolian, and the Dewey Bridge layer seemed at once diamond-hard and desperately fragile. Much like the bridge itself, it turns out.

That bridge had profound sentimental value for desert climbers. When you left the highway and drove past the Cisco ghost town and down through the sagebrush flats and then crossed the bridge over the Colorado, it meant you’d finally entered Canyon Country, and great adventures were about to begin. In the days when Dewey Bridge was the only way across the river, camping was still free and sparsely populated along the River Road; you were likely to know anyone you encountered on Castleton Tower; and many of the storefronts along Moab's main drag were boarded up for winter. Like many climbers, I'd often stop to walk onto the bridge and listen to the river. Though we may have stopped earlier for gas or food during the long drive from Denver or Boulder, this was the first place you could see all the stars blazing in the desert sky. Once, after the new bridge opened, we camped on Dewey Bridge's time-worn planks before carrying on to Indian Creek in the morning.

That era of desert climbing is long past. And to many of us, the bridge's destruction now seems as much a final signal of that passing as it was a beacon to travelers for generations.

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