Visited: May, 2016
As part of our Route 1 trip down the California coast we began our journey in Monterey and headed down Route 1. Our first destination, day 2, was Bixby Creek Bridge.
There is not much to say; there is only so much you can experience with a bridge. But you can appreciate the meaningfulness of it by knowing a bit of the history behind it.
Bixby Bridge is possibly the most photographed bridge in California, aside from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It was built to improve transportation along the coast. There is another road, the Old Coast road, but it is almost unusable today with any car that is not a 4×4, as it is unpaved and was originally a donkey-pulled wagon trail. In the winter, storms would washout the road and slides would block the rest.(1)
The building of California State Highway One along the Big Sur coast is credited to a Dr. John L. D. Roberts, a medical doctor who faced challenges reaching patients in time taking the Coast Road sometimes taking 3 ½ hours to make a trip. He became convinced of the need for a road along the coast all the way to San Simeon. Approval for the road finally came when it was promoted for its military value, and the “Military Highway Bill” was passed.
Construction of the road began in 1922.
“Determined road builders met each challenge: Supplies and equipment were brought in by boat, and steam-powdered donkey engines were used to lift the materials up to the level of the new road. Tons of dynamite was used to blast the canyon hillsides and carve the steep terrain. And, San Quentin Prison set up three temporary prison camps to provide convict labor.” (2)
The newly built California Highway One required 32 bridges. The largest bridge being Bixby Bridge. The bridge was unusual as it is built on a curve, making it difficult to build. Once completed, Bixby Bridge was the largest arched highway structure in the Western states. (3)
If you think roadtripping today is an adventure, think about the first cars that went down Route 1. The first cars to drive from San Simeon to Carmel for the first time had to traverse roads still under construction, one lane roads, and detours crossing rivers on temporary bridges. No maps. No gas stations. Real adventure.
We parked beyond the bridge on a little turnout. In May the roads are packed with many tourists and we managed to climb behind to a little space to see the bridge uninterrupted. It is a beautiful sight with the ocean kissing it’s shores.
Knowing the history, you can appreciate the bridge all the more. Blood, sweat, and determination of early Californians went into its construction. Dangerous perils, new technology spanning its development, and adventure seekers made it famous.
Remember to take it all in.
Overall time spent: 1 hour
Directions: CA-1, Monterey, CA 93940
VIEW OUR ROUTE 1 ROAD TRIP PLAN
(1) Paul Henson and Donald J. Usner, The Natural History of Big Sur (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 275
(2) Cambria Historical Society, The Building of Highway One. Copyright 2017. http://www.cambriahistoricalsociety.com/history_highway1.html
(3) F. W. Panhorst, “700 Bridges on Federal Military Highway Network in State Inadequate for Defense needs,” California Highways and Public Works, December 1940, 1; C. H. Purcell, “Highways for National Defense,” California Highways and Public Works, November, 1940, 1; and California Department of Public Works, Division of Highways, Thirteenth Biennial Report to the Governor of California by the Director of Public Works
(Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1942), 13-17