Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Last month my wife and I took the kids on a crazy road trip adventure to retrace the history of water conservation in the Great American Southwest. The trip was inspired by our reading Colossus, which retells the story of taming the Colorado River and building the Hoover Dam.

First stop was the Salton Sea which is only 100 years old and was created by accident when an irrigation canal went awry in 1906. I traced down the exact spot where the accident happened which was right outside of Yuma, Arizona. There wasn't much to see. We drove on a levee alongside the old Colorado River bed, following an old 1906 map and Google Earth. Two Border Patrol agents' trucks were parked nose-to-nose on the levee as we peered into Mexico. We drove the Chevy to the levee but the levee was bone dry. The Border Patrol guys gave us such mean looks that I was afraid to even take a photo.

We stayed overnight in Yuma which is a very old and dusty town bisected by what's left of the Colorado River. I took some high-res ("artsy") photos of an old hotel there which I'll post separately. Heading further upriver, we reached the Hoover Dam:

Hoover Dam taken from Tillman Bridge

The last time I was at Hoover Dam was pre-9/11. In the old days, the main route between Phoenix and Vegas still passed over the dam. We did that journey then with one kid and one in the oven while driving our glorious 1963 Thunderbird (that car deserves more that passing mention so I won't mention it further). There was something new this time that wasn't there in 1999--the new Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge:*

Tillman Bridge taken from Hoover Dam
The bridge is stunningly gorgeous and just opened a year or so ago. It's part of the main road now between Vegas and Phoenix, but you can park and walk it too for no charge. I felt a little acrophobic as I took that photo of the dam from the bridge.
*I dedicate this blog post to Corporal Patrick Daniel "Pat" Tillman (November 6, 1976 – April 22, 2004).

Added:  A 1930's artist captured the same view of Hoover Dam from the imaginary bridge:


  1. So you can no longer drive over the dam? Obviously you can still get to the dam because you took the picture but you can't drive across? Is this a security issue? (Thanks, terrorists.) Or an engineering issue?

  2. Thanks, Bruce. If you look on the cliffs over the dam you see bunkers built during WW2. We took a raft tour[pretty tame] down the Colorado. However, the trip was not nearly as good as the very unique view where you put into the river. It was about 500 yards from the base of the dam..incredible. This was when our kids were younger, pre 9/11. "Thanks alot Bin Laden."

  3. It's a good thing that the bridge was dedicated to Cpl. Tillman. Hopefully people remember him when they cross - what sort of man he was and how his spirit is a shining example to us all.

    Happy Memorial Day.

  4. Pete, you can still drive over the dam in a car but all trucks are forbidden. There is also a security checkpoint on both sides which creates lines and the dam is swarmed with tourists. The bridge is essentially a bypass for the heavy traffic and straightens the route (you had to wind down into the canyon to cross). The bridge also has four lanes while the dam only had two.

    Still nothing unsound about the dam.

  5. A fitting tribute to a great American in Pat Tillman.

    Happy Memorial Day and we should all say a prayer for those who gave their all to keep us free.

  6. Nick: I didn't know there were bunkers down there.

    We did hike a little around the dam. There's one trail that follows an old rail bed used to bring concrete materials to the dam site. It passes through several tunnels which had to be blasted out of rock. In fact, before the dam was even started they had to first build two gigantic water diversion tunnels to channel the river around the building site.

  7. LL & Troop: Thanks for your comments!