The Bridges of Monterey County
For most people, the thought of reading about bridges might be enough to place them in a trance. But, bridges are important; they connect us to places that otherwise might be inaccessible. Nowhere else is this point made clearest than on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) or Highway One (HWY 1). When traveling HWY 1 between Carmel and Cambria, a driver heavily relies on the use of bridges to be able to traverse this rocky, majestic coastline. Without them, drivers the world over would not be able enjoy the wonders of the Big Sur coast. Not only do these bridges have a highly functional role on Highway 1, but they are also famous landmarks in their own right, beckoning tourists to stop and photograph them. Thus, join me as we take a tour along the Central California coast by way of the bridges of Monterey County.
Wildcat Creek Bridge
Photo courtesy of Craig Philpott
The first bridge to meet you on your journey of the Big Sur coastline will be Wildcat Creek Bridge. This short concrete arch bridge is just a few minutes south of Point Lobos State Reserve and is nestled in the Carmel Highlands. It was constructed in 1933 and is the only bridge on our journey that is of closed spandrel deck arch design. What is closed spandrel deck arch design? Well, the term means that Wildcat Creek Bridge is an arch bridge where traffic travels on top of the main bridge’s surface and where the spandrels, the space between the curves of the arches, are filled in with rubble and finished with concrete, stone, or a mixture of both. Another noteworthy aspect of this bridge is its pointed arch or Gothic arch shape. After driving the bridge’s 165 foot span, you continue your drive further south past Yankee Point and come across our next bridge.
Malpaso Creek Bridge
Photo courtesy of C Hanchey
Built in 1935, Malpaso Creek Bridge is a historic bridge that has an open-spandrel concrete deck arch design. It is quite similar to Wildcat Creek Bridge, but you will notice that the spandrels are not filled, which is why it is defined as an open-spandrel bridge. A little side note – Clint Eastwood’s production company, Malpaso Productions, was named after the creek that this bridge spans.
Granite Canyon Bridge
Photo courtesy of Thad Roan
After traversing Malpaso Creek Bridge, you will travel a short distance south on the Pacific Coast Highway and arrive at our next bridge, Granite Canyon Bridge. Like Malpaso Creek Bridge, Granite Canyon Bridge is of open-spandrel concrete deck arch design. Like many bridges along our journey, it was built in the 1930s, specifically 1932. Once you pass over this short spanned bridge, you can stop at the third turn out or so and go down a steep path where you can try your hand at bouldering, a specific form of rock climbing, if that is your cup of tea. From what I understand, these easy climbs are only 15 to 20 feet high, but make sure you bring your proper safety equipment and someone to spot you as you climb along the boulders in Granite Canyon.
Garrapata Creek Bridge
Photo courtesy of The American Southwest
Our next bridge on our journey is Garrapata Creek Bridge. This bridge like our previous two bridges was built in the 1930s and is of open-spandrel concrete deck arch design. The bridge spans its namesake creek and is sometimes used by daredevils to climb – this blog does not condone any unsafe activity. Before passing the span of this bridge, I highly recommend taking some time to explore Garrapata State Park. This state park is lesser known than its northern cousin, Point Lobos, but cognoscenti revere it for its breathtaking views and pleasurable hiking trails. I recommend stopping at Garrapata State Beach, which can be accessed by points 18 or 19 off HWY 1, and for the more athletic of us, hiking the Soberanes Canyon Trail and Rocky Ridge Trail, which are located at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Rocky Creek Bridge
Photo courtesy of Craig Philpott
After venturing through Garrapata State Park, you will drive to our next destination, Rocky Creek Bridge. This open-spandrel concrete deck arch bridge was built in 1932 and is one of the most famous bridges on the Monterey County coastline. It is often mistaken for the more famed Bixby Creek Bridge, which is located just a bit further south, but this bridge is beautiful in its own right. The bridge is 497 feet in length and spans its eponym, the picturesque Rocky Creek. Travelers can stop at the vista point before crossing the bridge and take photos of the scenic Big Sur coastline and of the bridge itself. While travelling along Highway One near Rocky Creek Bridge, you can also see the construction of the newest bridge to grace the Big Sur coastline, the Rocky Creek Viaduct (see earlier blog post here).
Bixby Creek Bridge
Photo Courtesy of OSCB
No other bridge along our trip is more famous than the Bixby Creek Bridge or just the Bixby Bridge. This bridge like most of the bridges along HWY 1 is of open-spandrel concrete deck arch design and is one of the largest on the Pacific Coast Highway, coming in at 713 feet in length. While some of the other bridges are easily overlooked due to their diminutive stature, the grandeur of the Bixby Creek Bridge cannot be escaped when driving along Highway 1. Almost a mile before crossing it, you see the bridge off in the distance traversing Bixby Creek with a throng of cars pulled over on either side of the PCH. Besides being an indelible part of the Big Sur coastline, the Bixby Bridge is the main reason why Big Sur is accessible today. Before its construction in 1932, Big Sur was only accessible by travelling on a dirt road that headed inland at Bixby Creek for eleven miles and ended at the Post Ranch. But, this road became impassable during the winter months, leaving Big Sur cutoff from Monterey and Carmel. The region only gained year-round accessibility through the Bixby Bridge, definitely not a bridge to nowhere.
Big Creek Bridge
Photo courtesy of C Hanchey
The last noteworthy bridge that we cross before leaving Monterey County is Big Creek Bridge. It was built in 1938 and is of open-spandrel concrete deck arch design. One noteworthy trait of this bridge is that it has a double arch whereas the similar in size Bixby Bridge and Rocky Creek Bridge have single arches. The bridge is located about an hour or so south of Big Sur proper and about two and half hours south of Carmel. Before crossing the bridge, you will encounter Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I always stop here and take in the beauty that is McWay Falls, one of my favorite spots along the PCH. McWay Falls is one of two waterfalls along the Monterey County coastline that actually goes into the ocean, thus earning the recognition of being a “tidefall.” Make sure you bring your camera when you visit the falls because you will definitely want to take pictures of this splendid place! As you can see, bridges aren’t the snoozefest that one might originally think. They can be interesting, beautiful, and exceedingly beneficial. During your next drive along Highway One between Carmel and Cambria, you might take a bit more notice of these structures that allow you to cross creeks and canyons. Who knows! Maybe you will even stop to photograph one.
I want to thank you for coming along with me while we explored the Bridges of Monterey County. And, don’t forget that the Carmel Mission Inn provides an excellent place to stay during your travels of the Big Sur coastline. As always, contact us directly for the best rates at 1-800-348-9090!
Yours in Travel,
Carmel Mission Inn