Bridges have played an essential role in settling Arizona. Railroads built spans across natural impediments like Canyon Diablo and the Colorado River.
In 1929, Navajo Bridge replaced Lees Ferry, a crossing that operated for 55 years on the Colorado at Marble Canyon. The bridge opened highway travel across Northern Arizona and Utah as the first bridged crossing of the river for hundreds of miles. A new Navajo Bridge opened in 1995. Pedestrians can view Marble Canyon from the old bridge.
Midgley Bridge, completed in 1939 over Wilson Canyon north of Sedona, is a smaller but similar design to the 1929 Navajo Bridge.
In 1911, the 660-foot Cameron Suspension Bridge was built across the Little Colorado River east of Grand Canyon. It provided a pivotal link for Navajos and Hopis to Flagstaff. In 1916, Hubert and C.D. Richardson built Cameron Trading Post, with a store and four cabins, to trade with the Navajo cattlemen of Gray Mountain.
The Cameron bridge nearly collapsed under the weight of a sheep herd in 1937 but was repaired, according to a federal study of Arizona’s bridges.
A similar suspension bridge built over the Gila River near Yuma in 1929 had a main span of 798 feet. It was named the McPhaul Bridge, honoring Yuma lawman Henry Harrison McPhaul.
The graceful span was replaced in 1968 when the river channel was altered. The newer bridge, serving traffic on US 95, washed out in 1993 and was replaced. The McPhaul Bridge, marooned over a generally dry wash, is now known as the "Bridge to Nowhere."
Bridges at dawn of automobile age
Arizona statehood in 1912 occurred just at the dawn of the automobile age. Highway engineers got busy building roads and bridges across the state in the decades that followed.
In Yuma, the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge was the first highway crossing on the lower Colorado River. Starting in 1914, it carried travelers on U.S. 80 between Arizona and California until 1988 when it was deemed unsafe. Yuma and the nearby Quechan Indian Tribe paid to restore the bridge and it reopened in 2002.
The Topock Bridge or Old Trails Bridge was another key link across the Colorado. It was the longest steel arch bridge in America at 832 feet when it was built in 1916. Route 66 crossed the river on the Topock Bridge, which carried automobile traffic until 1948. It’s now used as a span for a natural gas pipeline.
The bridge was featured in a 1940 film -- "The Grapes of Wrath" -- with John Steinbeck's Joad family crossing from Arizona into California. It's also appears in an opening sequence of "Easy Rider" (1969) with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper traveling into Arizona from California.
The Topock Bridge is 25 miles upriver from one of Arizona’s most famous bridges — the London Bridge at Lake Havasu City. The original London Bridge over the River Thames was built in 1831.
Lake Havasu City developer Robert P. McCulloch bought the 952-foot bridge and its granite stones in 1968 for $2.46 million. He rebuilt it using granite veneer over a steel framework. The reconstructed bridge over Bridgewater Channel was dedicated in 1971. In 2021, one could say London Bridge is 50 years old or 190 years old.
One of Arizona’s newest bridges is the 2010 Hoover Dam bypass bridge at the state line where US 93 crosses into Nevada. It is the Mike O’Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, named for a former Nevada governor and Tillman, an Arizona football star who was killed in Afghanistan after giving up his lucrative NFL career.
It is the second highest bridge in the United States at 890 feet with a span of 1,060 feet. The 1929 Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado is the tallest at 955 feet with a span of 938 feet. There is a pedestrian walkway on the Hoover Dam bypass bridge with terrific views of the dam. It's accessible from the Nevada side.
Another historic bridge is the one-lane Chevelon Creek Bridge southeast of Winslow that served traffic on the National Old Trails Road starting in 1913. It was restored a century later.
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