Beginning on March first of 1938, the Los Angeles region experienced one of its largest floods in history, caused by the convergence of two Pacific storms that generated a year’s worth of rain in the matter of a few days. The flooding killed more than a hundred people, caused $78 million in damage (in 1938 dollars), and completely washed out an ongoing road project that would have connected the San Gabriel Valley to Wrightwood, about seventy or so miles northeast of LA.
There’s no doubt the East Fork Road would have been a pretty drive, cutting through some of the most gorgeous scenery the gorgeous state of California has to offer and crossing over the East Fork of the San Gabriel River on a picturesque truss arch bridge that is 180 feet long and stands 120-feet over the riverbed below.
After the flood the road project was abandoned and today still lies in ruins, with only the occasional bit of asphalt visible. But the bridge remains as something of an oddity in the California wilderness. Locals call it the “Bridge to Nowhere” and it can be reached by a somewhat treacherous 10-mile roundtrip hike.
Though I probably would, I’ve never visited, so all I can tell you about the hike is what I’ve read online. Apparently, it involves a good bit of river fording, an activity which has been responsible for quite a few deaths of adventurous people over the years. There’s a lot of bouldering required, too, and some steep climbs. One description of the trail I read says that at one point you get to choose between two additional water crossings (some of which are apparently waist-deep) or a hefty climb followed by a rope-assisted descent down a steep rock wall. And if that’s not enough adventure for you, there’s also a company that will let you bungee jump off the bridge once you get there.
Despite the difficult nature of the trail, almost every description I read cautioned that the trailhead would probably be busy for this very popular hike. The bridge serves no real purpose, but apparently, people love a bridge to nowhere.
And I think I get it, because I have a recently acquired a bridge to nowhere of my very own in my back yard. Mine didn’t come from an abandoned construction project of course. It was a leftover decoration from a picture backdrop for a prom in a small-town high school in 1969.
If you’ve followed this blog for a long time, or if you’ve read my book Launching Sheep & Other Stories, then you may recall that my dad is a retired high school math teacher. In that role, he happened to be the class sponsor for the class of 1970, who as juniors were responsible for planning the senior prom of 1969. The students decided they wanted a foot bridge and so they got some help from the art teacher to design one. Then when prom was over, no one knew what to do with it. My dad, who had a pretty big backyard and a couple of little kids at the time, said it could be stored there.
It never really served much of a purpose in the yard, but my brother and sister loved clomping over it, jumping off of it, and playing Billy Goats Gruff. It became a fixture of their childhood and eventually of mine and my other brother’s as well. Over the years, it was borrowed again and again for ceremonies, dances, and community and school plays. Between each use, it was repainted barn red and returned to our backyard where it was kind of an oddity that also became a fixture of childhood for a series of grandchildren.
It’s sustained damage over time and been rebuilt a lot. There’s not likely a single original board in it, but it’s always been the same design and it’s always (unless loaned out) been in my parents’ backyard. That is until now.
Not too long ago, a storm brought a large tree down on the bridge, leaving it in pretty bad shape. My dad, whose grandchildren are now beyond the Billy Goats Gruff stage of life, decided maybe it was time to just let it go, but before he did, he asked us if we wanted it.
It turns out, I’m pretty fond of bridges to nowhere. We loaded it up and delivered it to a new home in our backyard where we rebuilt it and gave it a fresh coat of barn red paint. I’m sure our neighbors are scratching their heads at our new backyard oddity, but if they want to come check it out, it’s a pretty easy hike to get to it. There are no rivers to ford or rope-assisted descents over rock faces. If it makes them happy, they can even jump off of it, no bungee cord required.
And if one of the local high schools needs a bridge for a dance or a play, they’ll know where to find it. It’s in my backyard, going nowhere.