The greatest part about bridges is you never know what’s on the other side, what steps your about to take, and your always walking towards a new place. In this case, this bridge we decided to walk across came crashing down in 2003. Kinzua Bridge was partially ruined by a tornado and once was the longest and tallest railroad structure at 2,053 feet long and 301 feet high. It is incredible sight to see at first walking from the welcome center and you can see in the distance the 600 feet of the bridge left to walk across. We got to experience why people have coming to cross this bridge for almost 130 years. And to think it only took 97 days to build is almost mind blowing.
A little background on the bridge itself and why it was built. The bridge was originally built for freight traffic but had many complications in foundation. In the early 1900s, the bridge was rebuilt using stronger steel in order to accommodate heavy freight trains. It took only 100 days to rebuild the bridge. Commercial trains would continue to utilize the bridge until as late as 1960. Unfortunately, after weeks of examining the bridge they decided that the structure of the bridge was not safe and closed the bridge in 2002. In the video shown in the center, it stated that this bridge was so highly loved that they almost immediately started working on the bridge to get it where it needed to be to be back in business.
Seeing how astonishing the bridge was in pictures across the park, it was hard to not be saddened by how it was destroyed by a F1 94 mph tornado in 2003. Eleven towers from the center of the bridge were torn from their concrete bases and thrown to the valley floor, leaving only the end portions of the bridge intact. Even if it is one of the most amazing sights to see, it is mesmerizing that these huge beams could possibly be picked up by a tornado. It only took about 30 seconds for the iron giant to come crumbling down. It is rumored that the bridge would have taken almost $45 million to repair and Pennsylvania decided to make it a monumental place to visit.
We started our journey by walking the 600 feet reinvented bridge to the glass overlook. It is absolutely breathtaking experience to see miles into the Kinzua Gorge, which the bridge is named after. According to the history posted near the bridge, this overlook was rebuilt in 2011. The structure, architecture and views make this place one of the most unique places we have gone to and that was just seeing the part of the bridge that was restored. We couldn’t even imagine what the area looked like as a whole. Walking in the center of the tracks is quite scary and we recommend taking high caution doing so since the boards are not attached. Seeing the tracks that lead to the overlook, look almost endless.
When you get to the glass overlook, you almost forget about being on ruins of one of top ten places for tourists to visit in Pennsylvania. We were almost the only people there and the view from the skywalk at the time which made this experience even more memorable. You could hear the nature all around us, the creaking of the glass beneath our feet, and trees rustling in the wind. It was almost like being in a dream. Overlooking something that once cross the entire land beneath us was sort of joyless and made us curious more about what below looked like.
We started our journey to see what else we could find from this extraordinary place. If you want to get a view of the bridge as a whole, there is a trail to the right of the bridge that goes down to the bottom of the valley. Along the way, there are three different places to stop that we found (if there is more please share!). Depending on which way you decide to take to the trails, the first stop is great since it handicap accessible. Probably our favorite viewpoint of the bridge is actually located directly under the bridge. This perspective of the architecture below of the iron is a photographers’ fantasy place. The way the design is it feels like an illusion of millions of beams in a row. We got one of our favorite pictures together in this spot.
This trail to this point was very difficult, rocky, and straight downhill, which was plenty harder walking back up later on in the day. Fortunately, most of the way had stone steps have been installed and a few benches to rest as well. There were a few points where we almost felt lost since they are still under construction and building new trails. We even went the wrong way a couple times and had to travel almost a mile in the wrong direction. If you do want to take the more difficult trail down to the valley, make sure to use extreme caution. When leaving the park, a park ranger told us they have to send rescue at least a couple times a week to help people that can not make it back up.
Once at the bottom, the view of the bridge above you and the wreckage all around is absolutely remarkable. Small side trails take visitors up to the wreckage but most of the areas are closed off due to saving the structures, keeping tourists safe and keeping the area free of people ruining nature. After taking the difficult trail down into the valley, we found a small, fragile bridge that crossed the small Kinzua Creek. The creek was amazing to see even when the water was quite down. It was hard to get good shots at this point since it was about to storm.
Looking over the wreckage and remains of the Kinzua Viaduct was a once in a lifetime experience for us. Between the history, the hiking, the views, the photography, and the memories, it made Kinzua one of our favorite trips. We didn’t get much footage due to the rain and this still being one of our first trips together, we were still learning about us, about adventuring, and about where we wanted to go with this site. Seeing something so strong, mighty, unbreakable being damaged, shattered, imperfect made this bridge even more beautiful. It taught us both a lesson that no matter how mighty something may be, that it has its flaws but can create something even more eye-opening. We took this lesson with us after this trip and we took it to our next destination only a short distance away called Rimrock…