Monroe St. Bridge & Spokane Falls, Spokane WA

In the heart of Spokane Washington you will find two wonders of human engineering, side by side, yet only related by their locations. The Spokane Falls and Monroe Street Bridge, while both made by man, are stunningly scenic and located right in the downtown area.

To arrive at the falls you will, most likely, need to drive across the Monroe Street Bridge. Now this bridge was constructed in 1911 and at that time was the largest concrete-arch bridge in the United States, and was the 3rd largest in the world. However, this was actually the third bridge built here. The original was a rickety wooden bridge built in 1889 but it was burned down just a year later to construct the second bridge; a steal one, although it had a noticeable dip in the center and was deemed unsafe in 1905.

Monroe Street Bridge has an interesting design, which makes it one of my favorite bridges in the USA. It was designed by John Chester Ralston. The bridge has multiple ornamental features provided by the firm of Kirtland Kelsey Cutter and Karl Malmgren, which include covered pavilions, chain-link railing motif, and iconically – bison skulls.

Twisting underneath the Monroe Street Bridge is a bike trail that is heavily trafficked. There are multiple viewing platforms along the short stretch to help disperse of the gawking crowds, which is effective. But it’s not the bridge this mass of people have stopped to admire; it’s the Spokane Falls. These are not waterfalls in the natural sense, but the works of a massive hydroelectric dam system.

The Monroe Street Dam, part of the Lower Falls, was constructed in 1890. It was the first dam built on the Spokane River and is now the longest running hydroelectric facility in the state of Washington. Further up river you can find the Upper Falls, along with a diversion dam constructed in 1920 called the Upper Falls Dam. Both are operated by the power company Avista.

These astonishing engineering feats can both be found in the same place. You can feel the refreshing mist of the violent waters on your face as you stare at these human creations with wonder. It was beautiful and inspiring, but it was awfully crowded as well.

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