Driving along I-5 near Redding, California, you wouldn’t guess that a glistening jewel lies just west along the Sacramento River. Nestled in Turtle Bay Exploration Park, the Sundial pedestrian bridge was completed in 2004 and connects the two sections of the park with grace and splendor.
The most interesting aspect of the bridge is the fact that it never touches the water at any point. It is built with steel, glass and granite and appears to cantilever over the water, protecting environmentally sensitive areas and salmon habitat. There are actually viewing platforms at both ends, giving visitors a variety of vistas from which to see this marvel of design ingenuity. The bridge has been widely praised for its protection of the salmon habitat with nary an ounce of concrete or steel tramping in the salmon nursery.
And yes, it actually is a sundial. The 217-foot pylon that holds the nearly one mile of cable supporting the bridge casts a sundial pattern in a garden on the north side of the bridge. The bridge is positioned exactly in a north-south alignment in order to have the sundial be accurate.
The bridge is open every day and a great time to visit is near dusk, as the bridge is lighted at night and is quite spectacular when viewed with its ethereal glow emanating from the deck. During the day, the opaque aqua glass floor panels allow you to actually see people walking below as well as the river.
Also intriguing is that the $23 million needed to build the bridge, which was designed by Spanish architect/engineer Santiago Calatrava, was funded almost entirely with private funds, mostly from the McConnell Foundation of Redding. Only a mere $4 million came from federal or state funds. The story of how the bridge came to be is the story of many high-profile public works projects – dissent over money, dissent over design, and dissent over necessity. After all, it is merely a pedestrian bridge. But in the end, it was people of great vision (and deep pockets) who prevailed and the Sundial Bridge is now an everlasting community piece of art, visitor attraction, and so much more.
In addition to the 700-foot bridge, Turtle Bay Exploration Park has a variety of both permanent and rotating exhibits, as well as summer concerts in the park, a café by the river with a view of the bridge, and a 20-acre arboretum and garden.