The Tassajara Bridge

The Easter weekend was a time of resurrection for me personally. The Tassajara Bridge was rebuilt by an extraordinary team of friends – faculty and alumni from CCA. Following fires and floods the bridge is now standing astride the Tassajara River again marking the transition from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center to the Ventana Wilderness.

The bridge was designed by Richard LaTrobe Bateman when he was the Wornick Distinguished Visiting Wood Artist at CCA in 2005. I made a small catalog of the whole design, construction and then building of the bridge on site in 2005-6 which you can get here. This little book proved an invaluable guide to putting the Bridge back up again; as I was the only original crew member on site for the second coming of the Bridge and much water has passed under the metaphorical bridge since then.

2008 Basin Complex Wildfire from space

Russ Baldon and I took down the bridge in 2008 following  the 2008 Basin Complex Wildfire (the third largest in Californian history). Thankfully a few hardy souls stayed on at Tassajara when the valley was evacuated to fight the fire. The bridge was outside of the zone protected by hoses and sprinklers but the crew there were mindful of it and thankfully it wasn’t damaged. Here’s a photo of the bridge immediately after the fire – photo by Judith Keenan.

Now that the valley has greened up again and the threat of major silt flows and flooding has passed I was asked to collect a team to restore and rebuild the bridge. I am always delighted to spend time at Tassajara and this time I was able to introduce 4 friends to this extraordinary community.

The Bridge Crew!

Shawn Hibma-Cronan - unbridled enthusiast

John Randolph - balletic yet powerful

Lawrence LaBianca - master of the redundant system

Moi - corporate memory

Russ Baldon - chief gabion engineer

Adrien Segal - the yellow-legged, blue billed, Tassajara segal.

Barbara Holmes - the barefoot Diva

Barbara Holmes - the barefoot Diva

and many visitors over the four days...

First we had to clear the site of all the new riverine regrowth.

The site awaiting the bridge.

Including our old friend and constant companion – Poison Oak.

Nice and red and juicy!

Next we had to make sure we still  had all the bits.

Everything present and accounted for!

One team built a trestle to support the major beams mid-stream.

A worshipful thing!

The trestle in place, braced nicely against the far bank

A second team made needed repairs to the main beams with new material provided by Paul Discoe (who donated all of the original material for the bridge – Thanks Paul!!)

The scarf!

Many hands make light work.

Hi hooo!! Hi hooo!!!!

Lawrence busting a move, as we prepare to hoist the first beam into place.

Joining the three beams.

Once all three beams were atop the trestle we could join them together, attach the rigging and cross beams and raise the bridge with a chain hoist – I wish it had all gone as smoothly and quickly as this short little sentence! After a full day and a bit and a few setbacks we raised the bridge as the day faded to evening.

Thankfully at the end of every day we could look forward to delicious vegetarian meals and the best hot springs in California – to show us where our scratches were, to put the fear of poison oak contamination on us (it’s tricky finding the technu in the dark) and to soak out the stresses in our muscles.

The first portion is to end all evil...

Enjoying good food and good company.

By the fourth day we were ready for the footways.

More Hi Hooo!

Footway #1 in place.

Footway #2

Footway #3 lowered into place!

Then its was just tweaking turnbuckles, fitting handrails and cleaning up.

The rain started in earnest just at that moment – perfectly timed.


Mako, the Director of Tassajara, seemed pleased with the outcome.

And we were high as kites!

Barrows stacked under the eaves of the Zendo to keep dry

Rain dripping off the Zendo eaves being lapped up by the irises

"Cloud hidden ... whereabouts unknown"

Its always hard to leave.

Thank you Tasajara.

Thank you Bridge Crew!!


  1. Gabriel Russo Clothing April 15, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    Excellent job! Wonderful photos. I look forward to seeing it this summer.


  2. Looks like a busy and constructive 4 days!


  3. that red, juicy plant is poison ivy…….fyi. <= }


    1. We call it poison oak on this side of the Mississippi!
      I’ve never seen Poison Ivy – I thought it wasn’t the same species?


      1. Good old internet. Good summary article here –
        But it looks they are all the same genus Rhus, but different species.

  4. Donald,

    I like it, starting a blog post with a Rhus diversiloba photo. I had a gardening job in college on an estate in Hillsborough. The head gardener was chatting with me one day at the top of the property with his hand propped against a tree. It turned out that the tree was poison oak, w/ a 5″ thick trunk.

    Neat project.



  5. Gonna need a lotion d da da…..
    calamine lotion.


    1. Betsy MacGowan May 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      Thank you so much bridge crew!! and on the subject of poison OAK, which is growing quite well on both ends of the bridge:
      “Your gonna need an ocean
      Of calamine lotion”


      1. Betsy.
        Yes, I pity the Trailcrew. The conditions are perfect near the river for rampant regrowth and invasion of Poison Oak.
        Perhaps we should name the Bridge “Poison Oak Crossing”, in memory of this season and its precursors!

  6. Thank you! The bridge is wonderful! The Trailcrew thanks you for saving us the end-of-day ford of Tassajara Creek!


    1. Robert
      You are most welcome!!


  7. I was just at Tassajara for the “alumni” retreat (hadn’t been there since 1986 or earlier) and hiked the Horse Pasture Trail, including back up the creek at the end. I take it this bridge is the other way, UP the creek? I’ll have to look for it next time…


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