Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

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For many years my wife has vacationed at Isle of Palms, SC, both as a child and as an adult.  A bit of lore I learned was that her grandfather helped install the lights on the “old” bridge crossing Charleston’s Cooper River.  It was built in 1929, while the “new” bridge opened in 1966.  Both required drivers to have an “eyes fixed ahead, hands firmly on steering wheel” commitment to the crossing. 

Still, in the stolen glances, we were way up, and it was hard to imagine people building the bridge back then, never mind the heights.  We also vacationed in the area as a modern bridge was erected to replace both of the scary ones, but it wasn’t until our last trip that we did more than drive across.

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I would call it the Cooper River Bridge, but naming rights win out, so it’s the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge which has become the visual symbol of what was already an iconic city.

In their wisdom, residents insisted that a 10’ pedestrian/bicycle path be added to the bridge.  This was a very wise move, as it is heavily used by the exercising hordes.  And why shouldn’t they?  It offers an expansive view of the bay, Patriot’s Point, and other features. 

We could have gone during the day, but that wastes beach time, and during one of the best weather weeks in memory, we opted for going at night.

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Good choice.  Not as many cars, not as many people. From the Mt. Pleasant side, it’s 0.75 miles to the first support tower.  It’s another 1.75 miles to the Charleston end.  It may seem that the incline would be taxing, but it wasn’t at all.

Driving over the bridge is one thing.

There’s a quick “ooh and ahh,” but even with the spacious lanes, you gotta drive.  Safely.  Your eyes shouldn’t wander up to the heights.

On the pedestrian bridge, though, you’re allowed to look up for as long as you please.

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Photographs can’t really capture the sense of scale that you appreciate while standing below.  But, the bridge height is 575’ (that’s 20’ taller than the Washington Monument), less 186’ to sea level, resulting in 389’ from the pedestrian path to the peak.  At street level, that equates to a 39 story building.

And a photography opportunity.

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Kind of fun.  A likely  less observed geometric was observed looking down from the pedestrian deck towards the footing of one of the towers.

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Oh yeah, the views.  Well, the ship docks provided a nice reflection.

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And a blood red moon rose over the horizon.

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But otherwise, the U.S.S. Yorktown, parked not too far away, was shrouded largely in darkness, and the city was too far away.  Anyone going at night should know that the lights illuminating the support towers are turned off at 10:00 p.m.  It’s still as safe, but photography becomes much more challenging.

From the Mt. Pleasant side, visitors can access a fully developed park located underneath the bridge, which has ample parking, at least on days without events.  We decided to check that out one morning.

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It’s accessed via Patriots Point, which features several ships, a golf course, conference center, etc.  One curiosity solved was the junked ship in the foreground, a relative eyesore for tourists, but possibly harboring fondness from locals.

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If anything, the trip to the park was worth it for the above “Well, now we know” moment.  There’s also a playground, a small souvenir/snack store, and a pier which extends into the bay.

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There are a few benches, a pay for view binoculars, and room for those who want to fish.

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Of note on the underside of the deck are the drain pipes to remove water during a rainstorm.  I’d imagine that might make for an interesting sight, but... hey, it was a sunny week.

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Someday, the Ravenel Bridge will be someone else’s bridge from yesteryear.  For now, it currently ranks as the #1 “Things to Do” on Tripadvisor in Charleston.

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