Photo of the week: the old Otowi Bridge

Otowi Bridge, photo Steve Collins

Otowi Bridge, photo/Steve Collins

We’ve crossed the Rio Grande River on NM 502 many times as it zips through the San Ildefonso Pueblo. We’ve caught glimpses of the Otowi Bridge many times, but never stopped to get a good look at it. We did on a day trip to Los Alamos this week and shot this photo.  It’s an amazing piece of history. During World War II, Manhattan Project scientists traveled over that bridge on their way to the secret Los Alamos location after first checking in at 109 East Palace Avenue in Santa Fe. The bridge, built in 1924, was built to access the Los Alamos Ranch School which was taken over by the U.S. Government for the top secret Manhattan Project. The bridge was closed after WWII and replaced by a truss bridge and that one was replaced when the highway was widened after Los Alamos was opened to the public. If that old bridge could talk, oh the stories it could tell!

The abandoned buildings you see on the north side of the highway were Edith Warner’s Tea house and a United States Post Office. If you want to know more about the tea house and Otowi Crossing read Peggy Pond Church’s 1960 book, The House at Otowi Bridge. Her father, Ashley Pond, started the Los Alamos Ranch School (aka Boys Ranch School) in 1917. Students at the rustic but elite boarding school included William S. Burroughs, Gore Vidal, and John Crosby the founder of the Santa Fe Opera.

This area is designated as the Otawi Historic District and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Author’s note: Thanks to Deborah Torres of Than Povi Gallery and Georgia Strickfaden of Buffalo Tours in Los Alamos for sharing their memories and knowledge of Otowi Crossing history with us.



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14 Responses to “Photo of the week: the old Otowi Bridge”

  1. Peter Parker
    July 26, 2015 at 11:56 pm #

    Great, quiet old bridge.

  2. John Daniel
    July 27, 2015 at 12:12 am #

    Is it a wooden bridge, then how can it remained in good condition so long?

    • Billie Frank
      July 27, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

      I think the supports are concrete- will have to look next time we head that way. The roadbed is definitely wood. Have no idea how it remains in good condition. Great question!

  3. Billie Frank
    August 28, 2015 at 11:49 am #

    It’s closed to the public. It’s on San Ildefonso Pueblo land. I don’t know why they have it closed- but they do control public access to the Pueblo so that may be why. It also may not be safe after all these years.

    • Phillius Thomas
      August 31, 2015 at 5:12 am #

      That is unfortunate, but understandable that it may be unsafe now.

      • Billie Frank
        August 31, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

        I think it’s also closed as it’s on San Ildefonso Pueblo lands.

  4. Billie Frank
    September 8, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    It’s definitely worth a look!

  5. Rashedun Nabi
    November 6, 2015 at 2:06 am #

    This bridge looks like an ancient architecture in nature. Quite a better item of journey. This is really excellent photo.

  6. Graham
    March 11, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    Awesome photo. Very cool to see. Awesome history behind it – I love anything WW2 history.

    • Billie Frank
      March 12, 2016 at 10:50 am #

      The bridge sure has a lot of history- wish it could talk!

  7. Bruce Fanning
    May 17, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    In response to John and a few others about the condition of the wood on the bridge. The altitude at Los Alamos is around 7,300 ft, it’s high desert indeed. There is very little humidity and any rain that falls quickly evaporates. So a wooden bridge & Adobe (mud) homes hold up quite well. The abutments are concrete and those are Roebling type cables, strung from side to side. Who ever the bridge builder was, you can bet they were a fan of John Roebling.

    • Billie Frank
      May 19, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

      The bridge isn’t n Los Alamos- it’s at the Rio Grande crossing in the valley- though the altitude is probably around 7,000 feet. Re: wood and adobe holding up here: adobe needs a lot of care or it disintegrates. The dry climate is hard on it and it’s hard on wood as well- it dries out. I don’t l could not find out who designed the bridge and so don’t know if they were fans of Roebling, but it was built in 1924 by Kansas City Structural Steel Co. of Kansas City, Missouri. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

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