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Redding's Sundial Bridge a jaw-dropper

REDDING, Calif.--If you've ever been driving on Interstate 5 in Northern California and passed right by this small town just a few miles south of Shasta Lake, I'd like to encourage you to consider a visit next time.

That's because Redding plays host to one of the most amazing examples of a bridge as art in the world, Santiago Calatrava's glorious Sundial Bridge.

Sundial Bridge

I took my own advice as I sped south on I-5 toward home in San Francisco, having left Ashland, Ore., where I wrote about geodesic dome maker Pacific Domes as part of my Road Trip 2006 around the Pacific Northwest.

So I pulled off the highway here, figured out the best way to the bridge and headed directly there. I'd seen it last summer, but only at night, and I wanted an opportunity to take in this marvel--a giant white sundial out of which radiates a series of diagonal cables that connect to a terrific translucent footbridge traversing the Sacramento River--during a bright, sunny day.

Today, July 4, by the way, is the second anniversary of the opening of this masterpiece of Calatrava's. And while Redding may seem like an odd place for the world-renowned architect to work--he has designed famous bridges and buildings all over Europe, and who is currently working on the new World Trade Center transportation hub in New York City--seeing the bridge in this particular setting answers any questions about why he would come to such an unlikely destination.

And the bridge didn't disappoint. It was very hot, and the bridge itself was radiating heat, what with its metal rails, glass surface and complete exposure to the sun. But with the sky brilliantly blue, the river below rushing and refreshing and the greenery surrounding it providing a terrific color contrast, the bridge was all I'd hoped it would be.

Road Trip 2006

It is, by the way, a functional sundial. There are markers on the ground behind the tower indicating the time when the tower's shadow hits them. That's pretty cool, if you ask me.

The bridge's tower is 217 feet high, and the bridge itself is 700 feet long. And every bit of it seems worth appreciating. You can walk across it, under it on both sides and on trails on both sides that give different viewing angles.

But it is hard to photograph the bridge in its entirety because it is so tall and because it is difficult to find a spot far enough away for a straight-on shot that isn't also obscured by trees.

Nevertheless, it is an engineering and aesthetic wonder, and I can't recommend strongly enough that you turn off the highway to visit it. The people of Redding would probably have you stick around as well, but I can't vouch for that.