I set out early with my trusty map. Little images of covered bridges labeled sites around each driving circuit in Parke County. With the county roads labeled, I thought, “It should be easy to find each covered bridge.”
I kind of jinxed myself. I found all but one. (The last one that should have been the easiest to find. Of course.)
I quickly realized that street names on the map weren’t necessarily the same street names that led to these covered bridges off of the main road. After driving back and forth on route 36 through Rockville, the thought occurred to me that maybe the turn off wasn’t labeled Bridgeton Road, as it as on the map. I spied a small sign with an arrow surrounded by red. “Huh. Maybe that it supposed to direct me to the red driving route, aka the route to Bridgeton.”
After weaving through a few streets in Rockville, I did find myself on Bridgeton Road…and headed to covered bridges. For several other bridges, I had to triangulate to find them…doubling back to find a turn off that seemed like it would go to the covered bridge I was looking for. Sure enough, I struck gold every time.
On two occasions when I stopped by the side of the road to look at my map, willing it to show me the correct street names to the bridges, I looked up to find a driver coming in the opposite direction who stopped to check on me. They seemed to mouth, “Do you need help?” I flashed the thumbs up side, pointed to where I was going, and mouthed, “I’m OK. Thank you.”
Kind of comforting to know that I probably wouldn’t die lost in the back roads of Parke County.
Almost every covered bridge was an oasis in quiet. I was almost always the only soul around, with maybe a pickup truck in the distance, in the fields of corn surrounding the covered bridges. I quickly adopted the “hey-how-you-doing” mudra of the countryside (i.e., waved to drivers passing me or whom I passed). I enjoyed the silence broken only by the sound of crickets or farm equipment in the distance.
I stopped at the mill in Bridgeton with a nearby covered bridge and “waterfall”. I hadn’t been there for probably over a dozen years. I entered into a conversation with the owner who regaled me with horror stories of the last nineteen years of ownership. There was definitely a certain stick-with-it-ness that kept him going, from the difficulty in getting the previous owners to sell, to the bank lending the money, to the locale accepting him. My jaw was on the floor with the tales he told of destruction to the building and the arson of the bridge (burned to the ground but then rebuilt with the help of friendly locales). It was unreal. And all he wanted was for the mill, which had been in operation since 1823, to continue working.
o my surprise, many of the covered bridges were still operational. A few were closed to all traffic except foot traffic. For the ones that were operational, I sat there and watched cars cross them before I ventured across. Being one-lane bridges, I had to time my crossing well.
On my way home, I found myself looking closely up ahead. Were my eyes deceiving me? No! It was what I thought it was. A horse and buggy. Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! I could hear the clopping of the horse as I slowed to match its pace. I realized that this was my first Amish sighting since being back on Hoosier soil.
Except for that one pesky bridge that I could not locate, I had a very successful excursion full of bridge hunting. I succeeded in tracking down roughly one-third of the covered bridges in Parke County. I’ll have to go back for more. I’m sure glad I missed the millions of people who descended on the county for the annual Covered Bridge Festival…by mere days.