Still not a wildflower but another man-made marvel encountered on our trip through New England and, believe me, the wildflowers will be coming soon! On our second day out, we encountered the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and for all of its 17 miles it spans the entrance to the world’s largest estuary – Chesapeake Bay. Back in the mid-60’s I spent 1 1/2 years guarding the entrance to the bay as a radar technician at the easternmost end of the bridge. Historically, and especially during World War II, Cape Charles was a strategic location as the capitol of Washington and the city of Baltimore lie at the northern edges of the Bay. German submarines patrolled the East Coast and sunk hundreds of cargo ships and oil tankers – none, however, penetrated the entrance to the Bay and the Norfolk shipyards thanks to watch towers and sentries located in Virginia Beach and Cape Charles.
My wife and I chose to journey to New England and avoid the large cities so we drew our itinerary up the Eastern Shore of Virginia, through Eastern Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey. The only way around Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia is through the mountains or up the seashore and paying the $17 one-way toll was worth the savings in time, gas, and traffic.
A car traveler at first can not see the end of the structure and can barely make out the first tunnel which appears to be a mile long gap in the bridge. The two one way bridges, or causeways, cross the relatively shallow western end and suddenly end in a quick dip (no pun intended) below the surface. I am not sure how deep the tunnels are but they slope down for a quarter mile, level off for a half mile, and then begin their climb to light and relative safety in the middle third of the structure. The tunnel is a scary two lane affair and thoughts of wayward trucks keep you alert with hands solidly on the steering wheel.
In the three or four minutes in the tunnel, thoughts of aircraft carriers plowing the seas above, gave me shivers as I am not a good swimmer but even a great swimmer would falter if tons and tons of seawater were to find a little crack and begin a fateful drip. On the water above, the aircraft carrier wouldn’t even notice a breach in the tunnel below, but before my heart and any drip reached high levels, we zipped out and back onto the bridge.
The second tunnel was easier – just as deep and just as long – but we were veterans now and easily slipped through the labyrinth without fear or reservation. As we reentered the normal world of sun and sky, several higher bridges crossed onto islands with pristine beaches. No sign of human activity was on the Robinson Crusoe-like patches of sand and scrub and I wondered if the flounder I had caught years before still hid in offshore sand waiting for a passing, doomed minnow.
It took us about thirty minutes to cross the bridge-tunnel complex and we eagerly sought a red snapper sandwich at our lunch stop at a beach tavern in Cape Charles – still the quaint, rustic village that I remembered from fifty (has it been that long?) years ago. The radar station has disappeared and been replaced by a wildlife refuge but the tall earthen bunkers that housed the huge shore cannon of ages past were still there keeping a silent lookout for ghostly warships.
The Cape Charles lighthouse still warns sailors of shallow water on the north shore of Chesapeake Bay while 90 year old submarine watchtowers gaze protectively from the now lonely beach.