Time spent walking, biking or skating along Tempe Town Lake can feel like a mini-vacation; after all, this is a sparkling waterfront in the Phoenix-area desert. The lake does occupy a two-mile stretch of the Salt River’s natural path—but the water is held there today for recreational and visual pleasure by inflatable dams, while the rest of the river is ruled by such “no-fun” factors as power-utility infrastructure, rainfall and lack thereof.
Athletic users of Tempe Town Lake’s north and south paths might rely on five distinctive bridges between Mill Avenue and Priest Drive to time their workouts or change up their scenery.
Passenger vehicles use a pair of bridges into and out of downtown Tempe. The bridge carrying today’s southbound traffic (1931) is the oldest auto crossing of the Salt River bed in the metro area. The younger bridge was added (1993) to share the load by carrying two lanes of northbound-only traffic.
The nine-span, truss-style railroad bridge (1912) was an engineering feat in its day. It was designed for freight trains—and is still used as such—but was also used by Amtrak for a time.
A light rail mass-transit bridge (2009) was designed to include LED lights whose patterns and colors change throughout each night.
And the newest bridge (2011), outside the jaunty Tempe Center for the Arts building, doesn’t just provide a pretty place to stroll during a performance intermission—it also shelters the lake’s west dam.
After a self-propelled tour of the paths and bridges of Tempe Town Lake, reward and recharge with some calories procurable in downtown Tempe (south of the lake). In the morning or early afternoon, hit NCounter for a smoothie or protein-packed omelet. On a weekday before 4 pm, find Desert Roots Kitchen, hidden off-street in the Mill Avenue Shops enclave, for à la carte vegan inventions. By night, air out on the patio at the tap beer and bicycle-themed Handlebar.