Conanicut Island is the second largest island in Narragansett Bay. It was named for Chief Canonicus of the Narragansett tribe, who inhabited the island in the early 1600s. The largest Native cemetery in New England is found here, with artifacts spanning a three-thousand year period.
On the east side, Conanicut Island is connected to the City of Newport by the Claiborne Pell Bridge, and on the west side to North Kingstown via the Jamestown-Verrazono Bridge.
CLAIBORNE PELL BRIDGE
The Newport Bridge was finished in 1969, and renamed for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell in 1992. It connects the City of Newport on Aquidneck Island and the Town of Jamestown on Conanicut Island.
The suspension bridge spans the East Passage of the Narragansett Bay along Route 138. It is the longest suspension bridge in New England, with towers that reach 400 feet above the water surface. The bridge is also featured on the Rhode island state quarter.
BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH
The bridge can be photographed early morning or late afternoon, but I prefer to capture the scene with dramatic backlight at dawn and sunrise, especially when colorful clouds are in the mix.
I usually photograph the bridge from the Jamestown side. Between November and February, the best location for sunrise is from shore slightly north of the bridge, whereas between April to September, just south of the bridge is better. Your camera will be pointing at the rising sun from either location.
GETTING TO CLAIBORNE PELL BRIDGE
From November to February, you can photograph the bridge from shore off Freebody Drive. From the Newport side, take the first exit after the toll bridge onto East Shore Road. Go right for .3 miles and turn left on Freebody Drive. Another .2 miles will take you to the pull-off and parking area on your left.
If coming from Jamestown on Route 138, take the last exit before the toll bridge onto Conanicus Avenue. Drive .4 miles and then make a left turn on East Shore Road. Shortly after the turn, make a right turn onto Freebody Drive. The pull-off and parking area is .2 miles from the turn.
The main path is clearly visible from the parking area. Briefly follow the path until you see a smaller trail branch off to the right. This meandering path will lead you to water’s edge closest to the bridge.
Between April and September, you can photograph sunrise from the pier at Jamestown Harbor. From the Claiborne Pell Bridge, follow Conanicus Avenue for about 1.5 miles until you reach the intersection of Narragansett Avenue in Jamestown. Park near the harbor and proceed onto the pier.
The shoreline off Freebody Drive includes flat rocks that are very slippery when wet. Watch your step! I also recommend wearing waterproof boots to avoid dipping your toes wet in the cold tidal pools.
The tide is often gentle and gradual here. Waves may not be crashing around your ankles as a warning so be careful not to get stranded on a rock while the rising tide encircles your tripod position. I will never willingly admit to it, but it is remotely possible that I speak from personal experience!