Many mechanical systems consist of continuum mechanical structures, having either linear or nonlinear elasticity or geometry, coupled to nonlinear oscillators. In this paper, we consider the class of linear continua coupled to mechanical pendula. In such mechanical systems, there often exist several natural time scales determined by the physics of the problem. Using a time scale splitting, we analyze a prototypical structural-mechanical system consisting of a planar nonlinear pendulum coupled to a flexible rod made of linear viscoelastic material. In this system both low-dimensional and high-dimensional chaos is observed. The low-dimensional chaos appears in the limit of small coupling between the continua and oscillator, where the natural frequency of the primary mode of the rod is much greater than the natural frequency of the pendulum. In this case, the motion resides on a slow manifold. As the coupling is increased, global motion moves off of the slow manifold and high-dimensional chaos is observed. We present a numerical bifurcation analysis of the resulting system illustrating the mechanism for the onset of high-dimensional chaos. Constrained invariant sets are computed to reveal a process from low-dimensional to high-dimensional transitions. Applications will be to both deterministic and stochastic bifurcations. Practical implications of the bifurcation from low-dimensional to high-dimensional chaos for detection of damage as well as global effects of noise will also be discussed.