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Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River

 


The Columbia River Gorge's Bridge of the Gods is in essence three bridges in one. There's the physical bridge that links I-84 and US 30 in Cascade Locks, Oregon across the Columbia River with WA 14 near Stevenson, Washington. But there's also the geological landslide event that caused the Bridge of the Gods and the Bridge of the Gods in folklore, which are both tied to this same location. Other items of note involving the Bridge of the Gods happened as well. Lewis and Clark portaged at the Cascade Rapids at the Bridge of the Gods during their exploration in 1805 and 1806. In September 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew up the Columbia River Gorge from Portland in the famed airplane "Spirit of St. Louis", passed low over the newly built bridge, turned around, flew under the bridge, and then headed back down the gorge to the Swan Island Airport. For hikers, the Pacific Crest Trail uses the Bridge of the Gods as it crosses the Columbia River at mile 2,155 of the famed hiking trail.

The Bridge of the Gods is a tolled 1,858-foot-long steel cantilever truss bridge that spans the Columbia River at Cascade Locks, a town located roughly forty miles east of Portland, Oregon along I-84. The bridge was built in 1926 at a length of 1,131 feet and then in 1938, the bridge was raised by 44 feet and extended to its current length to accommodate the rising pool behind the Bonneville Dam, just a few miles downstream on the Columbia River. In 1920, the United States Department of War issued a construction permit for the bridge to the Interstate Construction Corporation. Construction went rather slowly. By 1925, the company had managed only to construct one pier. In October of 1926, Wauna Toll Bridge Company then purchased Interstate Construction Corporation's interest in the bridge at a cost of $602,077 and was tasked to complete the bridge's construction. In 1953, the Columbia River Bridge Company acquired the Bridge of the Gods and after 8 years of discussion, the Port of Cascade Locks Commission purchased the bridge with $950,000 in revenue bonds, which were issued on November 1, 1961. Revenue from the bridge pays for maintenance, painting, inspections and port operations. Annual traffic crossings average about 1.6 million vehicles and the annual value of goods that cross the bridge is approximately $35 million per year.

The Bridge of the Gods derives its name from a much larger Bridge of the Gods that covered a part of the Columbia River with estimates ranging from a few hundred years ago to almost a thousand years ago. The earlier land bridge was a blockage that caused by the Bonneville Landslide, which headed on the southern escarpment of the 3,417 foot high Table Mountain on the Washington State side of the river and cascaded downward towards the Columbia River, burying the valley with more than five square miles of debris up to 400 feet thick. After blockage by the Bonneville Landslide, the Columbia River formed a great lake behind the debris dam, perhaps 300 feet deep and extending as far as Wallula Gap, about 170 miles upstream. The Columbia River eventually topped over the southern edge of the landslide, forming the Cascade Rapids, also known as the Cascades of the Columbia. It was a set of rocky rapids which descended more than 22 feet over about 600 yards and then another 30 feet over the next 8 miles. The rapids are the remnant debris of the landslide dam. The rapids were first mapped by Lewis and Clark during their expedition and it is said that the name of the mountain range Cascades comes from this natural dam caused by the Bonneville Landslide. The 1896 completion of Cascade Locks and Canal finally permitted uninterrupted navigation along the Columbia River between The Dalles and the Pacific Coast. The constricted river valley at the downstream end of the landslide provided an obvious location for the construction of Bonneville Dam, and at the upstream end of the landslide, for the modern day version of the Bridge of the Gods.

The Bonneville Landslide almost certainly gave rise to the Klickitat legend of the Bridge of the Gods as well. Oral tradition of the Klickitat people tells how people "could cross the river without getting their feet wet." The legend also speaks of the creation and destruction of this natural bridge. The people of the Columbia River had great difficulty crossing the Columbia River. Manito, the Great Spirit, was sympathetic and built a land bridge for them. This land bridge was cast into the river when Tyhee Sahale, the Supreme Being, became angry with his two sons Wy'East and Pahto (also known as Klickitat), who had quarreled over the beautiful Loowit, the guardian of a sacred flame on the land bridge. The two sons and the girl, crushed in the destruction of the bridge, whose debris created the Cascades, were resurrected as Mount Hood (Wy'East), Mount Adams (Pahto), and Mount St. Helens (Loowit). This legend is described by Frederic Homer Balch in his 1890 romance novel, The Bridge of the Gods: A Romance of Indian Oregon.

I checked out the Bridge of the Gods on a few occasions. There is an overlook on the Washington State side of the bridge and the Cascade Locks Marine Park on the Oregon side of the bridge where you can check out the bridge and get photos. With the Columbia River now dammed just downstream of this area, one can take a boat ride underneath the Bridge of the Gods if they so choose. On the Oregon side of the river, you can also see some scarring of the forest due to the Eagle Creek Fire in 2017. The Bridge of the Gods is a reminder of the incredible forces of nature and humankind's ways to harness nature. Here are photos from my visits to the Bridge of the Gods.


Starting off from the Cascade Locks Marine Park in Cascade Locks, Oregon. This park provides a number of angles and locations where someone can see the bridge and take photos.

If you are interested in canal and lock infrastructure, this is a good place to see it.





Entrance way to the Bridge of the Gods as seen from WA 14.

There is a scenic overlook for the Bridge of the Gods from the Washington State side of the bridge, just east of the bridge entrance.



How to Get There:


Sources and Links:
Don Coe Carto - Bonneville Landslide - Bridge of the Gods
Cascade Locks - Bridge of the Gods
Bridgehunter.com - Bridge of the Gods
Corbett Oregon - Bridge of the Gods
Oregon Encyclopedia - Bridge of the Gods
The Columbia River "A Photographic Journey" - Bridge of the Gods
Port of Cascade Locks - Bridge of the Gods
The Central Cascades Geotourism Project of Oregon & Washington - Bridge of the Gods

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