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BRIDGE of the GODS Magazine


Jul 15, 2020 11:12AM ● By Katie Cordrey
Rosy-tinged clouds float above the steel Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks

Bridge of the Gods © Gary Munkhoff

Bridge of the Gods

Perhaps the most famous of the Gorge bridges, the Bridge of the Gods, has three histories. One is of the modern structure. One is geological. The third comes through time as Native American lore.

The steel bridge spans just under four-tenths of a mile from Cascade Locks, Oregon, to the Washington shore. In 1940, the original owners, the Wauna Toll Bridge Company, raised and lengthened the bridge to accommodate the higher water levels created by the Bonneville Dam. The modern bridge is the namesake of an ancient geological feature, also called "Bridge of the Gods."

Recent science estimates that in the mid-fifteenth century, debris from a landslide filled the Columbia Gorge near Cascade Locks and blocked the waterway. The natural dam was about two-hundred feet tall and nearly three and one-half miles long. Eventually, the river broke through the obstruction and left the Cascade Rapids behind. In 1938, Bonneville Dam construction submerged the rapids, erasing the final remnants of the landslide that created the Bridge of the Gods.

Native American lore explains geological events in supernatural terms. There are several versions of the story, but the Klickitat tribe tells that the Great Spirit had two sons. Pahto was to the north of the river. Wy' east was to the south. The Bridge of the Gods was a way for the family to meet, but the brothers both loved a beautiful woman named Loowit. They began to war. They gathered balls of fire and stones from the earth and threw them at one another. The fighting was so powerful that it burned the trees and shook the ground. The bridge fell into the river.

To punish his sons, the Great Spirit turned them into mountains. Pahto became Mount Adams. Wy' east became Mount Hood. Loowit, who was unable to choose between the brothers, became the most beautiful mountain of them all, Mount Saint Helens.

CONSTRUCTION TYPE: Cantilevered through truss
LENGTH: 1858 ft. (originally 1127 ft.)
WIDTH: Two 11-ft. lanes
TOLL: $2
ANNUAL CROSSINGS: Approximately 1.6 million
UPSTREAM: The Hood River Bridge
DOWNSTREAM: The Bonneville Dam
  • 1927 - September, Charles Lindbergh flew the "Spirit of St. Louis" over, then under the bridge.
  • 1940 The bridge was raised and lengthened.
  • 2014 Appeared in the movie, "Wild."
  • Part of the Pacific Crest Trail - lowest trail elevation.

Hood River Bridge © Ken Reaves, Oregon DOT - Flickr' oregondot'

Hood River - White Salmon Interstate Bridge

The Hood River Bridge spans nearly a mile across the Columbia River and connects Hood River on the south shore to White Salmon/Bingen on the north.

When the bridge opened in 1924, its state-of-the-art design was ample for Model-Ts and horse-drawn carriages, but its lanes are narrow by today's standards. Because of its width, some refer to it as the "white knuckle bridge." For safety's sake, pedestrians and bicycles aren't allowed. There are height and width restrictions too.

Shortly after the Port purchased the bridge in 1950, it replaced the old wooden decking system with steel beams and grating. The steel grating created a 'singing' bridge and was later swapped for a less melodic metal grating.

Though the bridge is nearly a hundred years old, it receives constant structural attention. In 1996, the Port completed a seismic retrofit and completed a second redecking project in 2005. Safety and bridge-life-extending improvements are ongoing.

Plans to replace the bridge started in the 1990s. An environmental review is underway, scheduled for completion in 2020. Construction funding will require inter-governmental cooperation as the price tag is expected to approach $300-million

CONSTRUCTION TYPE: Pratt deck truss with a vertical lift span
LENGTH: 4,418 ft.
WIDTH: Two 9' -4.75" lanes
TOLL: $2
ANNUAL CROSSINGS: Approximately 4 million
UPSTREAM: The Dalles Bridge
DOWNSTREAM: The Bridge of the Gods
1924 Toll rates included . . .
  • Persons 7+ years of age 10¢
  • Drove of animals 10 or fewer 10¢ each
  • Animal-drawn vehicle 1-2 animals 75¢
  • Bicycle 20¢
  • Motorcycle 50¢
  • Auto 75¢
(The average hourly wage in 1924 was 48¢)
  • 1938 The bridge was rebuilt. The fixed channel span was changed to a lift span when the Bonneville Dam caused water levels to rise.
  • 1950 The Port of Hood River purchased the bridge from the Oregon-Washington Bridge Company. No other state, port, city, or county was interested.
  • 1951 The bridge was modified and improved. A toll booth was added on the Oregon side.
  • 2007 BreezeBy Electronic Tolling was added.

The Dalles Bridge © C Hanchey - Flickr' cmhpictures'

The Dalles Bridge

The Dalles Bridge on U.S. Highway 197 crosses the Columbia River between The Dalles, Oregon, and Dallesport. Washington. A ferry served the crossing point beginning in 1854. It took nearly a hundred years for plans to build the bridge to be realized.

Original construction began near Covington Point in 1951. The Corps of Engineers proposed changing the northern approach to sit on top of a yet-to-be- constructed dam spillway, but abandoned the proposal because of structural concerns. They required the relocation of the entire bridge.

Builders restarted construction about a mile downstream after receiving compensation for the partially completed structure. A Korea War-related steel shortage forced builders to adapt the old bridge parts to the new site, but the new site required a longer bridge. A country-wide quest turned up enough additional materials to complete the job.

The hundred-year-old ferry formally discontinued service during a ribbon-cutting ceremony that opened the bridge. After the ribbon-cutting, the Oregon and Washington governors lead a parade of eager onlookers across the bridge to the north end to watch the first concrete pour of The Dalles Powerhouse Dam.

CONSTRUCTION TYPE: Steel cantilever Warren through truss
LENGTH: 3,339 ft.
WIDTH: Two 12-ft lanes
ANNUAL CROSSINGS: Approximately 3 million UPSTREAM: The Dalles Dam 
DOWNSTREAM: The Hood River Bridge
  • 1855 Plans for a bridge to replace the ferry service begun in 1854
  • 1856 U.S. Congress authorizes construction.
  • 1880 Financing fails.
  • 1921 Legal challenges from the ferry operator stop private bridge development.
  • 1936 - 1938 Private & city financing fails.
  • 1941 Legislation authorizes State Highway Commission to build Interstate bridges.
  • 1944 Plans are delayed because of WWII.
  • 1948 Design begins.
  • 1949 Legislation authorizes counties to issue bonds to construct interstate bridges. 
  • 1950 Wasco County buys the ferry operation.
  • 1951 Construction begins.
  • 1952 29% complete, the project is abandoned and restarted further away from the proposed dam 
  • 1953 Ferry service discontinued, toll bridge opens 
  • 1974 Toll removed.

Oregon Trunk Rail Bridge © Adam Foster - Flickr ‘twosevenoneonenineeightthreesevenatenzerosix’

Oregon Trunk Rail Bridge

The Oregon Trunk Rail Bridge or Celilo Bridge is a single track bridge operated by the BNSF Railway and is part of the Wishram, Washington, to Bend, Oregon line. A line from Bend meets the BNSF Portland to Pasco mainline on the north end. The south end of the line interchanges with the Union Pacific mainline. Much of the traffic crosses at night, leaving the days more open for maintenance.

BNSF train travels tracks along the Columbia River

 The concrete and granite bridge piers were built on rocks in the autumn of 1910 when water levels were low. It was the only way to deal with the rapids in that section of the Columbia. The rapids disappeared along with the magnificent Celilo Falls once The Dalles Dam was in place. The rail bridge that had once stood fifty feet above the water had to be raised to ensure that water would not flood the deck.

While the main bridge structure is 2396 feet long, the length increases to different measurements depending upon which north end branch is used. A swing span, south of the lift span, has been permanently locked in place since the lift span was installed in 1957.

CONSTRUCTION TYPE: Pratt truss with swing span (inoperable) and vertical-lift span
LENGTH: 2396+ ft.
WIDTH: Single rail lane
UPSTREAM: Sam Hill Memorial Bridge
DOWNSTREAM: The Dalles Dam
  • 1906 The Oregon Trunk Line being developed in Central Oregon.
  • 1908 Oregon Trunk Line merged into Spokane, Portland & Seattle. (SP&S)
  • 1911 Oregon Trunk Rail Bridge construction begins.
  • 1912 The bridge is complete.
  • 1956 Bridge raised because The Dalles Dam increased water levels.
  • 1957 Vertical lift section added.

The Dalles Bridge © C Hanchey - Flickr

 Sam Hill Memorial Bridge

Also called the Biggs Rapids Bridge, the Sam Hill Memorial Bridge on U.S. Highway 97 crosses the Columbia River between Biggs Junction, Oregon, and Maryhill, Washington. It was named in honor of the early bridge proponent and builder of the nearby Maryhill Museum, Sam Hill.

The governors of Oregon and Washington cut the ribbon and dedicated the bridge on November 1, 1962. They lunched at Maryhill Museum afterward.

Biggs-Maryhill Ferry - PPenny Postcard ca.1955. Color Photo by George Lindsay. Published by Weisters Color Sales, Inc., Portland, Oregon. Card #K-1746. Image courtesy of Lyn Topinka collection and

 The bridge replaced the Biggs-Maryhill ferry service first established in 1868. A Bingen newsPennyPostcardspaper, the "Mt Adams Sun," published the following account on November 15, 1962:

"... The Maryhill Ferry which has crisscrossed the Columbia for 94 years ended its last run at 7:59 a.m. Thursday, November 1. Nine ferrymen lost their jobs to make way for the new $2.4 million Sam Hill Memorial Bridge which opened to traffic at high noon. ... Bridges have replaced all but four ferries across the Columbia. The ones still operating are at Megler, Cathlamet, Roosevelt, and Verneta, all in Washington. ..."

CONSTRUCTION TYPE: Polygonal Warren through truss
LENGTH: 2567.1 ft.
WIDTH: Two 13-ft lanes
ANNUAL CROSSINGS: Approximately 2 million
UPSTREAM: John Day Dam
DOWNSTREAM: Oregon Trunk Rail Bridge
  • 1960 Construction begins.
  • 1962 The bridge opens.
  • 1975 Tolls were removed.
  • 2007-2009 The bridge deck was replaced with concrete and other improvements were made.

The Dalles Oregon - Bridge - Columbia River Dam