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BRIDGE of the GODS Magazine

Bridge of the Gods from Legend to Present

Apr 19, 2021 09:00AM ● By Port of Cascade Locks
Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River

Bridge of the Gods cc S McDevitt

The Bridge of the Gods was named by the native people to describe an ancient land bridge created by a series of landslides, or in their view, the gods.  


Long before recorded history began, Indian legend says the Great Spirit built a bridge of stone that was a gift of great magnitude. Scientists say that about 1,000 years ago, the mountain on the Washington side of the Columbia River near what is now the town of Cascade Locks caved off, blocking the river. The natural dam was high enough to cause a great inland sea covering the inland prairies as far away as Idaho. For many years, natural erosion slowly weakened the dam and finally washed it out. The inland sea waters rushed out, tearing away more of the earth and rocks until a wear tunnel was formed under the mountain range, leaving a natural bridge over the water. The bridge was called "The Great Cross Over" and is now named "The Bridge of the Gods."

Manito, the Great Spirit, placed Loo-Wit, the wise old woman, on the bridge as its guardian and sent to earth the great snow mountains, which were actually his sons: Multnomah, the warrior; Klickitat (Mt.Adams), the totem-maker; and Wyeast (Mt. Hood), the singer. All was peace and happiness until beautiful Squaw Mountain moved into a small valley between Klickitat and Wyeast. This was the Evil One's opportunity, for a rivalry soon sprung up between the brothers for the affections of Squaw Mountain.

Though beautiful Squaw Mountain grew to love Wyeast, she thought it great fun to flirt with his big, good-natured brother, Klickitat, and soon the brothers began quarreling. At first, they argued, growled, and grumbled at each other. They stomped their feet and spat ashes and fire in the air and belched forth great clouds of black smoke so that the sun was hidden. Each hurled white-hot rocks setting fire to the forests and driving the people into hiding.

Finally, they threw so many stones onto the Bridge of the Gods and shook the earth so hard that the bridge broke in the middle and fell into the river.

Upon hearing of this, the Great Spirit was angry, and he, too, shook the earth's foundations. Klickitat, who was the largest of the two mountains, won the fight, and Wyeast admitted defeat, relinquishing all claim to beautiful Squaw Mountain. Loving Wyeast as she did, this was a severe blow to Squaw Mountain. Though she dutifully

went over and took her place by the side of Klickitat, her heart was broken. In a short time, she fell at Klickitat's feet and sank into a deep sleep from which she has never awakened. She is now known as the Sleeping Beauty and lies where she fell, just west of Mt Adams.

At this time, Klickitat had a high, straight head, like Wyeast, but he truly loved Squaw Mountain and her fate caused him such grief that he finally dropped his head in shame and has never raised it since. 

During the war between Wyeast and Klickitat, Loo-Witt, the guardian of the bridge, who was a very old and homely woman, tried to stop the fight. When she failed, she stayed at her post and did her best to save the bridge from destruction, although she was severely burned and battered by the hot rocks.

When the bridge fell; she fell with it. But the Great Spirit heard of her faithfulness and promised to grant her a wish. She asked to be made young and beautiful once more. So, she took her place among the great snow mountains, but being old in spirit, she did not desire companionship and so withdrew from the primary mountain range to settle by herself far to the west.

Today you will find her as Mt St. Helens, the youngest mountain in the Cascades.

Bridge of the Gods historical marker photo by Cosmos Mariner


The Bridge of the Gods as it exists today was created in a much less glamorous fashion than the earlier one. It was built by man, by hand, and with some difficulty.

In 1920 the U.S. War Department issued a construction permit for the bridge to the Interstate Construction Corporation. In the five years that followed, this company only acquired the right-of-way and constructed one pier.

Wauna Toll Bridge Company then purchased Interstate's interest in the bridge and completed the remainder of construction in October of 1926 at the cost of $602,077.58. The finished structure consisted of a cantilever main span of 707'-9" with 211 '-8" anchor arms and a wooden deck. The total cantilever structure length is 1,131 feet; the overall bridge length is 1,858 feet, and the width is 35 feet.

The Bridge had to be raised to accommodate the rise in backwater from Bonneville Dam's construction in 1938. The Bridge was raised 44 feet from its existing 91 feet to 13.5 feet above the Bonneville pool. The Federal Congress allotted project funds. The $762,276 project was complete in 1940.

In February of 1953, the Columbia River Bridge Company acquired and operated the bridge. During this time, the company attempted numerous times to sell the bridge to other private corporations and public agencies on both sides of the Columbia. As one of the agencies contacted for purchase of the bridge, the Port of Cascade Locks Commission discussed the acquisition for eight years, and only after a thorough review of the economic impact of the purchase was the decision made to acquire the bridge in 1961.

Revenue bonds issued on November 1, 1961, funded the bridge acquisition. In April 1966, the Commission authorized a second $300,000 revenue bond issue for re-decking, painting, and constructing a new toll canopy.

The bridge was closed only at night to facilitate re-decking to the present steel deck. The night shift removed a section of the old wood deck, cleaned and prepared the steel for laying the grating. Workers laid grating in panels across the entire roadway and tack welded in place. At the end of the shift, compromise plates were laid between the adjoining wood deck and the grating to permit traffic to operate on a one-way basis during the day. Final welding of the grating took place during the day. The entire grating was laid in 12 days.

The Bridge of the Gods is the third oldest bridge on the Columbia River. It plays a significant role in the Pacific Crest Trail by linking Oregon and Washington states. Revenues from the bridge pay for maintenance, painting, inspections, and economic development projects within the Port District.

The modern bridge tollhouse is open 24 hours a day for toll collection.

Today, the Bridge of the Gods is open 24 hours a day for traffic and is an integral part of the transportation system of the Columbia River Gorge. Local residents use the bridge to go to and from work. It also serves the overland distribution industry as a preferred route by freight trucks. The Bridge of the Gods is part of the Pacific Crest Trail, a National Scenic Trail that spans the West Coast from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. As such, traffic across the bridge includes pedestrians, bicyclists, and even equestrian travelers. With the rising popularity of the trail and the scenic views presented from the bridge's perspective, the Port of Cascade Locks, in partnership with the Pacific Crest Trail Association, is advocating for a pedestrian/cyclist/equestrian cantilever lane to attach to the bridge to allow for a safer crossing experience for all. The proposal has had much support from local and federal legislators. Currently, the key next steps forward would be an amendment to include a waiver to a federal regulation that controls the methods in with toll revenue is spent.


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