Ancient legend lends mystique to Gorge’s Bridge of the Gods
It’s a narrow, old steel bridge across the Columbia River these days, but name comes from grand Native American lore.
CASCADE LOCKS, Ore. — Such a grandiose name for a bridge. But the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River between Cascade Locks and Stevenson, Wash., has a more colorful history than most similar structures.
The enormous Bonneville landslide nearly 1,000 years ago dammed the river, which eventually broke through the dam to create a land bridge. Native Americans used this natural bridge until it fell around the time of the great Cascadia earthquake of 1700, forming the Cascade Rapids in the river near Cascade Locks.
Tribal lore associates this series of events with the creation of the Cascade Range volcanoes. As the Klickitat tribe tells it, the Great Spirit had two warring sons, Pahto to the north of the river and Wy’east to the south. The Bridge of the Gods was created as a way for the family to meet, but the brothers fought over a beautiful woman named Loowit. Their anger shook the earth with fire. The bridge fell into the river.
Loowit could not choose between the brothers, and some say she perished in the fighting. For punishment, the Great Spirit turned his sons into mountains — Pahto into Mount Adams and Wy’east into Mount Hood. Loowit became beautiful Mount St. Helens.
The modern-day Bridge of the Gods, a steel structure, is the path the Pacific Crest Trail takes between Oregon and Washington as it dips down from the mountains through the Columbia River Gorge.
“The toll is free for hikers on the PCT,” said Denise Melton, who takes the tolls of drivers and pedestrians who cross the bridge. “Which is good, because if they’re hiking the whole trail they’re probably exhausted and broke.”
The Pacific Crest Trail stretches over the spine of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada Ranges from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, and was recently made famous by Oregon author Cheryl Strayed in her memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”
Emily and Travis Motter of Portland recently carried young Madeline and 5-month-old Jack on their backs as they unpacked their hiking gear at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead.
“Jack has been to Forest Park, but this is his first hike in the Gorge,” Emily Motter said, as the family started southward on the trail, through the autumn rain, under the trees, up the foothills, away from the bridge.