Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Oneonta Creek Bridge

Oneonta Creek Bridge

Here are a few photos of the historic Oneonta Creek Bridge, which once carried the old Columbia River Highway across the creek of the same name. This bridge was abandoned in place when the Oneonta Tunnel closed circa 1954, and it was used for Oneonta Gorge parking for many years. Parking moved to the far side of the tunnel after it reopened in 2009. It's one of several Karl P. Billner bridges along the road, and like many of the others it uses the "concrete arch & cap" style, one of a handful of design motifs used repeatedly along the old highway, as described in a post on WyEast Blog. The Library of Congress has some vintage photos of the bridge from a variety of angles if you want a better look at it from below, not that it's that spectacular from that angle. It's not one of the major bridges along the highway, but it's a reasonably attractive minor one, and it was designed by the guy who also created many of the highway's more famous and distinctive bridges. So I figured this one merited a blog post of its own too. We'll be hearing more about Mr. Billner in the future when we visit some of his better known designs.

I should point out that right next to the historic bridge is the current Gorge Highway bridge, which isn't exactly brand new either. It probably dates to when the highway was rerouted around the old tunnel, so it's roughly 60 years old at this point, versus a mere 40 year age difference between it and its predecessor. But the newer bridge is not part of the original highway, so nobody pays a lot of attention to it; a lot of bridge websites and so forth refer to the older bridge as "the" Oneonta Creek Bridge even though there's another one right next to it, plus additional bridges for the Union Pacific railroad and Interstate 84 a short walk downstream.

The observant reader might notice I've done posts about the tunnel and the bridge here, but not any about Oneonta Gorge itself, much less the hidden waterfall at the far end of the gorge. It's on my to-do list, it really is; it's just that a trip up Oneonta Gorge requires a bit of wading, which works a lot better in warm weather, and I haven't quite decided which electronics I'm willing to risk getting wet. There's a similar wading situation for Gorton Creek Falls further east in the Columbia Gorge; I've never actually been there, so that's higher up my priority list than Oneonta Gorge, but I plan on getting around to both sooner or later.

Oneonta Creek Bridge

Long before the bridge or the highway went in, Oneonta Gorge was inconvenient to visit. In an 1886 account of a trek to Oneonta Gorge, our heroes convinced the railroad to stop and let them off nearby. They waded up the gorge and were disappointed to realize the hike to the falls was rather shorter than they'd been told. So they switched to fishing for a while, and were surprised (and annoyed) to stumble across other visitors to the gorge. This is an eternal problem in the Columbia Gorge, even when you think you've found an out-of-the-way, obscure corner to have all to yourself for a while.

Oneonta Creek Bridge

Which brings me to a little adventure that isn't really on my todo list to repeat anytime soon. Some years ago it occurred to me that it was strange how little access to the Columbia River there is through this part of the Columbia Gorge. I-84 and the railroad are effectively a wall between all the popular tourist stops and the river. Oneonta Creek passes under I-84 in a big pipe, a culvert really, but one big enough for an adult person to clamber through without crawling or anything. Or at least that was possible circa 1994; I haven't checked since then. In any case, that's what I did, and found there was a big empty sandy beach along the river on the other side. Well, almost empty. I walked downstream along the beach for maybe a mile or so, and ran across a group of people with a little campfire on the beach. I think they might have just pulled off on the freeway shoulder and hopped over the barrier; I'm not sure where they came from, and I'm sure they wondered the same thing about me. Wary nods of acknowledgement were exchanged but I didn't stop and say hi or anything.

Further along, at Multnomah Falls, the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-84 diverge for a bit, and the main falls parking lot sits between them. I'd figured this was a good place to cut inland since you only had to get across the westbound side of I-84, and there was a perfectly nice tunnel under the eastbound lanes so visitors could get to get to the falls. The me of 2014 absolutely does not recommend doing this, but it's what 1994 me did. And then from Multnomah Falls I just walked along the Gorge Highway to get back to my car at the Oneonta Gorge parking lot. I don't recommend doing this either; there's little or no shoulder along much of the road, and passing cars and RVs to worry about. Plus the walk along the road just seemed a lot further than walking along the beach. At one point I did score a discarded cassette tape of mariachi music, which I probably still have around somewhere. All in all I wouldn't recommend it though, even with the random roadside finds. If for some reason you do decide to brave the pipe under I-84, and I'm not saying you should, and I don't know whether you even still can, but if you do, you should probably go back the same way you came and not try to make a big dumb loop out of it like I did.

Oneonta Tunnel

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