Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bridal Veil Creek Bridge

The bridges along the old Columbia River Highway in the Gorge are a mixed bag. Some are showpieces of early 20th Century civil engineering and design, others you barely notice. The Bridal Veil Creek Bridge is one of the more minor entries, one I hadn't paid any attention to before I decided Gorge bridges were a new blog project. It's not very big, for one thing. It crosses Bridal Veil Creek immediately above the falls, like the bridge on Ruckel Creek, so it doesn't have a large chasm to span like the Shepperds Dell and Latourell Creek bridges. Like most of the bridges along the Multnomah County segment of the highway, it's a Karl Billner design, and the diagonal concrete braces are sort of reminiscent of his much larger design at Latourell Creek, if you squint. So it's got that going for it, though I'm not sure I'd have clued in on the resemblance if I didn't already know the same person designed them. A 1915 article by Billner about various bridges he'd designed throughout the Gorge mostly focuses on the Latourell Creek Bridge, but mentions the one here in passing; it seems the Bridal Veil bridge needed to clear 3 log flumes as well as the creek, which contributed to it having a different and more utilitarian design.

Unlike many of the old highway's bridges, this one was built without sidewalks for some reason, so I haven't walked across it. It also has a very low railing, and the falls drop away immediately to one side of the bridge, so it would be really easy for rubbernecking tourists or overeager photographers to slip and take the 2 second grand tour. (I learned this phrase at the Grand Canyon, where a ranger called it the twelve second grand tour.) So there's at least one sign sternly warning pedestrians away from the bridge and the area around it.

The important point about all that is that I had a tough time getting a decent photo of the bridge, since the usual "on" and "next to" shots were out of the question, or at least forbidden by fierce official signs and what little common sense I have. The Library of Congress has a couple of historic photos of the bridge from various angles. Those and one of the Bridgehunter photos indicate there's a spot just below the bridge that gives a better look at it than you get at the base of the falls (which is where I took the photos here). I'm not sure how you'd get there, and you'd probably be standing with your back to a steep cliff right behind you. I know I've already taken this bridge project a bit far, but I'm not quite that dedicated. I could be wrong about that, maybe there's a secret safe spot for taking bridge photos if you know where to find it. If such a spot exists, Google isn't saying.

The Oregonian database doesn't have much to say about this little bridge, which I guess is understandable. Multnomah County awarded a pair of bridge-building contracts in March 1914, almost exactly a century ago, with a requirement to have them all completed by August 1st. One of the two covered the Bridal Veil bridge, along with the highway bridge on Multnomah Creek and viaducts on either side of Multnomah Falls, for a total of $40,050, which is around $940,000 in today's money. So maybe $250,000 in contemporary dollars for this bridge. I'm no bridge engineer, but that at least sounds like the right order of magnitude if you were building an equivalent new bridge at the same spot today.

Somewhere upstream of the bridge is Upper Bridal Veil Falls, a large waterfall with no official trail to it for some reason. They can be reached with some difficulty now, and there's a proposal to build a 2.5 mile loop trail that takes in Middle Bridal Veil Falls as well. The proposed trail would head under the bridge and then upstream along the creek. If they build it someday -- and I'm speaking out of venal self-interest here -- I'd get at least two new waterfall blog posts out of it, and I could update this post with better photos. I'm not sure what's involved in prodding the Powers That Be into action, but I'd be happy to sign the petition, if there's a petition circulating out there somewhere.

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