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Chasm (Neahkahnie Mountain) Bridge

Hidden Treasure

According to legend there’s buried treasure on Neahkahnie Mountain but, as far as we know, no one has found it. Yet anyone can discover the hidden highway treasure Chasm Bridge just by looking. Perched atop a ledge chiseled out of solid rock, this faux-arched bridge is an integral part of the highway that traverses the mountain’s steep ocean face nine hundred feet above the surf. This spectacular “high-wire” highway construction project around Neahkahnie Mountain displays another prime example of the remarkable engineering feats performed by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression of the 1930s. This bridge and roadway, completed in 1937, spanned the last major headland to be crossed by the Oregon Coast Highway.

WPA workers face the Chasm Bridge arch wtih stone masonry in 1937.

WPA workers face the Chasm Bridge arch wtih stone masonry in 1937.

The WPA stonework on the Chasm Bridge gives the box girder construction the appearance of an arch.

The WPA stonework on the Chasm Bridge gives the box girder construction the appearance of an arch.

Using hand-cut stonework to help support the highway and provide roadside railings on the ocean side, this unique stretch of US 101 demonstrates the high quality of WPA work. Running for nearly three-quarters of a mile, only the stonework railings are visible as one travels through the cut. The stonework continues below the highway, facing the ocean-side walls of the bridge and several half viaducts below the roadway, including the simple concrete girders that support the bridge, which gives it the appearance of an arched stone structure.

Historic plaque commemorating Oregon Governor Oswald West.

Historic plaque commemorating Oregon Governor Oswald West.

To see this unusual bridge, one must park in the popular roadside turnout and walk south beyond the large solitary stone pinnacle that sits on the outer edge of the roadway at Milepost 40. By leaning over the rock railing, one can just see the bridge’s outer arch. The cliffs here are steep and dangerous, requiring great caution. The turnout provides a spectacular view of the village of Manzanita and the broad stretch of beach running south to Nehalem Bay.

On the southern side of the parking area created by the stone wall that encircles the overlook sits a simple stone monument affixed with a bronze plaque bearing the following inscription:

IF SIGHT OF SAND AND SKY AND SEA
HAS GIVEN RESPITE FROM YOUR DAILY CARES
THEN PAUSE TO THANK
OSWALD WEST
FORMER GOVERNOR OF OREGON (1911-1915)

BY HIS FORESIGHT
NEARLY 400 MILES OF THE OCEAN SHORE
WASSET ASIDE FOR PUBLIC USE
FROM THE COLUMBIA RIVER ON THE NORTH
TO THE CALIFORNIA BORDER TO THE SOUTH

THIS MARKER IS ERECTED AND DEDICATED
THE GRATEFUL CITIZENS OF OREGON
TO COMMEMORATE
THIS OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT

Over the years, Chasm Bridge and the adjacent roadway have suffered frequent rock slides. In May and November of 1994, slides closed Neahkahnie Mountain to travel for several months. A 15-ton boulder nearly the size of a Volkswagen bug became the most spectacular piece of debris that cascaded down onto the roadway. After extensive work to re-sculpt the highway cut along the steep, rock-faced mountainside and make some road repairs, the highway has been largely trouble free.

Neahkahnie Mountain, known by the Tillamook Indians as the “home of the gods,” became a landmark for early European mariners seeking the Northwest Passage and other discoveries. It remains today a spiritual place of legend, romance, intrigue, and treasure, in part because of these early European mariners whose mysterious leavings, such as bundles of beeswax and stones with undecipherable markings found throughout the area, have only added to Neahkahnie’s allure.

To the casual observer, Chasm Bridge remains virtually hidden as from this on-deck view, traveling south, the town of Manzanita in the far distance.

To the casual observer, Chasm Bridge remains virtually hidden as from this on-deck view, traveling south, the town of Manzanita in the far distance.