The famous rainbow bridge located in Donner Summit has been featured in many commercials and photographs. It is a staple that everyone comes to see when visiting Truckee since it was built in 1925.
“An incredible bridge with amazing views of the Sierra Mountain range and of Donner Lake. There is a formal parking lot area next to the bridge allowing for easy access to the bridge and a great place to enjoy the view and scenery.”
Design and Construction an Engineering Feat
Rainbow Bridge is unique because of its engineering. It’s built on a compound curve with a grade that had never been done before. For engineers, the final construction report of 1925 says, “The alignment consists of a series of compound curves; there being a 360-foot radius curve over the arch and a 145-foot radius over each approaching span.” Its arch is 110 feet long with a depth of 70 feet. The road is 241 feet long and 24 feet wide. The bridge and final parts of the highway were finished in 1923 for $450,000. The bridge itself was estimated at the onset at $26,000. The final bridge cost was $37,304.32 partly due to design changes and additions.
A plaque was made to signify the historical significance of the bridge but was later stolen. A duplicate plaque was made and is the one that is on the bridge today. The Truckee-Donner Historical Society ended up with the recovered original and generously loaned it to the Donner Summit Historical Society for display. It now hands inside the front door at the Donner Summit Historical Society Museum.
Beyond the bridge, Donner Summit itself is the most important historical square mile in California and maybe the entire Western U.S. Native Americans summered on Donner Summit for thousands of years before the arrival of European Americans. They left behind petroglyphs (see the Donner Summit Historical Society petroglyph page), mortars, and projectile points. The first wagon train to reach California with wagons crossed Donner Summit followed by hundreds more. Donner Summit is the site of the first transcontinental railroad, the first transcontinental highway (the Lincoln Highway), the first transcontinental air route, and the first transcontinental telephone line. It has been a hive of activities including many different industries: agriculture, sawmills, forestry, mink farming, ice harvesting (See the Ice in Ice Lake), dairy cattle, railroading, highway maintenance, tourism, and the ski industry. The rescued members of the Donner Party, their rescuers, and the Forlorn Hope, the first group to escape Donner Lake, all crossed Donner Summit. (Source) You can imagine what the construction of the Rainbow Bridge did to increase mobility in the area.
Rainbow Bridge Increased Mobility
Rainbow Bridge eliminated the terrors of the Donner grade and was a great improvement that extended the travel season. Rainbow Bridge allowed the road to Donner to remain open several more weeks each year. This allowed the transport of goods and vacationers to pass more easily between Soda Springs, Donner Lake, and Truckee.
Bill Oudegeest and Judy DePuySpecial to the Sierra Sun. “History: Rainbow Bridge: Beauty in the Mountains.” SierraSun.com, SierraSun.com, 24 Nov. 2021, https://www.sierrasun.com/news/history-rainbow-bridge-beauty-in-the-mountains/.
Donner Summit Historical Society, http://donnersummithistoricalsociety.org/.
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