Rainbow Bridge near Donner Pass

Concrete arch span of Donner Summit Bridge,
known as Rainbow Bridge

A scenic drive on Donner Pass Road (part of the Old Lincoln Highway, now Hwy 40) from Donner Lake up to Donner Pass will take you over the curved Donner Summit Bridge, known as Rainbow Bridge. There are various vista stops and access points to trails, granite cliffs and petroglyphs along this road. One vista point is just next to the narrow bridge, offering views of Truckee's Donner Lake and providing numbered Hwy 40 Scenic Bypass information panels, telling the history of California's Truckee-Donner area.

If you think, you have seen Rainbow Bridge with its famous concrete arch span before, you probably have: This bridge is not only featured on tourist pics, but occurs in print ads, on TV commercials and in movies like “True Lies.” In the summer of 2007 the bridge hit the headlines, when a bear crawled around its support structure and had to be rescued by stringing a net beneath the bridge span [1].

Rainbow Bridge: Narrow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge is a concrete structure. The concrete was made up from gravel and sand mined at Donner Lake. The construction of the bridge and final parts of the highway was completed in 1926 for $450,000 [2]. Donner Memorial Bridge, another name for this landmark, became the primary east-west artery for motorists traveling between San Francisco and Atlantic City [3].

Rainbow Bridge seen from Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

Rainbow Bridge seen from Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

According to information panel #28, it was the U.S. Forest Service that undertook to improve transportation up to Donner Pass. By the 1920's auto travel was increasing and lumber out of the Tahoe Basin needed a transit route, with grades lower than those of the existing roads. When the bridge with its remarkble compound curve was finished, lumber transport was improved and “the bridge brought more people to Donner Summit and Lake Tahoe.” Since the construction of Interstate 80 in 1964, the usual traffic between Truckee/Lake Tahoe and Sacramento flows via this multilane highway; but tourists and outdoor enthusiasts still enjoy taking the bypass road from Soda Springs to Donner Lake, which leisurely (of couse, weather depending) takes them over Donner Pass and Rainbow Bridge and connects them with Donner trailheads, skiing areas, rock climbing sites and historical places of interest.

References and more to explore

[1] Bear Drama at Donner Summit Bridge [brianbutko.wordpress.com/2007/10/31/bear-drama-at-donner-summit-bridge/].
[2] Rainbow Bridge. Donner Summit Historica Society Newsletter, December 2008, (4), 1-8.
PDF: www.donnersummithistoricalsociety.org/PDFs/newsletters/news08&09/december08.pdf.
[3] Sierra Nevada Geotourism MapGuide: Rainbow Bridge [www.sierranevadageotourism.org/content/rainbow-bridge/sieF37459FBB365A0054].

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