The Panama Canal Review - December 1963
The men who trod the old
Panama-Portobelo gold trail knew about El Puente or El Puente Natural, Panama's Natural
Bridge over the Rio Puente. But few today, outside of geologists and Boy Scouts,
ever hike down an old logging road in the vicinity of the Panama town of Calzada Larga
which leads to Panama's Natural Bridge, larger and wider than its namesake in Virginia
that attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Robert H. Steward, chief geologist of the Panama Canal Engineering Division, estimates that Panama's Natural Bridge is about 42 to 45 million years old. The bridge is the remains of an old limestone cave whose roof, along with the rest of the cave, collapsed, causing the stream to flow in a canyon exactly in the same manner as at the Natural Bridge of Virginia.
The limestone is identified as of the Eocene age. Back in the beginnings of history this was a living coral reef in a shallow sea, similar to the coral reefs of the San Blas Islands today. Backing up this theory is an abundance of fossil coral and shells embedded in the rock.
The bridge originally was over the Rio Puente, but with formation of man-made Madden Lake following completion of Madden Dam, the natural Bridge now crosses an arm of the lake which is part of Madden Lake when the lake is full.
The Natural Bridge itself is about 250 feet wide, with the stream flowing in a slight curve beneath it. Beautiful stalactites and stalagmites are in the cave. On one side is a sort of dome-like flow stone, deposited by flowing ground water. When the lake is high, the top of the bridge is between 40 and 50 feet from the waterline.
Panama's Natural Bridge has been used as a point of interest by Boy Scouts in past years and is a favorite objective for hikes and campouts.
Long before the Boy Scouts started coming, the bridge was used as a shelter by Indians, and Pre-Colombian artifacts have been found beneath it. Pre-Colombian cookouts quite possibly were held here, too, for pots and an old stone grindstone have been uncovered.
How does one reach the Natural Bridge of Panama? Drive to the Panama town of Buenos Aires, turn east and go approximately 6 miles. This route is about a half mile east of the town of Calzada Larga, where an old logging road branches off a right angle turn on the road to the air strip. Park the car and trudge about a mile on an old logging road. The vigorous effort is worthwhile if one likes stalactites, stalagmites, and the thrill of walking over a branch of an historical gold prospectors' trail.
October 28, 1998