About an hour north of Silver City, New Mexico, near the border of Arizona, and just a few minutes outside of Glendwood, New Mexico, you will find The Catwalk, a national recreational trail in the Gila Wilderness.
Once the reputed hide-out of such historical figures as Geronimo and Butch Cassidy, the Whitewater Canyon area was used in the early 1900’s by miners who built a long, winding pipeline through the canyon to carry water to the small mining town below. Workers had to enter the area by crawling along the pipeline suspended in the air, earning the name Catwalk.
By the 1930’s, the area was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corp in a recreation area complete with several picnic areas and pit toilets, both along the parking lot and near the picnic area. The creek nearby gives no hint of the rushing waterfalls and whitewater areas just a few minutes’ hike away.
The head of the Catwalk trail is dirt but very well maintained and offers and short handicap-accessible circular hike that takes visitors over the beginning of the suspended walkway.
While handrails along the securely bolted bridge provide safety for hikers, it is easy to
look through the metal walkway to the rushing water below and imagine miners crawling along the now decaying pipeline. Suspended from metal girders which span the small canyon in some places, visitors are literally suspended in the air midway between the tight canyon floor filled with rushing water and massive granite walls above.
In several places, the canyon opens up, allowing for the water below to spread out and slow down. With flash floods common during the monsoon season, locals point out places where it is safe to swim in the water out of the path of any impending water rushing in from upstream and where hikers need to take care or risk becoming not trapped or even swept downstream in a flash flood caused by a rainstorm often miles upstream.
Our party finds an ideal spot place along the path and hikes down a steep stairway to the waterhole below. Within minutes, the kids have shed their clothes down to their bathing suits and are frolicking under a small waterfall. A few climb around to the top of the waterfall, and soon a challenging game of catch ensues. Their laughter echoes through the canyon, and passersby smile as they hike high above on the metal Catwalk.
A couple passes by loaded with heavy overnight backpacks and sleeping bags, headed for the strenuous 8-mile trek above the developed Catwalk area for a night along the 10,000 foot ridge of the Mogollon Mountains.
The kids eventually tire of their game of catch and dry off, sitting on the large rocks in the river for a few minutes to warm up.
We continue to the end of the developed Catwalk, where a tight rock overhang opens up near a rushing waterfall. We have to yell to hear each other and after a few minutes of enjoying the pounding surge of the water, we turn back around, crossing the swinging suspended bridge one last time. The kids, knowing I am a bit fearful of heights, seem to take pleasure in my nervousness as they jump up and down to get the bridge swinging.
As clouds build in the distance, we can see the impending rain coming for several miles before it hits. We hurry to pack up our gear in the picnic area and head back down the gravel access road where several low spots show recent signs of washouts. When rain pounds through the canyon, much of the access road can become impassible due to high running water, and we don’t want to be stranded in the area once the rains come. It may have made a nice hideout for desperadoes on the run in a bygone era, but I am looking forward to a nice soft bed only an hour away.