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On Walkabout At: The Catwalk Trail, New Mexico

Basic Trail Information

  • Name: Catwalk Trail
  • Where: Gila Mountains, New Mexico
  • Distance: 2.2 miles round-trip
  • Difficulty: easy to moderate (little gain in altitude)
  • Time: 1.5 hours round-trip
  • More Info: Gila National Forest Website

Google Terrain Map of the Trail:

Topo Map of Catwalk Trail

Narrative

After driving for about 3 hours from El Paso, Texas my wife pulled into the small village of Glenwood which is located on western foothills of New Mexico’s Gila Mountains:

Just outside of Glenwood is the trailhead for one of the best walks in all of the Gila Mountains, The Catwalk Trail:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

According to the Gila National Forest brochure the history of The Catwalk began when gold and silver was located in the mountains around Glenwood above Whitewater Canyon where The Catwalk is located. In 1893 a small town called Graham sprung up around a mill constructed where the parking lot for The Catwalk is currently located:

Historical Picture of The Catwalk

Ore traveled down a chute from a nearby mesa to the mill to be crushed to separate gold and silver from the rock. Water was needed to run the electrical generator that powered the mill. This is where The Catwalk came to be. Workers installed a pipeline that traversed Whitewater Canyon that brought water to the mill. This pipeline was bolted to the steep rock walls of the canyon. The metal pipeline was insulated with sawdust and encased in wood to prevent the water from freezing during the winter. As the mill needed bigger generators more water was needed which caused even bigger pipelines to be installed. The pipeline needed constant maintenance and the workers who had to walk on the pipeline through the rugged canyon to service it called it The Catwalk:

Historical Picture of The Catwalk

More historical pictures of The Catwalk can be viewed at the link.

The mill only lasted about 10 years when it was closed in 1908 and the pipeline was dismantled and scrapped. That is the way it remained until the 1930’s when the Civilian Conservation Corps rebuilt The Catwalk as a project to promote tourism in the Gila Mountains. Since then the National Forest Service has had to repair the trail a number of times due to the sometimes vicious floods that roar through the canyon.  The trail today is 1.1 miles and half of that distance is wheelchair accessible.  The total round trip distance of the hike is 2.2 miles through this extremely rugged and beautiful canyon:

Catwalk Trail

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

At the trailhead there is a really nice picnic area along the Whitewater Creek that flows out of the canyon:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

From the picnic area there is an improved trail that leads into canyon:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

Anyone with a wheelchair will have no issues using this trail, likewise my wife had no issues pushing our daughters stroller up this trail as well.  The park service has really did a great job constructing such an improved trail that everyone can enjoy.

Once inside the canyon the views are extremely impressive:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

All along the trail the evidence of the past pipeline activities to bring water to the mill is easily noticeable:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

It is easy to see what an hard task this had to been all those years ago securing the pipeline to such steep rocky cliffs:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

As the walls of the canyon narrow there is literally no room for a trail, thus a series of bridges have been constructed that like the pipeline from over a hundred years ago, is bolted to the sides of the rocky cliffs:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

Walking along these bolted bridges as they had suspended over the rushing waters below is really the most impressive part of the hike:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

These next couple of pictures shows just how narrow The Catwalk Trail becomes as it zigzags through the canyon:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

 

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

I thought this picture came out very well since it shows the platform hanging over the creek below:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

At about half a mile into the walk the trail comes to a rest area where people with mobility issues will have to stop.  However, they would have saw the most impressive part of the hike, which is why I am so glad to see such high quality trails like this constructed by the park service that allows more people to experience such a great outdoors location like this.  From the rest area the trail can only be accessed by walking up a conventional trail that has a few bridge crossings:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

Some of these bridge crossings actually are above sections of the old pipeline that still remain in the canyon:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

It is along this section of the trail that the elevation rises a little bit creating a few small waterfalls like this one:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

This is how the trail looks most of the way on this section of the trail with it closely following the sides of the canyon:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

Eventually the trail came to this waterfall which was easily the biggest one I saw on the hike:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

There is a stairway that allows hikers to climb down to the waterfall:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

It is a pretty steep stairway as this picture makes quite evident:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

Here is a picture of the waterfall from the bottom of the staircase:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

The water was freezing cold so I doubt too many people would want to jump into this water.  After taking a few pictures of the waterfall I then proceeded back up the stairs and hiked further up the canyon:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

As I walked further up the canyon I could see some traces of snow that were covering the trail:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

I could also see more remains from the canyon’s mining days as well:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

Here was the largest bridge to cross during the entire hike:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

This bridge looked brand new which leads me to believe it was probably recently constructed due to a flood destroying an older bridge:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

There was also some poison ivy located along the trail that the forest service was nice enough to point out:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

Up here at this prominent cliff is where the hike ends:

Picture from the Gila Mountains Catwalk

However, from the end of the trail it is possible to continue to hike further into the Gila Wilderness since it connects to a series of other trails that cross these beautiful mountains.  This hike is only 2.2 miles round-trip, but despite its short distance I would rank this trail as one of the best day walks in New Mexico.  The scenery is incredible, the quality of the trail is outstanding, and there is no crowds here.  However, there is no crowds because this place is a long ways from anywhere.  So expect a long drive to access this trail, but from my experience I thought the three hours of driving from El Paso was worth the effort to hike the trail followed by eating our packed lunch at the picnic area.  My toddler daughter also had fun wading the in water at the picnic area.  Parking at the park is only $3.00 so this is by no means an expensive place to go visit.

After lunch we then headed out to go check out the old mining ghost town of Mogollon which is a short drive from The Catwalk.  The Catwalk was definitely the highlight of our trip to the western edge of the Gila Mountains, but Mogollon would prove to be an interesting place to visit as well.

Next Posting: Mogollon, New Mexico

 

 

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