Around 5 miles outside the teeny “town” of Glenwood, New Mexico, is an outdoor recreation area that is both family-friendly and super-duper cool. Located within the Gila National Forest (pronounced “hee-la”), it’s a super easy, approximately 2-mile in-and-out trail. The metal catwalk begins around .5 miles into the trail, starting from the parking lot. At a certain point, you can choose to walk along the other side of the river, but it’s a “normal” trail and not the catwalk (it also goes uphill).
Open from “sunrise to sunset”, this area is a day-use only area (no overnight camping or night hikes allowed). Dogs are allowed but must be always on a leash. There are bathrooms at the entrance but nowhere else, and you need to bring your own water. Also, you must pay to park. It’s only $3 per car and is basically an honor system. There are envelopes at the entrance, which you fill out, with a portion to tear off and put in your car, and a portion to put the money in. You then slip the envelope through a small hole into a box.
We arrived around 2pm on a Saturday, and there were only about 5 other cars in the large parking lot. It was not crowded at all when we visited. After walking the ½ mile from the parking lot to the beginning of the catwalk, the reason we came became very apparent. The metal catwalk is very cool and an extraordinary feat of engineering. You are quite literally walking along the side of the canyon wall, suspended in the air by nothing but metal, bolts, and a steadfast belief in the people who built the thing. It felt stable and solid, and it was surprisingly easy to forget you’re essentially floating approximately 20 feet above a rocky stream.
Not only is the catwalk fun to walk across, but history buffs like me will love how rich in history this area is. There are great informative signs sprinkled throughout that tell you about the area. The catwalk was originally built for miners in the late 1800’s, who mined silver and gold out of Whitewater Canyon, where the catwalk is located. The mines were active from their discovery in 1889 until their closure in 1942. The area’s first town of Graham (a.k.a. Whitewater) was established in 1893 and lasted for only 10 years. The mines and town were built upstream, deep within the canyon, but the rough terrain required the mill to be built further down. Therefore, the Helen Mining Company (the first mining company to set up shop), built a 3-mile long, 4” pipeline along the canyon wall to provide a continuous water supply to both the town and the electric generator. The modern-day catwalk follows the route of this original pipeline.
After the town dissolved and the mines shut down (likely due to the same reasons as the mines in Mogollon; Mogollon, New Mexico: One of the Wildest Mining Towns in the Wild West.), it became a touristy recreation area. It’s been rebuilt twice, once by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s and again after a massive flood in 2012, which was caused by the Whitewater-Baldy Fire. The original catwalk was made of wood, and it wasn’t until the 1960’s that it was replaced by metal. In 2003, a ½ mile stretch was rebuilt to make it wheelchair accessible.
Although the mines have been long shut down, there are still remnants of the mining days fully on display. Not far along the catwalk where it initially begins, you will find “brace holes”, which were drilled into the side of the cliff more than a century ago. These brace holes were used to hold timbers and iron bars. I really enjoyed this part, because as I mentioned, I’m a history buff and you get to literally touch history. It’s rare to find authentic relics from our country’s Wild West past, out in the wild, as most old mining towns have been privatized and commercialized. In places like Calico, Jerome, Goldfield, and Tombstone you must pay to experience any sort of history, and many times, it’s a recreated history. Here was genuine, real, western mining history and I was thrilled. Unfortunately, many of the brace holes were tagged with people’s crappy graffiti, but I managed to find a few free from vandalism.
The one annoying thing: the bugs. There were thousands of little flying gnats, which appeared to be everywhere and anywhere. It was difficult sometimes to walk, because you had to literally close your eyes or keep your head low as you passed through a swarm of these nasty little things. They would cling to our clothes and fly around our faces, and it was not fun. I’m not sure if this is a normal occurrence here or if it was the time of year we came (early December).
Overall, the Catwalk Recreation Area in western New Mexico is a fun, family-friendly outing that I’d recommend to anyone visiting the area. The path to the catwalk is easy, as is the catwalk itself. You can continue past the catwalk for another .5 – .75 miles on a small trail, although we did not due to a sign saying, “trail closed due to rocks” (however, the cashier at the Glenwood convenience store later told me that sign is always there and the locals ignore it). It’s fun and informative, and a great place to add to anyone’s travel list. I highly recommend a visit!
P.s. A bit about the town of Glenwood. It’s very small and can barely even be called a town. As of 2021, only approximately 34 people call the area home year-round, down 109 people from 2010. It’s quite isolated, with the largest nearby town being Silver City, New Mexico, roughly 1 hour away. The town was rather dilapidated, although I could tell it was likely booming at one point in time. The largest and most well-maintained shop was the Trading Post, which had everything from jewelry and art to basic food staples (refrigerated, frozen, and pantry), along with souvenirs and knick-knacks, and more. It was rather obvious that tourism is the thing that keeps Glenwood afloat and it’s clearly a popular spot during summer, as there were numerous touristy cabin areas.
The “town” of Glenwood. This the entire thing.👇🏼👇🏼
In fact, Glenwood is so isolated, that this area is known to have some of the darkest skies in the United States. The Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary is located about 15 miles from Glenwood and is 1 of only 12 dark sky sanctuaries in the entire world. The sky gets unbelievably and overwhelmingly dark here, and people travel from all over to witness it. While the stars were out in force, I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be… I was expecting the Milky Way to be extraordinarily bright and defined, and it simply was not. It felt like what I see regularly in Prescott, Arizona. However, I learned that this was likely due to the time of year we came (winter). The best time to view the Milky Way is during the summer. So, perhaps I need to revisit during the summertime!
Lastly, while the stars didn’t impress me as much as I thought they would, the nighttime was still extremely scary. I was with only my 5-year-old daughter and while I never explicitly felt like we were in danger, we were so isolated and alone that it was frightening regardless. Plus, I’m almost positive we were the only ones staying at our Airbnb (the Double T Catwalk Resort – link: https://abnb.me/SUKiYQA4mmb – highly recommend!! Please see below!). When we went out around 9pm to look at the stars; it was creepy, spooky, and unnaturally quiet, something I have never experienced before, even when I lived in the rural woods of Illinois. Not even the animals made noise, including all insects. It was the literal definition of “dead silent”. I can see why New Mexico is a fan-favorite of aliens and alien enthusiasts. 👽🖖🏼