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, which starts at 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 for day-use only, with no overnight camping or night hikes allowed. Dogs are allowed but must always remain 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 $3 per car, so make sure to bring cash (you can stop by the gas station in Glenwood). There are envelopes at the entrance, which you fill out, with a section 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 (December). 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 super 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 on, but history buffs especially will love it, as there are great informative signs sprinkled throughout. The canyon became active in the late 1800’s, when men ascended to mine the silver and gold out of Whitewater Canyon (where the catwalk is located). These 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 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, New Mexico: One of the Wildest Mining Towns in the Wild West.), it became a tourist 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 originally made of and rebuilt with wood, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that it was replaced with 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 from where the catwalk begins, you can find “brace holes”, used to hold timbers and iron bars, which were drilled into the side of the cliff more than 100 years ago. I really enjoyed this part because you can literally touch history. It’s rare to find authentic relics from the U.S.’s Wild West past, out in the wild and not in a museum, as most old mining towns have been ransacked, destroyed, privatized, or commercialized. In places like Calico, Jerome, Goldfield, and Tombstone you must pay to experience history, and many times, it’s a recreation. These brace holes are real, genuine, Wild West mining history. Unfortunately, many of them were tagged with people’s awful 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 were everywhere. It was difficult to walk sometimes, 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 (again, early December).
Overall, the Catwalk Recreation Area in western New Mexico is a great 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 be called a town. As of 2021, only approximately 34 people call the area home year-round. It’s rather isolated, with the largest town nearby being Silver City, New Mexico, approximately 1 hour away. Glenwood is sadly pretty dilapidated, although I could tell it was likely nice at one point. The largest and most well-maintained building was the Trading Post, which was a gas station/convenience store, with everything from jewelry and art to basic food staples (refrigerated, frozen, and pantry), along with souvenirs, knick-knacks, and more. Tourism is what keeps Glenwood afloat and it’s clearly a popular spot during summer, as there were several (closed) cabin complexes.
The “town” of Glenwood. This is 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 outside of Glenwood and is one of only twelve dark sky sanctuaries in the whole world. The sky gets incredibly dark here and people travel from all over to witness it. While the stars were out, I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be… I was expecting the Milky Way to be super bright and defined and it simply wasn’t. However, I later learned that this was likely due to the time of year (winter), as the best time to view the Milky Way is during the summer.
Lastly, the nighttime was extremely scary. I was with my 5-year-old daughter and while I never felt like we were in danger, we were incredibly isolated, so it was frightening regardless. We booked via 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 unnaturally quiet, something I’ve never experienced before. No cars, no people, no animals, including all insects. Every time I visit New Mexico, I’m reminded why it’s a fan-favorite of aliens and alien enthusiasts. 👽🖖🏼