The Catwalk

The canyon beckons. The rustle of a light breeze carries the hint of a warm day as it mingles with the new leaves cloaking the majestic sycamores and together with the early morning, feathered choir, they create a sunrise symphony. I am honored to be in the midst of this creative moment. An observer only, yet I must think that the joy radiating out from me adds to the morning music.

The rushing waters of Whitewater Creek are adding their own song to blend with the story that nature is telling to all who will listen. It is a book with an ever-changing tale, as no moment is ever the same. The players cast, they come and go. Even the main characters, the waters, the wind, the trees, the high canyon walls which echo the song, and the Yellow-breasted Chats and Curve-Billed Thrashers add their hidden voices to the evolving mix of musical moments.

The Catwalk began its story as a 4” water pipe running three miles up the canyon, pinned to the steep rock faces twenty feet or more above the creek waters by the first miners. The Graham mill site at the mouth of the canyon needed a steady supply of water and so the first pipe was installed. Soon the water needs were greater and an 18” pipe was installed. A wire rope was installed as well for maintenance on the water pipe. Hence the name “Catwalk” as it was a balancing act to access the pipeline. In 1933, CCC crews upgraded the walk to an expanded metal walk similar to what is seen today but 5 feet lower on the wall.

Then the Whitewater Baldy forest fire in May 2012 burned almost 300,000 acres. Without any groundcover on the mountain watershed above Whitewater Creek, the Forest Service knew the Catwalk system was in peril from certain flooding, come the monsoon storms. It was decided to assume the mighty task of removing the metal Catwalk from the canyon walls. If you have ever walked the Catwalk, you cannot but be amazed at the feat they pulled off. And then after the predicted floods ravaged the canyon, they reinstalled it but five feet higher on the walls.

My understanding was that they used big equipment in the creek bottom to reinstall. When I look at the size of those metal girder beams, I still don’t know how they finished that project. What is there today to walk upon, to casually stroll over expanded metal walkways while the rushing creek roars its way below you, is a maker of magic moments.

I was in Glenwood, New Mexico because I was performing as Aldo Leopold for the Glenwood Community Center and had my morning free. Glenwood is in western New Mexico about 60 miles north of Silver City on US Highway 180 E. After a most beautiful, 5 mile drive east of Glenwood, you reach the Catwalk parking area and the old townsite of Graham. If you continue on past the end of the Catwalk, there is a ramp that takes you down to the creek. From there, a fairly good trail leads you into the Gila Wilderness, just a few miles away. Easy access into one of our wildest remaining holdouts for an ultimate wilderness experience.

We are celebrating the Gila Wilderness Centennial this year. It was 100 years ago on June 3, 1924, that Aldo Leopold’s proposal to set aside wild land within the Gila National Forest was approved by Region 3 Forester Frank Pooler. That created our nations first Wilderness Area. There have been events happening in celebration since the end of February and most of the final events will be around Silver City, May 28 – June 1, 2024. I will be sending out an update on that real soon. But back to todays story.

It is a personal tradition of mine to walk the canyon when passing through Glenwood and so it was the Saturday before Mother’s Day that I strolled along on a most perfect day. I had never seen the parking area so full before. Most of the visitors were families there to picnic beneath the sprawling Arizona Sycamores and to wade with bare feet along the chilly creek waters.

As I walked past the picnickers, heading into the canyon, I was struck by a realization. The one sound that was reverberating in the canyon, mixing seamlessly with the creek song, was laughter. There were joyous peals of happy people enjoying themselves in nature. People smiling and just having a wonderful time. There were locals out for the morning and also families from afar. They were basking in the opportunity to shed the baggage of our daily grinds by venturing out into nature’s wilds.

A bit further down the path, I witnessed a story which will always remain as a favorite memory of mine. A little girl, maybe three years old, was walking behind her parents. The trail there went from an asphalt path to the metal mesh catwalk. Suddenly, the little girl was looking down with an amazed look on her face. A beaming smile with beautiful enormous eyes were fixed on the roaring waters beneath her feet. It seemed to me as she took tentative steps, that the feeling was almost that of walking on clouds. She seemed to be thinking, “How can I be walking above the raging creek waters filling the canyon from wall to wall.“

There is something so special about moments like that. I will always remember the look on her face, and I know she will always carry that moment to savor, her whole lifetime. There were many couples strolling with young children that day, and all were just quietly absorbing the beauty of the place. There was one boombox going for a short time, but it stopped. The music of the canyon was more than enough to enjoy so why bring the unnatural noise of humanity into such a natural world.

The Catwalk is a very special place to me and to others because one can get lost in the wilds here and not have to venture far from the path. The heady fragrance of the sycamores and the canopy conversations of the Yellow-breasted Chats, mingling with creek song is more than enough to transport you to another place, a place of harmony and peace. Come shed your urban dust and rejuvenate by the shady creek.



Share This Post
Steve Morgan
Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan is a retired landscape architect who spent most of his 35 year career in Arizona and New Mexico. His current career is giving Chautauquas or Living History performances, as Aldo Leopold. He happily calls Kingston, New Mexico his home now, nestled in the Black Range Mountains only 3 miles from the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. His writings are strongly shaped by Aldo Leopold’s love of the wild lands, with respect and compassion for the land – the soils, waters, plants and animals. Steve’s compassion for nature is evident by his strong, driving desire to open people’s eyes to the marvel and joy of experiencing the natural world.

Posts: 39

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment Fields

Please tell us where you live. *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.