Catwalk of Whitewater Canyon
Gila National Forest

Silver City, NM.

March 25, 2001

Our second adventure, in Silver City, was some 50 miles north. We were looking for the Catwalk of Whitewater Canyon. We found it just outside Glenwood along US 180 in the Gila National Forest. So the legend goes, Whitewater Canyon was the home of the Apaches, known locally as either Chiricahau (Cheer-a-ka-wa), Mogollones (Mug-ie-owns), or Gila (Heela) from sometime in the 1500s to the death of their last great leaders, Geronimo and Victorio in the late 1800s. As a result of the Indian wars, Fort Bayard was established nearby. One day, while on patrol into the Whitewater Canyon, James C. Cooney found both gold and silver veins in the high country. He waited until discharged before gathering a mining party and returning to stake his claim in 1876, and the gold rush was on. One of those in the party was John Lambert who would later find rich gold deposits in the Whitewater Canyon leading to the famous Confidence Mine. Although Cooney would not see the benefit of his discovery, he was killed in an Apache raid 4 years later, the land would open up to prospecting with several good strikes discovered in the Canyon. Cooney's brother and friends carved a tomb into a giant bolder in the Canyon and sealed it with ore from his mine. It can still be seen today in Mineral Creek north of the Canyon. By 1893 there were 13 working mines in the area and John Graham saw an opportunity. He built the Graham mill and the mining town of Graham sprung up around him. It is here that the story of the "catwalk" begins. The mill was operated by electricity and along with the some 200 people, now inhabiting the town, needed a fairly large amount of water to maintain operations. That was no problem in the spring and fall, but as winter came on, the river dried up at the mill site, although it ran constantly at upper elevations. The water needed by the town was provided by construction of a 4-inch pipeline reaching about 3 miles up the canyon. The first line was laid in 1893 and followed the west side of the canyon. It was packed in sawdust and encased in wood to prevent freezing. By 1897, a new 18-inch line was laid next to the 4-inch one. Construction of the water lines was an engineering feat. Brace holes were drilled into the solid rock walls, sometimes 20 feet above the canyon floor, to hold timbers and iron bars that supported the small water line along its meandering course. Some of the original 18-inch pipe support one side of the present day catwalk. Old records show that the large iron water line was in constant need of maintenance. Workmen who had to walk the line to repair damage dubbed it the "catwalk". Despite the large investment of time and money, the Graham Mill was never highly successful. Periodic episodes of flooding and alleged mismanagement kept the mill from flourishing. It was finally closed in 1913. For the next 17 years, few visitors saw the awesome views along the canyon walls, then in 1930 the Civilian Conservation Corps was assigned the task of rebuilding the Catwalk as a recreation attraction for the Gila national Forest. It remained open until 1961 when the present metal Catwalk was constructed by the Forest Service. In 1978, the trail was extended to the convergence of the Whitewater and the South Fork rivers, a distance of 1.1 miles, ending in an exciting swing cable suspension bridge over the Whitewater River. The 800 foot climb is aggressive with many parts of the trail presenting small rocky crags in the pathway. Careful attention to where we placed our feet was required. The actual "Catwalk" is only a couple of hundred feet long and is near the beginning of the trail. There are several steel girder bridges with wire mesh flooring to cross but all are quite stable. The water is cold and fast and on our trip was running all the way to the bottom. In many places the path is less the two feet across with sheer rock facing on one side and a drop off on the other. We kept an eye on approaching traffic and would find an area of expanded trail to stand off to the side, allowing others to pass. The terrain is fascinating, rugged and beautiful. It is well worth the trip which took us at a very slow climbing speed, a little over two hours for the round trip.

Good Luck! Have Fun! and Stay Safe!