LivAbility Magazine

Edition 14 | Fall 2018

A photo of a canyon from the ground looking up. Red-brown rock grows from the canyon floor and continues up towards the sky and out of the photo frame. In the center there is a young boy in a bright green shirt and shorts standing on top of a platform suspended from the canyon walls, connecting the canyons together. The platform is made of large, rusted steel beams. To the right of the boy is a young man who is using a wheelchair. He is wearing a red shirt and is also looking towards the camera.

New Mexico’s Catwalk Recreation Area

Story by Kade Garner
Photo by Kade Garner

Deep within the evergreen forests and between mountains that billow into the clouds, lies a canyon where one can walk, or even wheel, on water. Narrow highways wind through meadows still kissed with summer’s glow and around enormous trees that are just beginning to glimmer with fall’s gold tones. Through your vehicle’s windows you will spot cattle, horses, sheep and even deer as you make your way to an awe-inspiring location.

Welcome to the Land of Enchantment.

This is the Catwalk Recreation Area in New Mexico. This trail is just five miles outside of Glenwood, New Mexico and offers hiking and scenic views for visitors of all abilities.

The photo shows a wooden sign at the start of a trail saying "Gila National forest" surrounded by greenery.

The Gold Rush of the 1800s shaped many small towns in the Western United States, including this trail. In 1893, gold and silver were discovered in the Whitewater Canyon. Some hardware from the mining one hundred years ago in this small canyon still clings to the faces of the canyon walls and is noticeable from the trail. It creates a subtle unification between the natural beauty of the area and the rustic charm of the time-worn equipment. 

At the start of the trail is a self-pay box near the welcome sign. The fee is a small three dollars per vehicle. Your senses become overwhelmed with the smell of pine trees, the sound of trickling water and the sight of bright yellow wildflowers sprinkled among the varying grasses, shrubs and trees. Accessible parking, bathrooms and a picnic area are the first treats the park offers its visitors, but the real magic of the park is the trail.

Two people, one walking and one using a wheelchair, start down a trail. On their left is a wall of trees, shrubs and bushes. On their right is a rock wall.

The first half mile is paved and gracefully follows the small river as it hugs the Rocky Mountain, making it easy for wheelchair users to maneuver. Near the end of this part of the trail you’ll get a glimpse of a small but sturdy bridge that can hold even heavy powerchairs. It sits perfectly over the river and between trees that create a perfect canopy above the water, giving you a glimpse of what the upcoming catwalks have to offer. The bridge is wide and made of metal. It’s solid frame is emblematic of the thoughtful safety features throughout the catwalks.

After the bridge, there is a stretch of paved path that is quite steep. Uphill stretches of steep-grade trail are signs that hikers are getting close to their ultimate destination: the catwalks.

Grant Winters is a young man who uses a manual wheelchair. He and his thirteen-year-old brother C.J. visited the park with us. Winters was able to propel himself up this steep grade, but for those who may not be in as good shape as a 20-year-old, it would be a good idea to bring a friend, or to use a powerchair.

Here, it is evident that mining once took place here. The rock walls that tower over hikers are scarred by the tools that once cut them. Here, nature’s beauty meets man’s ingenuity to create an atmosphere truly unlike any other.

Two people maneuver down a trail surrounded on both sides by steep rock walls.

The steep hill gives way to a majestic view overlooking the river below and also to the mountain peaks rising above canyon walls. This is where visitors also get their first glimpse of the catwalks. Metal turned rust-red with time rests along the sides of the canyon walls like a wasp nest on the side of a house. Handrails offer added stability to hikers who may need it, while metal resembling reinforced chicken wire allows visitors to look straight below where hikers can walk, or wheel, above water.

The canyon walls slowly lean toward one another and the catwalks move forward like snakes in the grass. Visitors become small as the canyon grows around them. This is the climax of the trail and like any good movie, the climax gives way to the end. The catwalks end as the canyon gives way to open river.

For more adventurous hikers, the trail does continue, but signs warn that the trail is not maintained, and it’s not accessible after that point.

We met back up with Winters at the end of the trail and asked him about his experience. He suggested to bring gloves (he forgot his) and said it is a good idea for manual chair users to bring a free wheel for a less bumpy experience.

All in all, the Catwalk Recreation Area makes for a great day trip. The trail and facilities are accessible and the vistas are incredibly beautiful. Looking for more than just a pretty hike? There is a ghost town about 10 miles from the park and the drive to the trail is gorgeous with many places to pull over to take pictures or camp. 

Kade Garner

Kade Garner
Writer / Photographer

Kade Garner is a Northern-Arizona native. When he is not hooked up to an IV filled with diet soda, he is probably filming an event, taking pictures of his dog, or binge watching a new series. He’s an okay writer.

Read more by Kade Garner.