We embarked on this hike with lowered expectations and were very unexpectedly surprised by every aspect. This was only a two mile hike, with a very easy start and finish, but with some challenging sections and consistently breathtaking views of this deep, flood scrubbed canyon. The Catwalk itself got it’s start over 120 years ago with the discovery of gold and silver in the rugged Mogollon Mountains over Whitewater Canyon. The town of Whitewater (Graham) itself grew up around a mill built to process the ore which was gravity fed from Whitewater Mesa via a chute. This work required water so a pipeline was built from well up Whitewater Creek down to the mill at the mouth of Whitewater Canyon. The 4 inch pipeline was incased in wood and sawdust to keep the water from freezing, and supported by logs and steel bars drilled into the stone walls of the canyon. As the mill grew the 4 inch pipeline was replaced with an 18 inch one that earned the name “catwalk” from the workers tasked with maintaining it. The deposits of precious metals played out and the mill closed and the pipeline was disassembled and sold. For the next 25 years or so, the canyon was in its totally natural state. Around the mid 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps built the Catwalk as a recreational attraction for the Gila National Forest. It has been rebuilt several times over the years due to damage caused by periodic flash floods. In 1978 a mile of the historic site was officially designated as a National Historic Recreation Trail, and it is a beauty! These days a motivated hiker can walk the trail, then continue, if they wish, for up to another 325 miles along the Mogollon Mountain Trail System.
The first 1/2 mile is very easy, walking on the metal deck, pictured above, that feels very sturdy as it winds its way through a small section of the canyon.
Steel supporting girders provide that solid feel.
There are signs warning of falling rocks, and in some spots you can see where major falls have rained down into the canyon, but the walkway itself seems well protected by chain link fencing against the rock face.
At the beginning of the “universal trail” which is paved in between the metal walkway sections, perfect for wheelchairs, kids, and old folks, there are signs warning of flash floods and photographs of the results which have actually closed the walkway in years past.
Once you are off the walkway, you come upon a section of the original 18″ replacement pipe, which kind of got the whole thing started.
The trail contines, even after the catwalk ends.
It’s just a bit more challenging and obviously would not accomodate wheelchairs!
There are a couple of easier paths down to the creek, but if you stay on what appears to be where the catwalk used to go, you come to a pretty significant drop off.
We have tried to give you the flavor of this trail with pictures, but you really need to hike it to get the true feeling. Have fun!