By Rob Samuelson
Just across the eastern Arizona border, near Glenwood, New Mexico, a small creek breaks through a rift in the rugged Mogollon Mountains of the Gila wilderness. The Whitewater creek has carved out a slot canyon, aiding milers and miners in their pursuit of a livelihood. The 1893 mill was short lived, but mining interests continued to use the water pathway as a shortcut to haul ore. To navigate high water, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a catwalk part way up the gorge wall, making the route passable for persistent prospectors. This original catwalk remained from the 1930s until 2012 when a major deluge washed out the 80-year-old suspended walkway.
When mining stopped many years ago, the creek bed and abandoned catwalk became a favorite picnic spot for families and tourists. After the 2012 flood, government officials rebuilt the catwalk based on greatly enhanced specifications, trading off “perilous character” for durability and function. Today there’s an impressive steel girder and bridge walkway up the narrow Whitewater creek slot canyon. It’s a way to experience a unique slot canyon without the difficulty of trudging through water and mud or risking a flash flood, while maintaining it’s beautiful and unique character.
Below the canyon, the creek widens into a watery playground for kids and riparian picnic area for adults. The day I was there, many families were enjoying the area and the smell of barbeque was everywhere.
Slot canyons are cool – caves without roofs! The sheer walls are impressive, sometimes featuring overhangs that block out the sun, moon, and stars. The tremendous water forces carve out harmonizing fluted sculptures that give a mysterious, haunting effect. When light permeates through the crack, the sunlight and shadows provide a kaleidoscope of colors. Even the floor, water, and mud are fascinating with their diverse currents, pools, and sluices. All of your senses are invoked by the prism of colors, the cooling effect of the shade and mist, the gentle ripple sounds of water bouncing off the walls, the musk smell of ferns and moss, and even the flavors of decay that feed the innate primal emotions of flight, danger, discovery, and excitement. Each step and each bend brings forth a renewed awareness of life and death, beauty and destruction, and thrill and dread. It’s a powerful sensation to explore a slot canyon — even one that’s been tamed by steel.
What makes The Catwalk nice is its accessibility. You can drive to it in your minivan, put out a picnic spread, and explore it at your leisure. You don’t need Jeeps, ropes, or hiking boots to see it. And it’s in New Mexico, the land of enchantment!