Canyon catwalk

New Mexico's thrilling cliffside trail reveals a hidden oasis

Clinging to sheer canyon walls above frothy Whitewater Creek, the newly improved Catwalk National Recreation Trail leads through one of southwestern New Mexico's coolest summer oases, passing under leafy sycamore and Arizona walnut trees and over misty cataracts and crystal-clear eddies.

There are now actually two catwalk trails: the narrower and steeper original, which runs for 1.1 miles, and a wider, wheelchair-accessible sister path that runs a half-mile to an observation platform before linking with the original trail. The route follows an old water pipeline built in the 1890s by silver and gold miners. It was converted into a hiking trail in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Signs added in the past year interpret local mining and milling history and describe the region's abundant flora and fauna, which include Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. A shady picnic area with tables and grills sits not far from where a mill processed silver and gold a little more than a century ago.

INFO: The Catwalk National Recreation Area ($3 per vehicle; 505/539-2481) is about 65 miles northwest of Silver City via U.S. 180 and State 174.