Gold Dust and the Cat Walk

November 5, 2023

Cat Walk in 2002

I first hiked the famous Cat Walk in Glenwood on a solo trip in 2002. Since then, the Cat Walk has been swept away by floods, temporarily closed and rebuilt multiple times. It's always entertaining to try to explain to newcomers how much it has changed over the years. When I first visited, it was just a rickety metal grate atop atop an 18" pipeline, loosely tacked to the canyon walls. Don't believe me? Check out the photo at left.

me at the Cat Walk in 2002

I count myself among those who miss the old days, when the danger, and, by extension, the sense of adventure, was palpable.

How to relive some of the excitement of my initial visits to the Cat Walk, which is now hopelessly tamed by a series of overbuilt industrial-grade steel skyways?

The Cat Walk and me in November, 2002.

Gold Dust trailhead

Well, one way is to approach it from above, via the Gold Dust Trail, which ascends a nearby ridge, wraps around Gold Dust Gulch, and descends via a series of switchbacks about 500 feet into Whitewater Creek.

view into Whitewater Canyon

Gold Dust gets mixed reviews on AllTrails, with many hikers complaining about loose rock and exposure. Despite some acrophobia — falling and breaking a hip will do that to you — I found this trail to be well within my comfort zone. And it affords some killer views of Whitewater Canyon and the San Francisco River Valley.

junction with Whitewater Trail

The Gold Dust Trail reopened in May, 2023, after being closed for nearly three years to remove a rockfall hazard and stabilize the trail. I did not run a track, but it seems likely that the trail was also rerouted, since it is certainly longer than 2.5 miles to the junction with Whitewater Trail.

old pipeline

A chunk of the old pipeline. The Casitas de Gila website has an excellent history of the Cat Walk. It was built in the late 1800s to deliver water from Whitewater Creek to an ore processing mill at the mouth of the canyon. The original wood and steel framework was elevated as much as 20 feet above the creek, and square holes were chiseled in the sheer rock walls to support the pipe.

arriving in the canyon bottom

The warm days have returned, and the cool, damp air of the canyon was most inviting. As in Mineral Creek, there was a fine mist of rain, not from the sky, but from the trees themselves.

colorful fall foliage

Colorful fall foliage creates an additional source of light in the canyon bottom.

beginning of the rebuilt cat walk

Arriving at the "civilized" section of the Cat Walk. We continued all the way to the trailhead and ate our lunch in the shade giant of the giant Arizona Sycamores. But we could not help remarking that we were less than half a raven mile from our vehicle. Go back the way we came, 4+ miles with a 900' climb, or ...?

Dennis climbing up a very steep cliff

Seriously, what were we thinking??! We clawed our way 500 feet straight up a ravine full of loose boulders, only to find the egress blocked by a river of dried tumbleweeds. I wasn't going to tear them loose and trigger a landslide, so I just crawled through on my belly, crushing a path for Dennis as I went. It was one of those "holy-shit-we-are-in-our-70s" moments. Glad we made it, but we sure don't need to do it again. And I think we can forgo stress tests this year!