Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Straddling the Continental Divide: Western New Mexico,(May 2009) VIII

Ring muhly (Muhlenbergia torreyi) at the edge of the pinion-juniper woodlands
Bear Mountain Lodge, Silver City, NM

Short Detour

On Tuesday morning, May 19, 2009, before we explored the cultural resources of central Silver City, we accompanied the volunteer naturalist at Bear Mountain Lodge on a guided tour of one of the lodge grounds' trails. The driest, sandiest, and most exposed portions of the the trail were bordered with a strikingly unusual grass (at least for this Easterner): ring muhly (Muhlenbergia torreyi). The grass obviously gets started from a single plant in the center, then the center dies back and the grass expands outward from the origin. It has a an umistakable growth form that can spread for dozens of feet.

The Catwalk

One of the main reasons we wanted to visit the Silver City area was to walk The Catwalk National Recreation Trail in the Gila National Forest. After we finished birding at The Nature Conservancy's Gila River Farm on Wednesday morning, May 20, we drove a half-hour north on US 180 to the town of Glenwood, where we turned east off the main road and drove five miles to The Catwalk trailhead.

The Catwalk is a trail developed through Whitewater Creek canyon that replaced a pipeline originally built in the 1800 to provide a dependable source of water for mining and refining operations near Glenwood. Workers who created the original trail penetrated a mile into the canyon to install pipe. Where the creekbed filled the entire canyon bottom, the workers bolted the pipeline to the canyon walls and installed a metal grate on top to allow them to walk up into the canyon to service the pipe. The grating was narrow and precarious, hence the nickname "catwalk." Over the years, floods have washed out most (but not all) traces of the original pipeline and walk, but the Forest Service has rebuilt and modernized the popular trail, making it among the most popular attractions in southwestern New Mexico.

When we arrived, the skies threatened rain, but we had driven over an hour north of Silver City, and we didn't want to waste all that time just to come back another day. So, we began walking the trail. The walk begins as a rocky footpath, but quickly reaches the steel grating affixed to the canyon walls. When we reached the suspended section, we asked a couple leaving the walk to take our pictures, then we quickly moved on into the canyon. The walk was disconcerting but exhilarating as the creek roared and foamed under our feet. After a few hundred yards, the metal grating ended and the trail continued up into the canyon as a rocky footpath with occasional wooden steps in the steepest sections. At its upper end, the trail terminated under a huge overhang of rock, with the creek surging among gigantic boulders below. (It is possible to continue up the canyon on the Whitewater Creek Trail into the Gila Wilderness.) That day, a group of high school kids was wading and swimming in the creek despite the cloudy skies and cool temperatures.

Whitewater Creek near the terminus of The Catwalk Trail

Just as we reached the upper end of the trail, it began to rain. We decided to wait to see if it would stop, but after 10 minutes, with no end in sight, we started back down the trail. We stopped every place there was a rocky overhang in the cliff to get out of the rain, waiting at one point for 20 minutes, mashed up against the rock in a really uncomfortable position as the rain poured down.

Finally, the rain let up a bit and we continued down the trail. We encountered a couple and their dog (the guy was tall, slender, and very good looking) equipped with rain gear.

Naturally, by the time we reached the parking lot, the rain had stopped. As we sat in the car eating our lunch, a car pulled up and disgorded two bedraggled looking backpackers who plodded up toward the trailhead, headed for a backcountry trip in the Gila Wilderness. While I yearned to accompany them, I thought about backpacking in the rain in the mountains and gave the whole concept another thought. (It ended up raining for the next several days, so they probably had a soggy trek.) I recognized the person driving the car that had brought the backpakers to the trailhead--it was the woman who had taken our picture as we first entered The Catwalk. I expressed surprise at seeing her again, and she said that she was an artist who lived in Glenwood, and that she had seen the two backpakers walking past her house. She took pity on them and drove them the five miles to the trailhead. Glenwood sounds like a nice community.

Two more birds on this trip (neither "life listers"): Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus) and American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus).

No comments: