Backpacked Reavis Ranch North with a small group 7/29/2017-7/30/2017. The intent was to hike to Reavis Falls as there had been several days of rain in the week prior and it was hoped that the falls would be flowing at a good clip. The drive in was not difficult with the off-road section being easily handled by a ford focus (the lowest clearance vehicle in the group). There were some steeper sections sections as we neared the trailhead but a little bravery and the knowledge that a truck was nearby to provide a tow if needed were sufficient to see everyone through. There were several spots along the road that afforded excellent views of Roosevelt lake were we stopped to take it all in. Things quickly became interesting when we reached the trailhead.
When we arrived we found a handwritten note indicating that the trail was closed due to a fire. There were no other vehicles at the trailhead but we were skeptical of the note as it was not very official looking (it was handwritten on a piece of notebook paper) and was dated a couple weeks prior. Looking at the logbook there had been a few hikers who signed in and out on after the date of the closure notice. A member of the party was able to get a cell signal and found a national forest service article that indicated a fire in the area had been extinguished a week prior, likely the work of the rainstorms. We decided that the threat of fire was probably past and proceeded with our hike.
The hike in was not overly difficult as the weather was still partly cloudy but it was still quite hot. For the first part of the hike, Castle Dome was an easily identifiable landmark that could be used to take bearings and measure progress. After going in a mile or so we came upon an area that was completely charred, with vegetation on both sides of the trail burned away. Clearly there had been a fire but it was out at this point. We did scare up a mule deer that was sleeping close to the trail in this area. He was a buck with at least half a dozen points and ran off in a hurry. The lack of vegetation made the trail more difficult to follow and it is likely that this is the section of trail where we missed the turn to Reavis Falls.
After hiking for an hour and a half we started looking for the junction and the trail to Reavis Falls. We were stopping frequently to take pictures and admire the views so it was thought that we were progressing slower than the usual estimate of 2 miles an hour. With this in mind we continued onward all the while looking for the intersection. After another hour passed I began to be concerned that we had missed our turn as the altimeter readings exceeded the maximum values that should have been observed on the hike. This fact was pointed out and the discrepancy attributed to the pressure of a storm front moving through. This seemed a reasonable explanation at the time as the weather conditions were alternating back and forth from sunny to overcast. The altimeter readings were therefore not trusted in determining our location. I was unable to take a compass bearing of the features in the area as I could not reconcile the features visible with the topographical maps. Castle Dome was no longer a easily identifiable landmark in the distance because at this point we had passed it by (though we did not realize that at the time). To answer the question of whether we missed our turn or not we turned to a cell phone hiking app which seemed to indicate we had not arrived at the junction yet. So we pressed on.
It was at this point we arrived at an interesting section of trail. Wild wheat grew on either side of us and was reminiscent of a scene from the movie Gladiator. A moderate breeze also added to the likeness and helped cool us off. I later looked up this location and found it to be aptly named: "Windy Pass".
Eventually we arrived at a trail junction labeled Plow Saddle. Given that our destination was Reavis Falls and recalling that Reavis Ranch North intersected other trails further down the line I was now confident that we had missed our turn. The last mile of the hike had been decidedly downhill and as we descended the greenery had increased proportionally. Rather than head back uphill and attempt to find the turn we missed, it was decided to press onward and find a water source and location to camp farther along the trail. I did not have topographical maps extending this far off course and had no information on water sources near our present location. Continuing onward, we soon found a 2nd trail intersection with Frog Tanks trail. At this point we had consumed just over half the water we were carrying. The decision was made to proceed forward for another half an hour and if no water source was found we would turn back for the trail head.
Myself and another fast moving member of the group scouted ahead, frequently checking the creek bed running along the trail for water. There were large quantities of trees and other thirsty flora in the vicinity and our searching was not in vain. Just across a meadow at the intersection of Reavis and Reavis Gap trail we found a series of large pools in a section of the creek bed. The area was well suited for camping with a fire ring, logs to sit on, and dry level ground suitable for tents on the edge of the meadow. After the remainder of the group arrived and began to set up camp we scouted ahead again and found the ruins of Reavis Ranch. It was becoming dark at this point and had started to drizzle so we headed back to our campsite to start dinner and finish pitching the tents.
While collecting firewood we had the good fortune to see an enormous strawberry tarantula and later that night managed to do some long exposure photography of the stormy skies. We did get rained on a little but much of the group enjoyed the shower as it had been a long hot hike. Those disinclined to get wet took shelter in the tents. It rained again while we were sleeping and we had to scramble to put the rain fly back on the tent in the middle of the night. The tent in question was poorly ventilated and it was uncomfortably hot inside with the rain fly on.
The next morning we restocked our bottles with boiled water from the pools and enjoyed a breakfast of oatmeal and s'mores pancakes. The hike out was uneventful until the last 2 miles. We picked up the pace considerably when we saw a storm front with thunder, lightning, and heavy rainfall over Castle Dome. Fortunately, the storm passed us by heading northward but it was a close-run thing. We also scared up and got great pictures of a jackrabbit near the trailhead.
There were several important lessons learned during this trip. First and foremost is to extend topographical maps at least to the next trail junction beyond the one you intend to take. That way you can figure out where you are if you miss a junction or make a wrong turn. I also resolved to research all available water sources in the vicinity of the trail for trips in the future and mark them on topographical maps brought for the hike. Having and trusting your instruments is also important. If the altimeter readings were acted upon we would have turned back shortly after missing our turn and made it to our intended destination. I have since done several other trips and find the altimeter to be an accurate and reliable navigational aid.
Despite the navigational issues several actions were taken that ensured ensured that, though longer than expected and not to the intended destination, the trip was still enjoyable. Bringing enough water was crucial, each hiker brought 4 liters so there was no immediate threat of running out of water. Pitching the tents as soon as we reached the campsite was also beneficial. When it started to rain those who wanted to stay dry could take shelter immediately. Having multiple water purification mechanisms also came into play. The primary water filter broke and backup purification mechanisms had to be employed instead.
The hike was notable for having excellent views and an extraordinary quantity and variety of wildlife. It was an excellent desert hike.
Link to downloadable topographical maps:
Link to hike video:
[ youtube video ]