In Tonto Basin, not all that far from Punkin Center, sits the remnants of Camp Reno. Reno was a military outpost that was established in the late 1860s and used from approximately 1868 to 1870. The road to it was the first main road to the area and the area near it became the basis of settlement in that area. Here is some of the early history.
As the United States expanded westward following the Civil War, military outposts were gradually created. According to Jim Schreier’s book “Camp Reno: outpost in Apacheria, 1867-1870” the order to create an outpost in the Tonto Creek area was received on Sept. 11, 1867. It would not be until the first part of 1868 that Camp Reno was established, as it took time to build a road from Fort McDowell. Camp Reno’s use by the Army was sporadic. Schreier describes it best, saying that, “Reno was not so much a military presence as an idea. … Because of the camp’s remote location at the end of a narrow and torturous wagon road, the government could not afford the expense of maintaining a cavalry at the post. Instead, its spartan facilities accommodated temporary stopovers and served as a staging site for expeditions against the Apaches.”
Perhaps the biggest legacy of Camp Reno is the road, as well as the fact that numerous people settled in the area around the old camp. Even by 1877 not much was left of the camp. A November 9, 1877 Weekly Arizona Miner article states that “a few dilapidated old adobe casas are about the only lasting monuments that mark the spot where old Camp Reno once stood.” Yet the same article readily mentions Camp Reno in various forms, even saying that, “at Camp Reno we met Bill Prather, a brother of the genial gentleman who acts as mixologist behind Fred’s bar.” Camp Reno is more than just a military camp, but a place name as well.
The road to Camp Reno is the stuff of legends. The road was very rough and hard to maintain, frequently falling into disrepair. Yet it also provided some of the best scenery around. A clip from the Nov. 9, 1877 Weekly Arizona Miner provides insight into this mix.
“From the summit of Reno hill, before one starts to roll down with the stones and rocks that his horse loosens at every step, the traveller is afforded a magnificent view of Tonto Basin, and as far as the eye can reach he gazes over a circular range which takes in the lower land. At every turn in the Canyon the river changes like the figures of a kaleidoscope, and tends very much to relieve the monotony of continuous attempts at neck-breaking, or horse-stumbling, sandwiched with expressions more forcible than refined.”
From the early days of Camp Reno forward, plenty of money was spent trying to keep up this road. The headline in the Sept. 12, 1903 Arizona Republican said that, “The Reno Trail as Hard to Keep “Fixed” as a St. Louis Alderman.” This article was written at a time when improving the Reno Road had been put out as an alternative to the Apache Trail road that would end up being built to Roosevelt Dam. It cites the opinion of engineer J.C. Dobbins in saying that, “the present so-called road is in reality only a trail, and that it could never be made into a permanent road except by keeping a corps of men constantly employed in its repair.”
The Reno Road was the precursor to the Bush Highway, which was the precursor of today’s Beeline Highway. While the route has been modified and improved, much of the grand scenery still exists. (Old Camp Reno sits on the east side of Mount Ord, whereas the Beeline Highway runs the west side.) Let’s remember the old road with this clip from the April 29, 1897 Arizona Republican, “You may have seen the Grand Canyon, the Casa Grande ruins and all the other historical places of interest in the territory, but if you have never ridden over the old Fort Reno road your travels have been very tame indeed. At Reno pass you are not very far below Four Peaks, and the cool breeze blowing directly from the snow on the peaks is almost chilling to one coming out of the Salt River valley. Up here the trees are just taking on new leaves, the spring flowers are in bloom and the ocotillo with its brilliant red flowers adds to the picturesqueness of nature’s magnificent garden of flowers on this mountain crest. But if you fall in love with nature at the pass you fall out again before you get down into Tonto Basin. If you do not fall out you are living under a lucky star. For three miles the road winds down the steep mountain over huge boulders. It is marvelous how the horses maintain their balance on these rocks. Sometimes a large rock will move with the weight of the horse and start the other loose rocks moving down the road. Evidences of unwritten disasters are apparent all along the road in broken wheels, splintered wagon poles and portions of vehicles of every description. If you have never gone over Fort Reno road your travels in Arizona have been too prosy to be interesting.”