What's in a name: Camp Reno

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The remains of Camp Reno are located in the Tonto Basin. 14 October 2014 (Source: Eric Zotcavage) The remains of Camp Reno are located in the Tonto Basin. 14 October 2014 (Source: Eric Zotcavage)

Not much is left to offer an answer to the question, ‘what’s in a name,’ when you're asking about Camp Reno.

If you visit the former site of the old Army post situated in the Tonto Basin, perhaps you’ll hear a ghostly soldier’s whisper in the wind, or maybe you’ll glimpse the faint outline of a foundation in the scrub brush or the remains of a rock defense wall. No, not much is left of Camp Reno.

Historic Army outpost in the Tonto Basin, Camp Reno ruins. Feb. 2014 (Source: Eric Zotcavage)

Short lived in existence, Camp Reno was only active for a couple of years after the end of the Civil War and prior to General Crook's successful campaign of 1872-1873.

[RELATED: What's in a name: General Crook's Trail]

Located at the base of Mount Ord's eastern slope, Camp Reno was a U.S. Army outpost of Fort McDowell. Only in operation from 1868-1870, the outpost was situated at the end of a long tough road in the middle of the West's hostile Apache country.

Historical marker on the site where Camp Reno was built in the Tonto Basin.

Camp Reno is named for a Union officer, Maj. Gen. Jesse Lee Reno, killed in 1862 at the battle of South Mountain, Maryland.

Army planners wanted to get a foothold in the Tonto Basin, an area occupied by the Yavapais and Tonto Apaches. First they needed to construct a road into the hostile region. 

Crews from Fort McDowell began their task of hacking out a road from Fort McDowell to the site picked for Camp Reno in the fall of 1867. They finished up their work that following summer. 

The route they cut followed Sycamore Creek up to the Sunflower area, along the way three temporary camps, known as Camp Miller, Camp Carroll and Camp O'Connell, were built for the troopers.

The path they cut using pick and shovel, roughly follows the same path SR 87 takes as it winds its way north and east out of the Valley toward Payson.

Reno road map from SR87 to SR188. Four-wheel drive recommended.

The steep grade at Reno Pass was so difficult and dangerous that double teams were necessary to safely pull a loaded wagon up and over the top.

Historical author, Jim Schreier, describes the road in his book, 'Camp Reno: Outpost in Apacheria, 1867-1870'; Reno road was, ”one of the roughest and most difficult bits of road in all Arizona. It’s way was strewn with wrecks of old wagons. It was built at a huge cost in money and labor but it gave the troops a wagon crossing into the Tonto Basin.” Schreier's research is rich in detail about the doomed outpost and offers a thorough dissection of the history of Camp Reno.

Map shows route of the soldiers road to Camp Reno. (Source: Camp Reno: Outpost in Apacheria, 1867-1870)

Once the outpost was built, it became the target of frequent raids. Duty at Camp Reno was so dangerous that the garrison was rotated out every 30 days. Camp Reno served as a base for Army expeditions into the surrounding areas, and as a meeting place for the soldiers and the Apache.

A brief existence, by 1870 the Army considered Camp Reno a failure. The outpost was abandoned, having proven itself too expensive and difficult for the Army to operate. After Reno was no longer in operation, troops used the abandoned post as a convenient staging area for later military expeditions against the Apache.

As I said earlier, not much is left of Camp Reno, the desert has reclaimed the site except for a few signs it was ever there.

Defense wall at the ruins of Camp Reno. Feb 2014 (Source: Eric Zotcavage)

In 2016 the site became part of a U.S. Forest Service cultural heritage resource program called Passport in Time. The aim was to provide a clearer picture of everyday life at the outpost during its use, and to locate and document evidence of the Apache presence at the camp.

If you'd like to visit the remains of Camp Reno, take SR 87 north from Phoenix to SR 188. Turn right toward Lake Roosevelt and continue for 12 miles to Punkin Center. Camp Reno site is situated west of SR 188 off a rough dirt track road, FR 409. Four-wheel drive is best used on this road.

The Reno Pass road can also be accessed from Punkin Center. The road includes steep, narrow, extremely rutted, shelf road with dangerous tipping spots.

It's not recommended for top-heavy, full-size vehicles. Four-wheel drive only would be the best bet.

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